Australians and Coffee

Caffeine is the most commonly used substance in the world. It is in coffee, teas, soft drinks, sports drinks, chocolates and weight loss supplements. It’s thought that the average Australian consumes 250mg of caffeine or drinks 2 ¾ cups of coffee a day. 

However, People taking in large amounts of caffeine can become dependent on it. Struggle to reduce their use, despite awareness of the negative health effects of high use. Caffeine use disorder is a World Health Organization, ICD-10 recognized condition. Caffeine consumption is something increasing numbers of Australian health practitioners are asking their clients about.

Positive effects of caffeine

We have all tried caffeine in one form or another. Caffeine is a stimulant. Low to moderate use has people reporting alertness, sociability, and increased well being. 

There is a sense of reinforcement, people who use the caffeine are more likely to use it again. This is further enhanced by caffeine being paired with various flavours which the consumer enjoys.

Downside to regular high caffeine use

For the vast majority of people their caffeine or coffee intake is not going to have negative effects. However, for some, especially those at risk for instance those already with heart, stomach or bladder issues coffee can make things worse. 

  • Worsen anxiety makes us feel more tense and weary. Caffeine can make us feel nervous or twitchy. 
  • Insomnia, our bodies can take a while to remove caffeine. What this means is that it can contribute to using staying awake at night
  • Increased blood pressure and risk of heart attacks. Caffeine is a stimulant, it increases blood pressure and heart rate. Prolonged increases of both are damaging to the heart.
  • Reflux, caffeine can be an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract. It can trigger reflux, where stomach acid enters up the oesophagus.
  • Bladder instability. Caffeine has been linked to an increased urge to urinate, higher frequency of accidents. 

Caffeine withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal is a well documented syndrome or occurrence. Hence, Caffeine Use Disorder follows after a period of use and subsequent abrupt discontinuation. Common symptoms include:

  •  Headaches
  • Fatigue 
  • Trouble concentration
  • Altered mood. 

Caffeine tolerance?

Caffeine tolerance develops after repeated use of caffeine; the same dose of caffeine produces less in terms of behavioral or psychological effects. Tolerance is unlikely to occur at low doses, which is what the majority of people consume on a daily basis.

Diagnosing caffeine use disorder

As touched on above caffeine use disorder is a diagnosable condition. However given the popularity of caffeine, it’s important to get diagnosis right. For the vast majority of us, our coffee consumption

If someone is dependent on a drug they have a strong desire to take it, difficulty controlling their use, require more to get the same effect and trouble stopping it. 

As you start your day wanting a cup of coffee is different to having a strong urge for coffee on waking. Struggling to limit your caffeine intake or require; larger or stronger coffees to get you by might be another sign of dependency. 

Your therapist might ask about failed attempts to reduce your caffeine intake or continued use of caffeine despite being advised to stop. They will want to know details about your fluid consumption. Issues with other substance dependencies and impulse control. Expect your therapist to also want to know about your general diet and mental health. 

Your doctor or therapist might ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Sometimes what we feel are the effects of caffeine could be due to a health condition, for example, an overactive thyroid gland. Your doctor might request that you have some blood tests done.

Caffeine during pregnancy

The general advice during pregnancy is to reduce caffeine consumption. Some experts recommend stopping it altogether. Studies have shown that heavy caffeine use during pregnancy is linked to the risk of miscarriages and reduce the baby’s growth.

Despite the advice from pregnancy experts some women continue to use large amounts of caffeine. Often they would say withdrawal headaches, cravings or nervousness prevented them. There are also functional impairments. Some women complain of struggling to cope, keep up at work or with household activities without caffeine. 

Managing caffeine dependence

It starts with education and understanding. The more aware you are about caffeine, how Caffeine Use Disorder affects you, and your relationship with your body and current priorities; the better able you are to address your caffeine use. 

It is a choice to address caffeine consumption. If the goal is to reduce usage, it starts with understanding how much coffee you are consuming now. Food and drink diaries can be helpful here. 

Psychologists

Seeing a psychologist to address caffeine dependence is an option. They can provide you with a step by step guide and self-help resources. They can also provide you with strategies or tools to overcome cravings.

‘Caffeine fading’ a strategy to reduce caffeine consumption over time. Research suggests that it is an effective technique for people committed to gradually decreasing their use. 

Reward strategies, changes to morning dietary routines with the inclusion of exercise can also help. Psychologists can provide strategies here as well around structuring your day, goal setting and rewards. 

Social commitments, family routines can make giving up coffee hard. For instance, if you catch up with your friends every Saturday morning for breakfast and coffees; you will need to think about drink substitution and how you’d broach the change with your friends. 

Stopping Relapse

Stopping yourself entering back onto the slippery slide of caffeine consumption should be a long term goal. Here your therapist can help teach strategies to prevent relapse.

At Epsychiatry we know that giving up habits is hard. Often Caffeine Use Disorder is a long term commitment and slip-ups are likely. We believe that with the help of trained clinicians and psychologists you can learn ways to overcome reliance on caffeine. 

Contact our friendly support team to book an appointment. You can reach us via email, phone, webchat or on social media. 

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