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Is Caffeine Withdrawal a Mental Disorder?

1 in 8 People Can't Function Without Daily Fix
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 30, 2004 -- Researchers are saying that caffeine withdrawal should now be classified as a psychiatric disorder.

A new study that analyzes some 170 years' worth of research concludes that caffeine withdrawal is very real -- producing enough physical symptoms and a disruption in daily life to classify it as a psychiatric disorder. Researchers are suggesting that caffeine withdrawal should be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), considered the bible of mental disorders.

"I don't think this means anyone should be worried," says study researcher Roland Griffiths, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "What it means is that the phenomenon of caffeine withdrawal is real and that when people don't get their usual dose, they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms."

His research, published in the October issue of Psychopharmacology, analyzes 66 previous studies on the effects of caffeine withdrawal.

1 Coffee Sets the Stage

Griffiths' analysis shows as little as one cup of coffee can cause an addiction and withdrawal from caffeine produces any of five clusters of symptoms in some people:

  • Headache, the most common symptom, which affects at least of 50% of people in caffeine withdrawal
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • "Unhappy" mood, depression, or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and stiffness.

"Onset of these symptoms typically occurs within 12 to 24 hours of stopping caffeine and peaks one to two days after stopping," Griffiths tells WebMD. "The duration is between two and nine days."

A new revelation in Griffith's analysis may be what upgrades caffeine withdrawal from its current "more study is needed" status to "disorder" status: These withdrawal symptoms are severe enough in about one in eight people to interfere with their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

"The withdrawal symptoms can be mild or severe, but it's estimated that 13% of people develop symptoms so significant that they can't do what they normally would do -- they can't work, they can't leave the house, they can't function," he says.

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