Can You Be “Addicted” to Caffeine?

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I often tell people I’m addicted to chocolate, sleep and ballet class. If there is chocolate nearby, I don’t even try to resist it – I eat it. I crave quality sleep every night – I really like eight hours, but can function on six if I have to. And I’m adamant about going to my ballet class once a week or I go stir crazy. Does this mean I’m addicted because I can’t resist something, I need something in order to function or I’m tense and nervous without it? Of course not. Because chocolate, sleep and ballet are not addictive. And neither is caffeine.

You may have heard a friend or coworker joke that they are “addicted” to their morning caffeine. But, fortunately, science shows that isn’t the case. Decades of research found that, for most of us, moderate amounts of caffeine are safe and do not harm health, and evidence of true addiction has not been found in studies of caffeine.

Some people might experience mild, temporary effects from abruptly stopping caffeine consumption, like headache, restlessness, and irritability. However, experts agree that discomfort can be avoided by gradually decreasing caffeine intake over time. 

Not only is caffeine’s safety supported by its long history of consumption and extensive research, but recent data shows the average American’s caffeine intake is below moderate levels – about 165 mg per day. (Moderate daily consumption is 300 to 400 mg per day for a healthy adult.)

Certain people (such as children, pregnant women, or those who have a history of heart attack or high blood pressure) may be more sensitive to caffeine and therefore may need to limit or avoid it. If you think you might be sensitive to caffeine or are experiencing jitters or sleeplessness, I recommend talking it over with your healthcare provider to determine the best approach for your individual needs.

So if you “need” that morning cup of coffee or afternoon tea for a pick-me-up, don’t worry about being “addicted” to caffeine. Be mindful of your intake and any sensitivities you may experience, but don’t stress over it. In the meantime, just because I have to plan ahead to make sure I’m not surrounded by chocolate, I need a good night’s sleep in order to perform my best, and I must attend ballet if I’m going to keep a grip on my sanity, I’m going to stop telling people that I’m addicted to those things!