Caffeine, it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For most of us we drink a cup of coffee, tea or soda. We drink them to give us energy. We make jokes about needing our caffeine to get us going each day. We blame our grumpy moods on not being able to have caffeine. Just thinking about it makes us feel a little more energetic and hopeful that we can make it through the day without feeling sluggish. What is our fascination with this drug? Why does something so good have to be so bad?
Before you act on that craving, take the time to learn a little bit more about caffeine and the effects it can have on your central nervous system.
There are four major diagnoses surrounding caffeine to include caffeine intoxication, caffeine addiction, caffeine induced anxiety and caffeine induced insomnia. Who knew? And to think something like this is everywhere we go and marketed to us by large companies as if it were a health product.
It’s time we start learning more about what we consume and how it will affect us psychology.
Quick Rundown on Caffeine
Caffeine can be produced naturally or artificially. Naturally, it is derived from the seeds of several different plants. From there it is mixed into teas, coffees, sodas, and even foods. It gives people a burst of energy that is short-term. It is listed as a drug in all medical and psychiatric literature because it works on the central nervous system and can have dangerous side effects if used in high quantities. In its purest form, caffeine can be compared to cocaine.
If you abuse cocaine and decide to quit using cocaine, you will go through withdrawal and experience symptoms of anxiety, headache, sometimes upset stomach, bowel problems and body aches. Similar withdrawal effects happen when a person quits caffeine. These symptoms are part of the reason people do not quit using caffeine. The thought of having withdrawals can make people feel anxious and even have panic attacks. You can go one day but then you start to feel like crap and you know that one cup of coffee will help you feel better. So you end up giving in to the craving and take a drink of caffeine to avoid anxiety and any other discomfort. This is all too normal among caffeine users. Maybe if we knew more about the dangers of caffeine you would drink it less.
Caffeine basically raises everything in your system, from energy to blood sugar levels to blood pressure. Caffeine can also create anxiety, dry mouth, ketones in your urine, and even nausea and diarrhea in some. Other effects include confusion, rapid heartbeat, and muscle aches. When a person starts to feel the effects, the brain is triggered to either fight or flight. This causes a lot of anxiety in some people because they are feeling the effects of caffeine but they don’t know what is causing them. They don’t associate their anxiety to the caffeine they drink. So they freak out and allow anxiety to take over. Caffeine increases stress hormones, it can interact with medications you may already be taking for anxiety, is linked to several mental disorders, and robs your brain of nutrients which makes it hard to fight anxiety attacks.
Many of these symptoms are similar to a hangover. Speaking of hangovers, people think a cup or two of coffee can sober you up. This is so not true. The only thing coffee can do for you or your hangover is to help you take the time necessary to sober up. Water is more of a friend to you than coffee when you have been out on the town drinking with your buddies. Caffeine dehydrates you and so does alcohol. With double the dehydration effects, you are more likely to feel a pounding headache and be queasy on your stomach the morning after. Most people pop some aspirin with their soda or coffee. This can help but what your body is truly asking for is water. The best thing you can do to avoid a hangover is to drink water before going to bed and have a glass of water next to your bed so you can continue to rehydrate yourself throughout the night.
Caffeine is a stimulant and is quickly, within minutes, absorbed from the stomach to the blood stream. Get this, caffeine is so powerful it can block the neurotransmitters that tell the brain to relax and calm down. That is just crazy. But it makes perfect sense that if your brain is not able to tell your body to relax and calm down, you are going to have to deal with anxiety. Before you know it you can be in full panic mode because you drank too much caffeine.
It sounds like items containing caffeine should have a warning label on them. Not that a warning label would stop us from drinking caffeine or anything but it may slow us down and help us drink it moderately and not like the energy seeking beasts we truly are. It should read: Warning, too much caffeine has been known to cause severe anxiety.
The daily recommendation of caffeine intake is 400 miligrams (mg) or less. But for those suffering from anxiety disorders, the recommendation is 200 mg or less. Let’s put this into perspective, one of those tiny five-hour energy shots has 200 grams. Even the five-hour energy shot that claims to be decaffeinated has 6 mg. Sodas have around 30 mg, similar to teas with caffeine. If you are a person who already has a diagnosis of generalized anxiety or severe anxiety or panic disorder, it is in your best interest to avoid caffeinated products. And don’t try to make yourself happy by eating chocolate. Chocolate also has caffeine. Not fair, right?
Caffeine’s Role in Our Society
Caffeine is being offered to us in a variety of ways. There is a coffee shop on every corner and a convenience store on the other corner. They are selling us what we need, energy. We put less gas in or cars so we can buy two monster drinks loaded with triple shots of caffeine. We get the double espresso for our drive to work and the ginseng green tea with extra zest to sip on throughout the day. We spend between five and ten dollars a day on our caffeine cravings. Could we make our own at home and take it with us in a thermos? Sure. But only a few do this and come on let’s face it, they are kind of nerdy. Why? Because people in our society like to be seen holding the Starbucks coffee cup, not the bobo cup we got from our cabinet. And it is even cooler to have the refillable cup, making the statement that we are there so often we earned ourselves a refill cup. Guess what? We all fall into this trap. Just this year American independent coffee shops equaled 12 billion in sales.
Local coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi and we feel cool sitting with our computers and our refillable cups completing hard work projects, or at least checking our emails. Oh look, they have bagels on sale and a Christmas CD by Michael Buble. I should get those. Oh look, I should go ahead and buy a bag of their coffee so maybe I will spend less time in here. Um, why would you want to do that? You are like the “Norm” of the coffee shop. Everyone knows your name, your brand of coffee and the upsells you prefer. No one is buying rounds, though. But they will let you bum a smoke because coffee seems to compliment the cigarette smoker. Just attend an AA meeting during break. You will see what I mean. This leads me back to caffeine being a drug and the caffeine crash. One thing missing in our society about caffeine is the recognition that it can be dangerous.
The Higher You Go the Harder the Crash
Yes, caffeine can help us by giving us a small jolt of energy. But in the long term, caffeine may actually be contributing to our lack of energy. The body needs water, which can give us just as much if not more energy. And I don’t mean the caffeinated water sold in some stores. The effects of dehydration can lead to severe anxiety.
The more caffeine you drink, the less water you intake. Depending on how your body metabolizes caffeine, it could even make you feel drowsy and more tired than before you drank it. Whoa. Slow down. Caffeine can make me tired? Yes. And that’s not all it can do for you.
Believe it or not, you can become intoxicated on caffeine. It’s true. You can even receive a DUI (Driving under influence) traffic violation if your caffeine intoxication is causing you to be a danger to society while you are driving. I promise you do not want to go to jail for being jacked up on caffeine.
Beyond this, caffeine has been shown to induce severe anxiety in people, causing them to require medical attention. This is why it is highly recommended that people with anxiety disorder types stay away from caffeine. If you drink caffeine all day, most days, do not be surprised by the occasional fluttering of the heart or you have heart palpitations. Similar to other drugs that give you energy, caffeine can also cause you to have nervousness, sweats, and dehydration. People don’t smoke crystal meth thinking they will be able to sleep for eight hours straight. And just like a drug addict can overdose, so can someone who uses too much caffeine. Caffeine overdoses happen when someone has consumed much more caffeine than their body can handle. Overdose symptoms include seizures, heart problems, confusion, vomiting and more. It’s just not worth it. And even if you are not overdosing on caffeine, it can still be proven to be harmful at certain levels, like when you are experiencing insomnia.
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction or Sleep
If you are drinking caffeine late into the night it will be hard for you to get a good night’s sleep. Caffeine can delay the release of melatonin in your brain, making you feel awake when you should be feeling tired. Research has shown that drinking too much caffeine can reduce the amount of sleep a person gets by two hours. Many say to stop drinking caffeine at least three hours before bed time but in some research it has shown to effect people up to six hours after drinking it.
If you drink caffeine all day to have energy, then can’t go to bed because of all the caffeine you ingested, and then spend the next day being tired and sleepy, so you then have to drink even more caffeine, which then makes it hard for you to fall asleep again. It is a vicious cycle. Even though people seem to know this information, they don’t stop drinking too much caffeine. Some researchers suggest abiding by a 2pm caffeine cutoff time each day. This way you do not have to calculate when to stop drinking coffee, tea or soda.
It’s Not All Bad
No one is suggesting you do away with caffeine as a part of your daily routine. However, they are suggesting you limit your intake to between 200 and 400 mg per day. This amount seems to provide positive side effects with little damage to the body or mind. The key to ingesting caffeine is to do so in moderation. One or two drinks with caffeine a day is not going to hurt you like drinking 20 or 30 caffeinated drinks. This is true for everything in life.
Some claim coffee can make you smarter. They say it improves mood, reaction times, memory and general cognitive functions. They also claim that caffeine has helped people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee, in particular, gives you a good percentage of fiber, aiding in good digestion. Many people claim they need a cup of coffee each morning to get things moving in all parts of their body. Caffeine can fight headaches. It is proven. Look at the ingredients in Excedrin Migraine. Caffeine is one of those ingredients. Some doctors claim drinking coffee is actually good for you in preventing heart disease and other illnesses. Obviously, anything we consume or do in moderation is best, including caffeine. So before you make your next run to Starbucks for coffee or the gas station for the 42 ounce fountain drink, try something that will truly benefit your mind and body. It will help you in the long run.