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Quitting caffeine is now a mental health disorder

June 11, 2013 at 5:14 PM ET

Video: If you thought cutting down on coffee was tougher than it seems, you’re right. According to the Wall Street Journal, quitting caffeine now is a basis for a mental health disorder.

There's a slight tremor in your hands followed by cold sweats. You snap when a coworker asks you a question, and your piercing headache makes you unable to send the simplest email. It’s only noon but you've given up on accomplishing anything at work.

If you think this sounds like the description of an addict experiencing withdrawal, you’re right: caffeine withdrawal.

The recently revised American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, aka the DSM-5 or the mental health bible, now lists two new diagnoses: caffeine withdrawal and caffeine intoxication.

But don’t let this new listing scare you out of enjoying a cup of coffee or a soda; a disorder isn’t considered problematic unless it interferes with daily life. And people won’t be diagnosed with caffeine withdrawal unless they suffer from three of the five symptoms — headache, fatigue or drowsiness, depressed mood or irritability, concentration difficulty, and flu-like symptoms such as nausea or muscle aches — within 24 hours of quitting.

Many doctors treat patients complaining of chronic headaches, and later discovered that caffeine withdrawal was to blame. To avoid becoming too dependent on caffeine, experts recommend that people drink about 100 milligrams daily (about one serving).

Doctors won’t diagnosis caffeine intoxication, a persistent jittery feeling of overstimulation, unless patients experience five of a dozen symptoms. These include restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis (a fancy term for urinating too much), stomach upset, muscle twitching, cluttered thoughts, a fluttering heart, manic behavior, and psychomotor agitation (what we know as nervous behaviors such as pacing or hand wringing).

It’s important to note that intoxication doesn’t occur unless people drink more than 250 milligrams of caffeine, but people who experience caffeine intoxication normally ingest much, much more. It’s easy to avoid caffeine intoxication by limiting the number of caffeinated drinks you guzzle.

While these listings indicate that caffeine can have a negative impact on people’s mental and physical health, caffeine does have certain noted health benefits.

Moderate caffeine consumption lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes and seems to prevent memory problems associated with old age. And, caffeine has been found to make people more optimistic.

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