Caffeine is one of the world’s most widely used legal and unregulated psychoactive substance. The effects of caffeine can be seen as fast as 15 minutes after consumption, and can take hours before it is eliminated from our body. Many people consume it for added alertness and sociability, however in large doses, it can result in nervousness, anxiety, and even seizures.
Caffeine can be consumed from a number of sources – besides coffee and tea, it can be found in over the counter medications, sleeping pills, weight loss tablets, as well as energy drinks. Some examples of the average amounts of caffeine in certain products are shown below:
- One tablet of NoDoz, regular strength – 100mg (200mg maximum strength)
- A small can of Red Bull – 80mg (roughly 150mg large can)
- A 250ml can of coca cola – 36mg
- A 250ml serving of black tea – 25-110mg
- One shot of espresso/short black – 107mg
- A 250ml cup of cafe style coffee e.g. latte, cappucino – 113-282mg
- Instant coffee 250ml – 60-80mg
Can you overdose on caffeine?
Yes, caffeine is like other drugs and can have quite serious side effects. A 200mg dose of caffeine can be enough to cause side effects.
The habitual consumption of caffeinated soft drinks with our meals is very common. As such, many of us underestimate the amount of caffeine that we consume – The truth is, it may be more than we think. With increasing age, individuals are more likely to demonstrate increasingly intense reactions to caffeine, with greater complaints of sleep disturbance and feelings of hyperarousal.
Can Caffeine cause a mental health disorder?
Excessive use of caffeine can tip some people over the edge, especially if they are predisposed to disorders like anxiety. Some anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, or generalised anxiety disorder can cause a clinical picture that is similar to caffeine intoxication. This includes feelings of restlessness, sleep disturbances, trembling or shaking, and muscle tension.
Is Caffeine Intoxication disorder a mental health problem?
According to the diagnostic manual for mental health disorders it certainly is a mental health problem. In order to receive a diagnosis for Caffeine Intoxication, a person must meet the following criteria:
- recently consumed caffeine (typically a high dose well in excess of 250mg)
- developed five or more of the following signs or symptoms during, or shortly after caffeine use:
- flushed face
- gastrointestinal disturbance (can occur with low doses e.g. 200mg in vulnerable individuals such as children, the elderly, or those who have not been exposed to caffeine previously)
- muscle twitching
- rambling flow of thought and speech
- tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate) or cardiac arrythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- periods of inexhaustibility
- psychomotor agitation (restlessness brought on by muscle tension)
- The signs and symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
- The signs and symptoms are not attributable to another medical condition and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. anxiety disorder), or intoxication with another substance
Is there help available?
If you regularly consume high amounts of caffeine and currently suffering from anxiety symptoms, you may benefit from seeking advice. Just like many behaviours, changing your coffee habits is possible but it is important to gain support from a health professional. Going “cold turkey” and stopping large amount of coffee can cause serious side effects like migraines. The best way is to quantify the problem, sit down with a health professional like your GP or psychologist and work out a plan. In a similar way to an exercise plan, you will benefit from not doing this too quickly.
Some interesting articles include:
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. DSM-V.
Australian Beverages. (2013). Caffeine – The facts. Retrieved via http://australianbeverages.org/for-consumers/caffeine-facts/