Caffeine Anxiety and Panic Attacks

In some, caffeine can produce feelings of anxiety and even be a catalyst for a full-blown panic attack.

caffeine anxiety panic attacks

However, this mainly occurs only in people who have a slight genetic variation in their adenosine receptors which not only are responsible for caffeine’s awakening effects but also regulate a person’s sense of anxiety.

The Science Behind Caffeine and Anxiety Disorders

A well-conducted study, published in 2003 which was a joint project in part by the Department of Psychiatry, The University of Chicago and The Department of Psychiatry, University of Munster, Germany1 found that genetic differences in people’s Adenosine receptors were likely responsible for caffeine-induced anxiety.

The team looked at 3 different genotypes involving adenosine receptor genes to see if any of them would indicate whether or not a person would have increased anxiety when consuming caffeine.

They found that people with an A2a receptor gene difference seem to be especially at risk of experiencing increased anxiety when consuming coffee, tea, energy drinks, or other caffeine-containing products.

Both the A1 and the A2a adenosine receptors in a person’s brain are thought to also regulate how a person deals with stress and anxiety. Since caffeine binds to these receptors, it is thought to interfere with anxiety regulation.

Therefore, those that have the A2a gene difference could experience increased anxiety when consuming caffeine. People in an already anxious state could be prone to full-blown panic attacks if they consume caffeine during this period.

In the study referenced above, participants were given just 150 mg of caffeine, which was enough to elicit anxiety in those with the gene variation. This is less than half the amount of caffeine found in a Starbucks Grande Coffee.

The study didn’t account for other factors such as caffeine tolerance since all the participants were nonhabitual caffeine users.

Yet another study published in The American Medical Journal2 looked at people who were already diagnosed by the DSM-III criteria for agoraphobia with panic attacks or panic disorder and those with normal anxiety levels.

They evaluated each group’s responses to caffeine. They found that within the diagnosed group, 71% reported feelings associated with panic attacks after consuming the caffeine.



Since most people, without genetic testing, would have no idea whether or not they have the A2a receptor mutation, most people will have to evaluate the safety of consuming caffeine based on their current history of anxiety and inclination towards panic attacks.

Those that experience anxiety and who are not habitual caffeine users should abstain from caffeine altogether.  They should be aware of which products contain caffeine and avoid them.

Those that are daily caffeine consumers and who also suffer from anxiety should  try to keep their daily consumption of caffeine fairly consistent. Consuming more caffeine than their usual amount could increase anxiety levels.  This group should also be aware how much caffeine their favorite beverages contain and keep track of their daily consumption.

The aforementioned group should also consider cutting back on caffeine or quitting caffeine to better manage their anxiety and risk of panic attacks. Even habitual caffeine users could be at increased risk of panic attacks if life situations arise that cause increased stress and anxiety. Caffeine consumption could “push them over the edge”.

Exercise May Help Reduce Caffeine-Induced Anxiety

Additional research from the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego3 found that regular exercise seems to lessen the degree to which caffeine heightens anxiety levels in those prone to anxiety.

In this study, researchers exposed a group of anxiety-prone men to both 60 minutes of cycling and 60 minutes of quiet rest after the administration of 800 mg of caffeine and then evaluated their level of anxiety after each test.

They found that rest did not have any effect on decreasing the level of anxiety reported, but the exercise did significantly reduce the level of anxiety reported by the participants.

So, the bottom line here is that exercise could lessen the degree to which caffeine causes increased anxiety in those already prone to problems with anxiety.

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  • Makemyburdenlight

    What I’m curious about is how many people are believed to have these mutated receptors? Because I find that the majority of people have more anxiety with caffeine, but THEY just don’t realize the caffeine is exasperating it.

  • michelle

    I’m working on a page on Facebook about drugs and their effects on the body in general. What interactions with caffeine and other drugs can you tell me about to help further information about safety

  • Ted

    Here’s a list we put together a few years ago.

  • michelle

    Hey Ted would you mind emailing me on my account so I can ask you about something

  • Pingback: This may explain, – Depression, Stress, Money Worries and Me.()

  • Liz h

    Oestrogen stops caffeine being broken down, i think. I am taking HRT and can no longer drink coffee, i feel ill after one sip and can barely manage half a cup, unless i drink it really slowly with water too.i was ok before i went on HRT again.

  • James t

    I currently had a 5 day bought with my terrible IBS. I was weakened from not eating much. I am a heavy coffee drinker, 6 to 8 cups a day. I never new how addicting caffeine is and I cut back to just a morning coffee. Within a couple days I was having anxiety and went to the doctor, he gave me xantac and I researched anxiety and it said no caffeine. So I stopped drinking coffee cold turkey 8 days ago. My anxiety got so bad I went back to the doctor and he started me on Zoloft. That made me even worse for the 5 days I took it. This has been the worst week of my life. Yesterday I looked up caffeine withdrawal for the heck of it and was blown away, I have every side affect. I never intended to stop drinking coffee it just snowballed. So yesterday I drank 4 coffees and the depression is better but I am still very anxious. Did I drink too much coffee to fast? I just want to go back to the way I was before this mess and then slowly ween down the coffee. I never had anxiety before. Should I just have a small amount of coffee every day to resolve this? Please let me know if this sounds normal. All I used to drink is coffee and no water. Also I have lots 8 pounds this last week not by choice.

  • Ted

    Hi James, that sounds horrible. I would recommend getting to a moderate consumption level of about 2 cups per day. It will take a week for everything to level out. Anxiety was probably triggered by the caffeine change but then it can become self-inflicted. You focus on the feeling, dwell on it etc. which makes it even worse and keeps it perpetuating. Do you exercise?

  • James Skaggs

    I drink pop regularly coffee every now and again like 2,3, times month I use to really like monster energy drink don’t drink them much at all any more but I crave them and nothing does it and yes I use it when I’m like super tiered and have stuff to do I’ll have one but always turns into a mistake I by the end of the day if any thing makes me mad it pushes me over the top the top big or small problem and I just can’t calm down to save my life I’m sure their is more then one cause for my issue just would like to know if this is anything anyone has ever heard of has had this just really want to get a better grip on my self.

Last Modified: October 19, 2015


  • Alsene, K., Deckert, J., Sand, P., & de Wit, H. (2003). Association between A2a receptor gene polymorphisms and caffeine-induced anxiety. Neuropsychopharmacology, 28(9), 1694-1702. Study pdf
  • Charney, D. S., Heninger, G. R., & Jatlow, P. I. (1985). Increased anxiogenic effects of caffeine in panic disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 42(3), 233-243. Study link
  • Youngstedt, S. D., O'Connor, P. J., Crabbe, J. B., & Dishman, R. K. (1998). Acute exercise reduces caffeine-induced anxiogenesis. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 30(5), 740-745. abstract
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