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What is Caffeine Dependency?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Caffeine dependency is the physiological addiction to caffeine that results from habitual intake of foods that contain caffeine, most notably coffee. Other foods that contain caffeine include sodas, energy drinks, tea and chocolate. Teas vary in caffeine content depending on the type of tea, while most sodas contain about half the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. Energy drinks also vary in caffeine content from amounts less than a cup of coffee to several cups.

Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that affects certain neural transmitters in the brain. By binding to adenosine receptors it acts as an inhibitor, which in turn increases the activity of dopamine neurotransmitters. Dopamine is known to be a mood elevator, key to the design of some drugs used in treating depression. Caffeine might also increase epinephrine (adrenaline) levels, the hormone that kicks in during the fight or flight response. In short, caffeine is a pick-me-up and in today's fast paced world caffeine dependency is prevalent.

Caffeine staves off drowsiness, provides energy, and can create a euphoric mood that can last for three or four hours. As caffeine dependency grows, however, resistance to the effects of caffeine can result in the need to take in greater amounts to achieve the same stimulating effect. At this stage heavy coffee or energy drink users might experience side effects like indigestion, sleep disorders, nervousness, muscle twitches and irritability.

One of the effects of caffeine dependency is withdrawal when caffeine intake is sharply curbed or abruptly halted. Adenosine contributes to the regulation of blood pressure. Because of the inhibitive effect on the adenosine receptors, the body compensates by making more receptors. When caffeine intake ceases there are essentially too many functional adenosine receptors, which causes dilated blood vessels in the brain resulting in headache and nausea. Given a few days, the body will compensate, producing fewer receptors. Withdrawal can take anywhere from two to five days.

While governments control many stimulants, caffeine remains legal and is reported to be one of the most widely used drugs in the world. It is likely that many people who suffer from the effects of caffeine dependency don’t realize it is the caffeine in their diets that is causing problems. Studies regarding potential benefits and risks of caffeine are varied with mixed results. Most sources agree that moderate levels of caffeine intake (two to three cups of coffer per day) pose no significant health risks to adults. Caffeine is toxic to some domestic pets, however, including dogs, parrots and horses.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon348774 — On Sep 19, 2013

Coffee isn't that bad and not really that much to worry about. That's why it's legal. If I'm just too hurried and have no time to even make a pot of coffee I can find myself realizing I've gone two or three days without any whatsoever and start to miss it. But I do notice a mood elevation when I do drink it.

It's also good good for the blues (not depression, just a bit sad and such.)

By geekish — On Oct 22, 2011

I never used to have coffee in the morning and now I love it, but my husband and I mix caffeinated and decaf coffee so the coffee we brew is just half the strength of regular coffee.

We do this because I am a caffeine wuss. If I drink too much, rather than get hyper I just get jittery and feel sick. It is not too big a deal, when I eat some more food the jitters and sick feeling usually just go away.

But the caffeine content in coffee must be much higher than sodas, as I used to drink one or two diet sodas a day and I would never get jittery.

Another reason I avoid too much caffeine is that I had a friend who had headaches just as the article described with the caffeine withdrawal symptom review and I am trying to avoid actually having to have caffeine and just keep it as something that I enjoy.

By StarJo — On Oct 22, 2011

After reading this, the effect that caffeinated soda has on me makes sense. I didn’t know if some secret ingredient was improving my mood or what, but I always feel so much better after drinking it, and now I know that caffeine is the reason.

I really did experience a bit of euphoria from drinking soda. I felt relaxed yet energized at the same time, and I know I seemed much more amiable.

For awhile, I had quit drinking soda at work because of the calories. However, after I started noticing how good it made me feel, I started drinking it at my desk again in the mornings. I admit that I am dependent upon caffeine, but there are far worse things to be addicted to, so I think I am okay with this.

By Perdido — On Oct 21, 2011

For a long time, I didn’t realize that tea had caffeine in it. I was all happy because I had switched to tea instead of coffee, and I thought I had gotten off of caffeine. I wondered why it wasn’t very hard to do.

I had bought several different kinds of tea that claimed to be all natural and pure. I just assumed this meant it contained no caffeine. I didn’t know at the time that tea naturally has caffeine in it.

Once I learned of my blunder, I just laughed at myself and said, “Oh, well.” At least tea has less caffeine than coffee, so I’m better off drinking it anyway.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 21, 2011

I have a kidney disease, so I have to watch my caffeine intake. I used to drink about two sodas per day, along with coffee and tea. I also ate chocolate every day.

When I started participated in a clinical trial for a drug to combat kidney disease, one of the requirements was that I limit my caffeine intake to the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day. It hurt at first, but I was willing, and I got through the withdrawal stage.

I was irritable and snappy at my coworkers for the first couple of days. I kept nodding off at my desk, and my head felt horrible.

By the third day though, I felt better. It’s still a little hard to maintain my focus with only two cups of coffee all day long, but if I have one in the morning and one in the afternoon when my energy level drops, I can sustain.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 20, 2011

I have a mild case of caffeine dependency. I notice the difference in my mood and physical well being when I don’t consume it, but I am able to make it through the day without it and still be okay.

The main thing I have to have is one cup of coffee in the morning. Just like a splash of cold water to the face, it helps me wake up. I know many people who drink it throughout the day, but all I need is one cup.

When I get up early, caffeine is a necessity. However, if I sleep in a little, I don’t really need it. I stay awake fine without it if I’ve had a few extra hours of sleep.

By sapphire12 — On Oct 19, 2011

I have a friend who had terrible problems with caffeine. She'd been a big soda drinker for a long time, but finally realized her anxiety problems were being worsened. She also was starting to feel like the relationship between coffee and blood pressure for her were not good either.

She quit easily and with no problems. At the same time, I haven't had most of the same problems, so I think I'm just fine despite how much coffee and other caffeinated things I drink.

By widget2010 — On Oct 19, 2011

I have a pretty strong caffeine dependency, although I tried to change what I drink a little. I drink tea instead of coffee during the day, and that makes me less jittery than I used to be. I think that with the amounts caffeine in tea vs coffee are more dramatic than I realized.

I do drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, though, so I know I still feel like I "need" it.

By ysmina — On Oct 18, 2011

I read an article about this which made the claim that caffeine is just as addicting as heroine. I was shocked to hear this but I believe it.

I was also surprised to learn that caffeine actually doesn't boost our energy. Just as addictive drugs require more and more to be taken in order to become effective, coffee also lowers our threshold for energy so that we need more of it to feel energetic. Our energy shoots through the roof at first, but then falls suddenly and we have side effects like the coffee jitters.

And if we don't have it, we go through withdrawal symptoms just like with drugs. That's why many people get headaches and a bad mood when they don't have their morning coffee.

By Sara007 — On Oct 18, 2011

If you have caffeine dependency make sure you drink a lot of water and get regular checkups a the doctor. I was surprised to learn that caffeine diuretics are widely used by people wanting to lose weight, and if you aren't aware of this, you can easily get dehydrated.

During the summer I would always drink beverages laced with caffeine because they kept me awake. I didn't know why I was always thirsty when I was drinking so much.

I guess caffeine can also be bad for your blood pressure. So between that and it being a diuretic, its a good idea to have it in moderation.

By lonelygod — On Oct 17, 2011

You would be surprised at the amount of caffeine in soda. I was shocked when I started looking at labels.

Over the past few months I have tried to figure out ways to make myself rest better at night. I have been really struggling to get a good rest, so I figured I would try and cut out caffeine from my diet. I didn't know at the time that this would mean no longer enjoying my favorite fizzy drinks.

When I stopped drinking soda I was shocked at how much caffeine had been affecting me. After the initial withdrawal I could sleep a lot better and stopped feeling jittery all the time.

By Moldova — On Oct 16, 2011

@Mutsy - I think that caffeine is a mixed bag because it does elevate your mood and make you more alert, but it also is a diuretic which means that you have to drink extra water when you are consuming drinks that are caffeinated.

This is not always easy to do and a lot of times I will drink coffee and instead of drinking water later on in the day, I will drink a diet soft drink that also has caffeine.

If gives me a headache and usually my lips start to become parched. That is when I know that I have to have some water. I also think that the effects of caffeine are best after the first caffeinated drink after that the gains in the feelings of alertness are diminished.

By mutsy — On Oct 15, 2011

Though caffeine dependency is certainly a bad thing, there are health benefits to drinking coffee that I recently read out about. Increased memory and a reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life are the main benefits. This is really great to hear because we are always hearing about the negative aspects of coffee and how caffeine affects your health by possibly raising your blood pressure or making you nervous.

This happened to my aunt. She had to switch to decaffeinated coffee because she started to develop an irregular heartbeat and the doctor told her to cut out her caffeinated drinks. She would drink several cups of espresso everyday and her hands would even shake a little because of the caffeine.

Although there are a lot of benefits to drinking coffee it is clearly something that people should do in moderation because caffeine is a stimulant and can adversely affect you if you are consuming too much.

By sunshine31 — On Oct 15, 2011

I know that I have a caffeine dependency because I am hooked on coffee. I usually have two cups of coffee every morning and if I happen to run out of my coffee without realizing it, I have to run to the store to get some because if not I will be really miserable.

I usually become very irritable and start to get headaches which go away after I have my coffee. If I am really tired or feeling a little sluggish in the afternoon, I will usually get a café con leche which is an espresso with milk. Espresso is much stronger than regular brewed coffee and I only drink it when I am really tired because if I drink it too late in the afternoon, I will not be able to sleep at night.

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