Coffee's Energy Boost Is a Sign That You're Addicted

By McCarton Ackerman 06/18/13

Caffeine's "pick-me-up" could just be the body fighting withdrawal, according to a new study.

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Those who swear by coffee in the morning may not be getting as much of a caffeine "perk" as they think. New research shows that the morning ritual could be a mild form of drug dependency and that the feeling of boosted energy could be the body fighting caffeine withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and mental fogginess. A key study involved a group of 300 volunteers—half who identified as moderate to high caffeine drinkers, while the other half had a low caffeine intake. They were then split into two random groups and given either a placebo or coffee. While the regular coffee drinkers showed an increased alertness after the coffee intake, they were no more alert than the non-coffee drinkers who had the placebo. "People who consume caffeine regularly will become dependent on it. If you take caffeine away from them, they will function below par," says Peter Rogers, professor of biological psychology at Bristol University and a leading caffeine expert. "They just don't function normally without the drug on board. If it's your first tea or coffee of the day, it gets you back to normal, but beyond that you don't get much more of a kick."

Caffeine stops a brain chemical known as adenosine from having an effect, which leads to caffeine withdrawal effects after a few hours. Rogers says this is due to caffeine narrowing blood vessels in the brain, which leads to an increase in blood flow and triggers a headache once it's no longer consumed. Another study by Rogers involving 300 volunteers found that while coffee will keep users awake, it doesn't do anything to improve their alertness or reaction time. A paper by Jack James, professor of psychology at Reykjavik University, even argued that regular caffeine intake is responsible for 14% of premature deaths to coronary heart disease and 20% of premature deaths due to stroke. However, coffee consumption has also been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer, while a study by Harvard researchers last year suggested that moderate coffee intake (four cups per day) reduced the risk of heart failure.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.