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Part 2: Caffeine Effects on the Mind and Body

A close-up shot of a cup of coffee.
Coffee may be doing you more harm than good, especially if you’re drinking more than four cups a day.

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The vast majority (nine out of 10) of Americans consume caffeine every day, usually without thinking much of it. But the fact is caffeine is a drug—a stimulant—and it has both positive and negative effects.

It’s important for anyone to realize how caffeine affects them, but it’s especially important for those who are new in their recovery from drugs or alcohol.

That doesn’t mean you can’t drink coffee or tea or even energy drinks, but it does mean you should be aware of how it’s affecting your body and brain.

Caffeine Effects on the Body

Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it may make you urinate more. It can increase the release of stomach acid, leading to heartburn in some. Caffeine can also temporarily raise blood pressure and can interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body.

Additionally, studies have also shown that coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

Caffeine Effects on the Brain

Caffeine enters your bloodstream quickly. While it can affect various organs, as we just saw, its main effect is on the brain.

Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired. Caffeine may also increase adrenaline and brain activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

The effect of all that? You feel more energetic, alert and focused.

So What’s the Harm?

The rush of alertness and energy you feel after consuming caffeine is followed, in some people, by feelings of anxiety and irritability. And the more coffee or energy drinks you consume, the worse it gets.

In addition to the effect caffeine has on other neurotransmitters, it also works by putting the brakes on the neurotransmitter GABA, which some people call “nature’s valium” because its job is to keep us happy and relaxed.

Imagine your day starting out with a few cups of coffee. You feel refreshed, alert and ready for anything. Then, around 3 p.m. everything shifts. You start to feel anxious and jittery.

In fact, one study found that those who consume 1,000 milligrams a day show nervous symptoms almost “indistinguishable” from anxiety disorder. To put that in perspective, a Starbucks venti has 410 milligrams of caffeine.

More to the Story

Here’s where things get confusing.

There are also studies that show a link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of depression. One study found that women who drank four or more cups a day of coffee had a 20 percent lower risk of depression.

A Harvard study even found a 50 percent lower risk of suicide in men and women who drank between two and four cups of coffee a day.

At the same time, a study conducted in Finland showed an increased risk of suicide for those who drink eight or nine cups of coffee or more a day.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

If you drink coffee or consume energy drinks, keep your total consumption to less than 400 milligrams a day.

Also, keep tabs on how you’re feeling. If caffeine makes you feel anxious or jittery, then try reducing the amount you drink until you find what works for you. Anxiety is a common feeling early in recovery and the last thing anyone needs is to unknowingly make it worse.

Switching to green tea can also be a great option for some. It’s loaded with antioxidants, provides a mild caffeine boost (it has about 40 milligrams) and also increases the neurotransmitter GABA, which you’ll remember is sometimes called “nature’s valium” because of its anti-anxiety effects.

Hope and Healing at The Raleigh House

Addiction can take so much away from a person—and their family. Rehab offers the chance to get it all back—and maybe even more. We’d love to help you or your loved one discover the path to a healthy, fulfilling and rewarding life. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs at The Raleigh House.

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