Drugs & Health Blog

Is Caffeine Really Addictive?

The NIDA Blog Team

Most adults in the U.S. use caffeine, whether in coffee, soda, energy drinks, or chocolate. Many are also familiar with the effects of suddenly drinking less coffee than usual: tiredness, headaches, insomnia, and other symptoms. And many people talk about being “addicted” to their morning coffee or energy drink! But is caffeine truly addictive?

It’s all about the dopamine

The world’s caffeine obsession can be described as a “dependency” (because when you have less of it, you go through a mild “withdrawal,” with the symptoms listed above), but it is not an addiction.

It is true that—like many drugs—caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that helps control movement, motivation, and emotions, so enhanced dopamine signaling makes a person feel more awake and alert. Because caffeine produces that alert feeling, it’s classified as a stimulant.

But wait—some prescription drugs and the dangerous drug methamphetamine (“meth”) and MDMA (ecstasy or Molly) are also types of stimulants. So what’s the difference?

While caffeine produces a small rise in dopamine, it does not cause the large surge that unbalances the reward circuits in the brain and is necessary for an addiction. So even though the word “addiction” is often used casually, caffeine is not addictive (scientifically speaking).

How do you define addiction?

NIDA defines addiction as the uncontrolled (or “compulsive”) use of a substance even when it causes negative consequences for the person using it. Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA’s director, recently talked to Voice of America about the real definition of addiction.

So the difference between caffeine dependence and addiction to drugs like meth is that even a person who loves to drink coffee can do without it, deal with the headaches and irritability that result, and not engage in destructive (or self-destructive) behavior.

Too much caffeine—like too much anything—can still be harmful. But even if you just gotta have that energy drink, know that your love of caffeine doesn’t compare to a real drug addiction that can change your life forever, in very bad ways. 

Update: Take our quiz on coffee and energy drinks!

Categories: 
Brain Science
Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

i know that coffee is bad if you drink alot but what if someone needs it to stay awake and the only way to do that is to drink a lot of coffee

Hi Jonathan, the effects of caffeine depend a lot on how much a person consumes. Check out this post to learn more: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/buzz-caffeine-updated

develop a consistent sleep schedule containing 8+ hours of sleep every night and/or eat an apple.
Well, if you eat good breakfast every morning you'll have enough energy for the day...or if you eat an apple in the morning an apple can give you more energy than coffee itself.
drugz are bad
no really
So is your spelling and capitalization. You didn't even put a period at the end of your statement.
no not really for me
why not?
see i would have coffee. always. but my mum monitors my cafeen
I would but I cant
i never thought of caffeine as a drug
Can caffeine be considered a drug even if it is not addictive? Still, it alters behaviors...
Drugs are any foreign substance that can be absorbed by the system that does not have nutrional value.
i love coffee. im not addicted though.
Caffeine is just as addictive as Nicotine. If u regularly drink coffee you are addicted. Try stopping cold turkey. Its going to suck.
Can go from 3 cups a day to 0 for weeks, it's really not too bad...
nice article
t is true that—like many drugs—caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that helps control movement, motivation, and emotions, so enhanced dopamine signaling makes a person feel more awake and alert. Because caffeine produces that alert feeling, it’s classified as a stimulant.
ese way
caffeine is not a drug
its NOT!
i lik cafine b case its yume and i wil us it for evr ha i so fune. help me please.
I never would think that coffee could be considered a drug. I personally don't drink coffee so I wouldn't know if it makes you feel like your "addicted " or not.
i wonder how many people are suffering from being addicted to caffine, but dont realize it because they dont think its harmful.
This is an interesting article. As person who is a regular caffeine user and a former meth addict I can tell you that both caffeine and meth produce craving and withdrawal. Caffeine does not create the type of life impairments that chronic meth use causes so in that way caffeine does not carry the same danger, but to say that it is not addictive is a stretch. The fact that caffeine works on dopamine in the brain, which can result in caffeine seeking behavior, is further evidence that it is addicting. Perhaps we should say that caffeine, unlike more powerful psychostimulants is less addicting rather than not addicting.
Caffeine abuse and addiction are understated and under-studied. I am an addict. I used to drink so much caffeine it was making me intolerant to other people. I was a contractor, and I was losing contracts. I was losing friends. I was stressed out, strung out, and ruining my life. Everytime I tried to quit, the withdrawals were horrible...terrible headaches, fevers, sweaty nightmares...it got to the point to where I would wait to try quitting until I was sick already anyway. Eventually it started affecting my vision with migraines, and the only way to function at all was to completely avoid all caffeine, even small amounts like in chocolate. Caffeine has been recognized as a chemically addictive drug since 1994 when studies confirming this were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as well as confirming caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder caused by excessive quantity of adenosine receptors, which are created in response to caffeine mimicking Adenosine...this alters the brains chemistry by changing the balance of adenosine, dopamine, adrenaline, and other chemicals. It is estimated that over 80% of Americans have some level of caffeine dependency, however it affects different people in widely different ways and most people do not realize or notice a problem, and most can quit easily with only minor withdrawal symptoms. Some hospitals have started the practice of adding small amounts of caffeine to post-op IV drips, because caffeine withdrawal seriously increases the recovery time for patients to be able to leave the hospital...even those patients who only drink one cup of coffee per day can spend an additional couple days recovering without their daily caffeine intake.

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