Caffeine: A Review of the Evidence

Despite the fact that there have been numerous studies conducted on caffeine, there is no compelling evidence that supports the misconception that caffeine is addictive or habit forming for the vast majority of people.

Caffeine Addiction

A habit caused by a psychological and physical dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control.

Caffeine is not an addictive drug. According to the American Psychiatric Association (which does not recognize a condition called “caffeine addiction”), addiction is characterized by:

  • The inability to stop taking drugs
  • Interference with everyday activities, either social or work-related

Even people who consume large amounts of caffeine do not meet these criteria. However, consuming too much caffeine can have consequences for headache sufferers. Caffeine overuse by people who have occasional migraine attacks increases the chance that their condition will become chronic. Over time, occasional attacks can become more frequent and, eventually, constant. Still, despite the widespread availability of caffeine-containing products sold for alertness, such as energy drinks, foods and, supplements, reports of deliberate caffeine abuse are extremely rare.

Caffeine Withdrawal

It is important to note that moderate caffeine consumption is completely safe, and caffeine itself is not classified as an addictive drug. For some people, depending on the amount of caffeine ingested and their individual sensitivity to caffeine, caffeine can be a mild stimulant to the central nervous system. When consumption of caffeine is stopped abruptly, some people may experience “withdrawal” symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Sleepiness/drowsiness
  • Impaired concentration/lassitude/work difficulty
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Muscle aches/stiffness

Actual rates of people suffering from withdrawal are disputed by the experts, but evidence suggests that it may be less common than previously thought. In a scientific study of more than 11,000 people, only about 11% of the people who consumed caffeine daily reported any withdrawal symptoms once the caffeine consumption was stopped. And only 3% of those with symptoms said they were severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.

Caffeine withdrawal is an uncommon condition. Still, you can take steps to limit your chances of experiencing it:

  1. Limit your daily consumption of caffeine. You can use the Caffeine Content Chart to figure out your current intake and decide where you can cut back.
  2. Don’t eliminate caffeine abruptly. Gradually decreasing your caffeine consumption may help to lessen the effects of withdrawal.
  3. Enlist the help of family members. Friends and family can provide great support during the transition.
  4. Consult with your physician about the withdrawal process so you can determine the best way to use caffeine-containing pain relievers during the transition and in the future.

Caffeine and Headache