New study suggests ‘caffeine use disorder’ is real


In case you didn’t know, caffeine is officially a drug. And you might be hooked.

A new university study says that drinking several cups of coffee per day can become habit forming for some individuals, resulting in withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue and headaches when they quit.

"There is a misconception among professionals and lay people alike that caffeine is not difficult to give up,” said American University psychology professor Laura Juliano. “However, in population-based studies, more than 50 percent of regular caffeine consumers report that they have had difficulty quitting or reducing caffeine use."

Juliano was part of the team that last year added caffeine use disorder to the most recent edition of the DSM-5, which chronicles psychological disorders.

“Caffeine is a drug, a mild stimulant which is used by almost everybody on a daily basis,” Charles O’Brien, chair of the Substance-Related Disorders Work Group, said in a video explaining why the term was added to the DSM-5.

“Normally, there’s no problem with that. But it does have a letdown afterwards,” he added. “If you drink a lot of coffee, usually two or three cups at a time, there will be a rebound or withdrawal effect.”

However, O’Brien said the group decided against formally classifying it as a disorder. Instead, it was listed in the DSM-5’s Section III where, O’Brien said, a listing is meant to “stimulate” further research on potential addictive properties.

Juliano says that in order to avoid any potentially serious withdrawal symptoms, people should limit their daily caffeine consumption to 400mg, two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee.

And what do experts like Juliano and O’Brien hope to discover through further scientific research?

"Genetics research may help us to better understand the effects of caffeine on health and pregnancy as well as individual differences in caffeine consumption and sensitivity," she said.

Juliano also said that more research could result in greater transparency when it comes to products that sell drinks and foods with high caffeine content.

"At this time, manufacturers are not required to label caffeine amounts, and some products such as energy drinks do not have regulated limits on caffeine," Juliano said. "Through our research, we have observed that people who have been unable to quit or cut back on caffeine on their own would be interested in receiving formal treatment — similar to the outside assistance people can turn to if they want to quit smoking or tobacco use."

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