Caffeine Withdrawal: DSM Now Recognizes Coffee Drinking Can Cause Mental Disorder
Caffeine withdrawal is one of the newest entries listed in the most recent mental health manual, the DSM-5, released on May 22.
Those who rely on morning coffee, plus afternoon and post-lunch coffee, know the necessity of caffeine in their lives, and how hard getting through the day without it can be. So it may be no surprise that cutting out caffeine abruptly can trigger a disorder.
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Caffeine withdrawal, the new disorder listed in DSM-5, is a sibling to caffeine intoxication, which was in DSM-IV and is still in the DSM-5. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include restlessness, nervousness, sleeplessness, upset stomach and a rapid heartbeat, among other symptoms. If that sounds like something you've experienced every workday, there's another factor that needs to fall into place before it qualifies as caffeine intoxication: your ability to function must be impaired.
Most people probably won't ever experience anything like that, but if you've had a nasty headache after not getting your coffee fix, you may be experiencing what now officially qualifies as caffeine withdrawal.
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headache, fatigue and difficulty focusing.
"Caffeine is a drug, a mild stimulant, which is used by almost everybody on a daily basis," said Dr. Charles O'Brien, Chair of the Substance-Related Disorder Work Group for the DSM-5.
"But it does have a letdown afterwards," O'Brien cautions. "If you drink a lot of coffee, at least two or three [eight ounce] cups at a time, there will be a rebound or withdrawal effect."
According to Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist, caffeine withdrawal is only temporary.
"The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are transitory, they take care of themselves," said Rosenberg. "It's just a natural response to stopping caffeine, and it clears up on its own in short order."
The inclusion of something as relatively minor as caffeine withdrawal syndrome in the DSM-5 is somewhat controversial, which one member of the DSM-5 work group, Alan J. Budney, discussed last year when it was announced that the syndrome would be included in the DSM.
"We feel that there is enough data to support a caffeine withdrawal syndrome," said Budney. "There are enough people who go into withdrawal--that if they don't get caffeine, it becomes a real syndrome and can affect work, sleep, or whatever they need to do. So we're suggesting that it 'make the big leagues' and become part of the DSM to make sure everyone is aware of it."
One bit of trivia for the marathon coffee drinkers out there: if you're wondering, "Can caffeine kill you?" the answer is "sort of."
In order to overdose from drinking coffee with caffeine, you'd have to drink about 100 cups of coffee rapidly -- about 6 gallons in total. That's 10 to 13 grams of caffeine. But you'd actually probably die from the amount of water trapped in your body, diluting nutrients in your bloodstream.
So drink your coffee in moderation.
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