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E39: The Emotional Domain of Caffeine

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E39: The Emotional Domain of Caffeine

Jan 12, 2024

The effects of caffeine are diverse, with some experiencing heightened alertness and an improved sense of focus and well-being, potentially elevating moods. For others, caffeine consumption can result in increased anxiety, irritability, and disturbances in sleep patterns, adversely affecting emotional health.

Continuing the conversation on caffeine, Dr. Kirtly Jones spotlights the emotional domain and examines caffeine's impact on our feelings and the intricate interplay with our emotional well-being.


    • Dr. Jones navigates the intricate interplay between caffeine consumption and emotional well-being. Highlighting the influence of past experiences, positive social interactions, and the complex relationship with depression and anxiety, she shares personal anecdotes and cautionary tales to underscore the importance of moderation.

    The Emotional Landscape of Caffeine

    • Past Experiences Influence Response: Individuals' emotional responses to caffeine are often shaped by previous encounters, citing initial aversions to the taste of black coffee and the allure of sweet-flavored caffeinated beverages.
    • Positive Social Interactions: The role of positive social interactions associated with caffeine consumption, such as bonding over coffee with friends or family, suggests that these experiences contribute to the formation of favorable associations with caffeine.

    Caffeine's Complex Relationship with Depression and Anxiety

    • Moderate Intake and Emotional Well-being: Moderate caffeine consumption is linked to reduced symptoms of depression and lower suicide risk. Questions whether caffeine itself or social contexts influence emotional well-being.
    • Adverse Effects of Excessive Consumption: The potential for excessive caffeine intake to induce anxiety and jitteriness, citing the inclusion of caffeine-induced anxiety disorder in the DSM and sharing a personal anecdote of overconsumption.


    • Personalized Responses: The emotional effects of caffeine are highly individualized, varying based on factors such as past experiences and tolerance levels.
    • Consideration of Moderation: Moderation in caffeine consumption suggests that balanced intake may help mitigate potential negative emotional impacts while preserving the potential benefits.

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    Welcome to the "7 Domains of Health," the caffeine edition. Today, I'm going to take a short look at caffeine and the Emotional Domain.

    So much of our emotional response to anything is a reflection of our previous experience. For instance, I don't like the taste of coffee. In fact, I don't think anyone at their first taste of black coffee thinks, "Yum." Of course, the sweetness of colas and sweet-flavored caffeine drinks can get you hooked. That's the gateway drug to more adult forms of caffeine.

    The Emotional Landscape of Caffeine

    Coffee might be introduced to children and adolescents, as it is in Europe, as café au lait, coffee with milk, coffee with a ton of milk and sugar, or tea with milk and sugar. And if the introduction is a positive one, future experiences may be positive.

    For those of us who've had our positive social interactions associated with caffeine drinks, the taste or smell is evocative of warm friendships and family times. Or if feeling alert and productive is your thing, it's also a positive link.

    Caffeine's Complex Relationship with Depression and Anxiety

    In moderate doses, caffeine has been associated with reduced symptoms of depression and lower suicide risk. Of course, we can't tell if it's the coffee itself, or drinking coffee is associated with social interactions, or people who drink coffee may be more social and goal-oriented, or maybe more morning people. Morning larks have less depression and suicidality.

    So it's difficult to tell whether caffeine itself in the form of coffee or tea actually has an effect on your emotional domain, or it's the situation around which you are drinking it that brings happy memories or maybe not-so-happy memories.

    And who drinks coffee? Morning people tend to drink coffee more than night owls. So it may be people who drink coffee tend to have less suicide and depression.

    However, for some, caffeine is associated with anxiety and jitteriness, and therefore it's a negative association. In fact, the "bible" of psychological conditions, the DSM, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders, has a section called Caffeine-Induced Anxiety Disorder, which is a subset of substance- or medication-induced anxiety disorders, or things that make people anxious that are either medications they take or drugs that they take. And caffeine is on that list.

    Of course, too much caffeine, a big gulp of Mountain Dew in a kid who's never seen caffeine, or too much to even someone who usually drinks coffee, can induce anxiety and a sense of malaise, or feeling poorly, such as when I ate way too many chocolate-covered espresso beans. I just wasn't counting, and I got anxious and jittery, and I had an irregular heartbeat.


    So there you go. Here's a caffeine non-virgin and I have a positive effect of caffeine, but when I just kept munching on these chocolate-covered espresso beans, I kind of overdosed.

    For those of you who are just plugging into our "7 Domains of Caffeine" with this episode, check back to our "7 Domains of Women's Health: Caffeine in the Physical Domain," and hear my interview with a person who took too much caffeine and the effect it had on them.

    So the emotional effects of caffeine are going to be person-dependent. People who regularly drink caffeine say that it has a positive emotional effect. Of course, it would, or why would they keep drinking it? It's complicated, just as we humans are complicated creatures.

    Thanks for joining us, and check in with us on some of the other "7 Domains of Caffeine." If this is your first one, go back to the Physical Domain and get the foundations of what we know about how caffeine works and how it might affect your brain.

    Thanks for joining us at the "7 Domains of Women's Health."

    Host: Kirtly Jones, MD

    Producer: Chloé Nguyễn

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