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Caffeine and Mental Health

Below are some of the most common questions about caffeine, including what it is and how it affects mental health.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant produced in the leaves and fruits of certain plants. Caffeine can be found in beverages such as coffee, teas, soft drinks, and energy drinks, in addition to certain foods and medications.

When caffeine is absorbed by the body, it increases brain and nervous system activity and improves the circulation of certain chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. These natural processes result in an energizing effect that many people enjoy. In fact, caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, consumed by roughly 80 percent of American adults every day.

Does Caffeine Have an Affect on Mental Health?

Caffeine, like most other substances, can have an affect on mental health.

In proper doses, caffeine can boost feelings of alertness and wellbeing and provide more energy. This can lead many individuals to believe it improves their mood and mental health.

On the other hand, caffeine can also increase anxiety, restlessness and irritability as well as affect both quality and quantity of sleep. These effects are amplified as the dose of caffeine is increased.

Does Caffeine Increase Anxiety?

Caffeine has been shown to increase feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress, especially when consumed at high doses. The degree to which individuals experience these side effects may vary depending on factors such as their tolerance, natural proclivities, and general mental health status.

In fact, a 2011 study in the Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics conclusively found that caffeine can aggravate symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder in individuals with underlying health issues.

Does Caffeine Improve or Worsen Depression?

While each individual is different, studies have shown that caffeine – and coffee in particular – may actually improve depression in some individuals. This same protective effect is also available, although to a lesser degree, in caffeinated tea.

That being said, coffee is not a miracle cure for depression, nor is it without its side effects. Many of coffee’s side effects – especially those associated with withdrawal, such as irritability and general feelings of unwellness – may actually make depression worse in some individuals.

Caffeine can be safely consumed by individuals with depression so long as they do not find its side effects bothersome, and always within moderation.

Does Caffeine Help ADHD?

As a stimulant, caffeine can have a positive effect on individuals with ADHD due to its ability to improve concentration; however, it is not without its side effects:

  • Individuals already on ADHD medications should beware that drinking caffeine may lead to an increase in stimulation-related side effects as the two substances interact
  • Caffeine can negatively impact sleep, which can worsen symptoms of ADHD

Always check with your doctor before integrating a new substance into your daily routine, especially if you are already on medication.

Can Psychosis Be Triggered By Caffeine?

Due to caffeine’s effect on dopamine transmission, it has been suggested that it may worsen symptoms of psychosis in individuals with schizophrenia. It has also been shown to have the ability to cause psychosis in otherwise healthy individuals at high doses.

If you are experiencing symptoms of psychosis – including auditory/visual hallucinations, delusions, agitation, or disorganized thought and behavior – help is available. Contact a mental health professional today.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

The amount of caffeine that you should consume in a day depends on many factors, including your personality type, mental health conditions, tolerance to the substance, and overall health.

Generally, a daily dose of equal to or less than 400 milligrams – which is roughly three or four cups of coffee – is considered safe; however, every individual is different, and you may certainly find that even a single cup of coffee may produce negative effects such as increased anxiety or irritability.

When in doubt, check with your doctor about how much caffeine may be appropriate for you.