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Sunday, October 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Scientists find coffee really is addictive

By Angela Stewart
Newhouse News Service

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NEWARK, N.J. — Don't be surprised if missing that cup of morning coffee gives you a headache or makes it difficult to concentrate at work. It's all part of caffeine withdrawal, say Johns Hopkins University researchers who released a study that could result in the official classification of the condition as a mental disorder.

In the most comprehensive review and analysis of the effects of caffeine abstinence in humans published to date, the researchers conclude that as little as one small cup of coffee daily can produce caffeine addiction.

In general, the more caffeine consumed, the more severe withdrawal symptoms will be, with some people even reporting depression, nausea, vomiting or muscle pain.

Results of the study could result in caffeine withdrawal's inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM — considered the bible of the psychiatric profession.

"We need to recognize that caffeine really is a drug and accord it respect as a drug. People need to know what it does when they take it, and what it does when they cease to take it, and make an adult decision about that," said Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, who published the findings with his colleague, Laura Juliano, who teaches at American University.

Griffiths stressed that coffee is not the only culprit. He said soft drinks and other products containing caffeine can produce withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue and irritability.

The study results are published in the October issue of the journal Psychopharmacology.

Joseph DeRupo, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association, said the average American coffee drinker consumes 3.4 cups a day.

DeRupo said the scientific evidence is that caffeine is not an addictive substance, however. Altering the coffee-drinking routine is what produces problems, researchers found.

Griffiths and Juliano assessed the validity of 66 studies on caffeine withdrawal over many decades. Fifty percent of people had headaches, and 13 percent had clinically significant distress or impairment of function.

Typically, symptoms began 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine, with peak intensity lasting one to two days. But withdrawal can last two to nine days, the researchers found.
The American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM, already unofficially recognizes the existence of caffeine withdrawal, but had suggested in its most recent review that the condition needed to be studied more systematically, which Griffith believes now has been done.

Kicking the caffeine habit is not easy. Griffith suggests gradually decreasing the amount of caffeine over one or two weeks.

"What we know based on other substances is that gradual detoxification works well," he said.

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