Caffeine and mental health

 The consumption of caffeine is so usual that its effects on mental health are underestimated. Due to its availability and acceptability, people take caffeine at their own will, in their desired amounts and frequencies depending on the perceived benefits and side effects it causes to them. Most people usually associate caffeine with coffee.

However, it’s a chemical substance found in a number of beverages including coffee, tea, chocolate, cola soft drinks, energy drinks, as well as in some medication such as cold, cough and pain drugs.

Caffeine is world’s most popular drug. Caffeine has a very strong relation to mental health in a variety of ways.


Psychological Effects of Caffeine

The psychological effects of caffeine are two way. Low amounts of caffeine cause stimulation which is usually desirable. High doses on the other hand can produce undesirable effects.

  • Generally, caffeine enhances alertness, elevates mood and decreases fatigue. Normal caffeine intake improves a person’s performance on tasks that require alertness. In older population, high consumption is linked to better performance.

Caffeine and mental health

  • Consumption of caffeine may be higher in psychiatric patients than in other people. Use of caffeine has been associated to specific disorders including anxiety, schizophrenia, sleeping and eating disorders.

Caffeine, anxiety and depression

Excessive caffeine consumption causes a person to experience symptoms of anxiety and they have a basis in overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. Symptoms of anxiety are in fact distinguishable. Clinically, caffeine may be used in the precipitation or maintenance of anxiety disorders. Sensitivity to caffeine is heightened in individuals with social phobia and panic disorders and use of caffeine can trigger panic attacks in these people. Anxiety symptoms also reduce with caffeine withdrawal or reduction and persons suffering panic attacks can benefit from a limitation of their use. Caffeine induced anxiety cannot be treated unless caffeine use is withdrawn. Interestingly, it is suggested that, people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a form of anxiety benefit from caffeine intake. On the contrary, the risk for depression subsides with increased consumption of caffeine.

Sleep disorders

  • Caffeine is well known to cause insomnia. It minimizes slow wave sleep during early phase of sleep cycle. Caffeine enhances wakefulness episodes and high amounts of caffeine taken in the dusk can increase the time taken to fall asleep. The use of caffeine rich medication in the elderly increases the risk of sleeping difficulties.

Eating disorders                                                                                                                                       

People with eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia often take large quantities of caffeine containing drinks in the belief that caffeine enhances metabolic rate and subdues appetite. Excessive consumption of caffeine may cause osteoporosis, which has a high occurrence in anorexia. High consumption of caffeine is linked to high frequency of binge eating, compared with low intake. In addition, people with high intake of caffeine are also more likely to use diet pills or laxatives and have higher levels of anxiety.

Caffeine and ADHD

This is an anxiety disorder common in young people characterized by inattention, hyperactivity or both symptoms. ADHD (Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder) is treated using stimulants and caffeine is one of the most used mild stimulants for people with this condition.

Caffeine and suicide incidences

High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased suicide rates. However, excessive consumption increases the risk of suicide. There is also a connection between increased use of caffeine and nicotine use with increased risk of suicide.  

Contrary to the common belief, caffeine is not that addictive. If consumed in moderation 2-3 cups a day, it becomes useful to the body as it enhances mental alertness. However, routine intake of caffeine may lead to adverse effects if a person skips taking it. These include effects such as headache, muscle pain, difficulty in concentrating as well as fatigue which fade away with time. In general, caffeine is less harmful to mental health if taken in the right doses, but excessive can cause mental problems.  

Hence, the next time you think about taking a cup of coffee, do it in moderation, in the right state of mind and also at the right time.



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