Thursday, September 30, 2004

Uh-oh, hide the Starbucks.

A single cup of coffee a day can produce “caffeine addiction,” according to a study from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, which has declared caffeine the most “behaviorally active drug” on the planet.

Caffeine withdrawal is a genuine “mental disorder,” according to the study, which was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used stimulant, and it’s cheap and readily available so people can maintain their use of caffeine quite easily,” said Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Hopkins, and the study director.

Based on his findings, Dr. Griffiths anticipates that caffeine withdrawal could be included in the next edition of the national Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, compiled by the American Psychiatric Association and considered the veritable bible of such things among medical professionals.

That would make “addicts” out of an awful lot of people. According to industry statistics, about 80 percent of American adults regularly consume caffeine, averaging 280 milligrams a day — two mugs of joe, or three to five soft drinks.

“When people don’t get their usual dose, they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms, including headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. They may even feel like they have the flu,” Mr. Griffiths said.

The New York-based National Coffee Association (NCA) begs to differ with such dire pronouncements.

“I find it interesting that the appendix of this research paper lists other, larger studies as references, none of which concluded caffeine was addictive and caused withdrawal symptoms,” said NCA spokesman Joe DeRupo. “They are contradicting their own resources.”

The association maintains that a “true” addiction is characterized by severe withdrawal symptoms, a need for increasing amounts of the substance and loss of personal control.

“Coffee drinkers do not exhibit these symptoms. And caffeine withdrawal is not listed yet in the psychiatric manual,” Mr. DeRupo said, noting that the NCA has tallied some 19,000 scientific studies to date on coffee or caffeine, and “they’re still considered safe.”

Dr. Griffiths, meanwhile, has tapped into what he calls “170 years worth of research on caffeine withdrawal,” determined to find a valid pattern of symptoms among those who get crabby without their morning latte.

He identified five common withdrawal symptoms: headache, fatigue or drowsiness, depression and irritability, difficulty concentrating, and flulike symptoms of nausea, vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness.

Symptoms occur 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine and last from two to nine days. Shunning even 100 milligrams of caffeine per day — or about one small cup of coffee — was enough to produce distressing symptoms.

Dr. Griffiths already has plans for those who want to kick their caffeine habit.

“We teach a systematic method of gradually reducing caffeine consumption over time by substituting decaffeinated or non-caffeinated products,” he said.

Others have had similar ideas.

In March, Albany-based Soy Coffee began promoting “National Caffeine Awareness Month” to raise the American consciousness about “detection and prevention of caffeine addiction in the U.S.”

In a statement last year, the coffee substitute manufacturer noted that “caffeine can hurt a person’s overall health and well-being,” declaring that “caffeine is not only considered habit forming, but also addicting.”

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