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Caffeine Use and Abuse


Natural sources of caffeine are coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cocoa trees, and flex plants.  It is present in cola and other soft drinks, cocoa, chocolate, some over-the-counter medications, and some prescription drugs.  In addition, it is added to many flavoring agents, baked goods, frozen dairy desserts, gelatin puddings, and fillings. Caffeine usually is added to over-the-counter and prescription drugs because it is a stimulant that helps to counteract sedating side  effects.

Caffeine Abuse

A large number of Americans uses caffeine daily.  Twenty percent of the American population ingests more than 500 mg of caffeine per day and ten percent consume more than a gram (1000 mg) per day.

Excessive caffeine consumption may result in a syndrome called caffeinism.  It consists of sleep disorder, mood disturbance, and withdrawal symptoms (headache).  Caffeine tends to impair going to sleep and staying asleep; however, in chronic caffeine usage, some tolerance to insomnia may develop.

Caffeine-induced disturbance most commonly appears as anxiety or depression.  Anxiety symptoms may include frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, jitteriness, muscle twitching, trembling, agitation, irritability, rapid breathing, light-headedness, and rapid heart beat.  Depression is also common in patients who take too much caffeine.  The more caffeine intake, the more likely depression will occur.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms are headache, irritability, drowsiness, and lethargy.  Caffeine withdrawal headache occurs within 24 hours after the last intake of caffeine and is relieved in one hour by 100 mg of caffeine.  Caffeine withdrawal headaches may occur upon awakening in the morning (after ingesting no caffeine while sleeping) or on weekends (for persons drink caffeinated beverages at work but not on the weekends).  Headaches that respond to coffee or to caffeine-containing analgesics (e.g. Anacin) far better than to  aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen are probably caffeine withdrawal headaches. 

How much caffeine?

Coffee (drip)  1 cup (6 oz.)
100 mg
1 cup (6 oz.)
50 mg
Caffeine-containing soft drinks (Cola, Mt. Dew, Jolt, etc.)
1 can (12 oz.)
50-100 mg
Nonprescription stay awake medication
1 tablet
32-64 mg
Prescription medication (pain reliever containing caffeine)
1 tablet or capsule
40 mg