Psychologist Questions Caffeine

Is coffee an addiction?

My sister is addicted to coffee and ends up having almost 3 to 7 cups a day. It just doesn’t seem normal. Is it actually an addiction?

9 Answers

When you look at it, anything can really be an addiction. However, things that we put in our body can cause different kinds of addictions such as our body developing a tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. 3 to 7 cups a day I would say is a little over the top; you might want to ask her to stop or decrease the caffeine and see what happens with her body. She also needs to keep in mind that caffeine makes the body dehydrated so it’s very important to hydrate daily double than the regular person since she’s drinking so much coffee.

Irene Yaymadjian, PsyD
Dear Sir/Madam:

It is commendable that you are concerned about your sister's coffee intake. Is she having any withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, drowsiness, irritability, flu-like symptoms when not drinking coffee? Then yes, she may be addicted. You said "she ends up having" almost 3 to 7 cups of coffee. Is she "choosing" to drink coffee or does she have cravings for coffee? Is she drinking decaffeinated or regular? 

In case she is addicted, then she needs to find out what are the underlying causes and deal with them. Some habits can be broken much more easily than others. She can start having every other cup of decaffeinated. She can also reach out for water instead of coffee. She can engage in deep breathing and relax herself. She can seek the help of a therapist who specializes in addiction.

Take care,

Dr. Sonpal
Caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee is addicting. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, tiredness and others. You can google caffeine to learn more. As I am not a medical doctor I can’t speak to the long term health effects of such relatively high doses of coffee, but several systems may be involved. Google or consult your PCP.

Clearly you are concerned about your sister and rightfully so. Have you shared your concerns with her in a nonjudgmental way? I would ask her why she feels she needs so much. I would also ask about her sleep quantity and quality. She may drink coffee in order to compensate for inadequate sleep. Since caffeine at such high doses impairs sleep and its many important restorative functions, one problem may be compounding another.
I would recommend that your sister get an evaluation at a sleep disorders center; if she has sleep problems she may be amenable to that, and they will almost certainly discharge caffeine with her. If she agrees go with her. People typically underreport consumption of coffee, alcohol and other substances.
Finally, is it possible your sister is depressed and us using caffeine, a stimulant to boost her mood?

While you might discuss this people are generally more receptive to seeking treatment for sleep than mental health problems, but the sleep clinic work up will evaluate this as well.
Yes. It is addictive. Caffeine is a stimulant which enhances dopamine signaling, and people could get addicted to the caffeine in the coffee and have withdrawals symptoms when having a decrease or sudden stop in drinking coffee when they have a dependency.
It is possible to become addicted to substances such as the caffeine in coffee. But keep in mind that addictions can be both physical as well as psychological. Substances to which we are no longer physically addicted may still be psychologically addictive in that use of the substance may be associated with the satisfaction of our basic psychological needs.
Yes. Coffee is addictive. However, is she medicating herself? Does she feel a lack of enough energy to do what she needs to do? If so, why?
Can be. If she stops, she may get headaches for a few days. So people are told to reduce slowly, using decaf to dilute the caffeine. But it isn’t a ‘serious’ addiction - not illegal, not a danger to others. So if she is an adult, she can decide for herself.
No, your sister is fine. No addiction and the coffee can help her focus on daily routines.
Cutting back on caffeine is good. Encourage her to slowly cut back. Replacing one like with another but healthy replacement would be smart to do.