Is Caffeine Addictive? What Research and Experience Reveals


It has long been debated whether or not caffeine should be labeled as an addictive substance.

Most people who use caffeine regularly can attest that it does cause some level of dependency in that quitting caffeine causes obvious withdrawal symptoms.

However, caffeine addiction has still not made its way into the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) nor on the The National Institute of Drug Abuse’s addictive drug list.

What Research Says About the Addictive Nature of Caffeine

An article published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse¬†asks the question “Is Caffeine Addictive?”

The common-sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption is irresistible and that it creates problems.

Caffeine use does not fit this profile.

Its intake does no harm to the individual or to society and its users are not compelled to consume it. Though cessation of regular use may result in symptoms such as headache and lethargy, these are easily and reliably reversed by ingestion of caffeine.

Some have argued that continued caffeine use is an attempt to suppress low grade withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness and lethargy. In some moderate users, this is possible;
however, in experimental contexts, the phenomenon is too inconsistent to constitute a reliably valid syndrome.

The article reviews over 32 different journal articles and concludes that:

Caffeine use meets neither the common sense nor the scientific definitions of an addictive substance.

On the Flip Side:

Roland Griffiths and Laura Juliano teamed up to review 170 years of caffeine research for The Psychopharmacology Journal and concluded the following:

In general, the incidence or severity of symptoms increased with increases in daily dose; abstinence from doses as low as 100 mg/day produced symptoms.

This study clearly justified the case for caffeine withdrawal disorder, but didn’t prove the case completely for a caffeine addiction disorder.


Anecdotal Evidence for Caffeine Addiction

Although the health community can’t quite come to a solid conclusion about the addictive nature of caffeine, people’s personal experiences with the drug certainly allow us to draw some conclusions.

Because we have been tracking caffeine related products and issues for many years, people often share their stories with us regarding their addiction to caffeine and struggle to break free from it.

Here’s one example:

I’ve spent 20 years addicted to caffeine (primarily coffee), coming off it now and then, going back on it, repeat pattern. I’m in my 40s now and I think I’m quitting it for good. I say “think” because the siren call of freshly brewed black coffee is strong. Very strong. I’ve quit probably a 12 to 20 times – not quite annually — longest lasting about 3 months. What is increasingly shaping my commitment to quit is 2 things – what my life on coffee has become, and the escalating severeness of the withdrawal symptoms. -a Caffeine Informer commenter

According to, in the USA alone consumers spend 18 billion dollars on specialty coffee alone each year. Also Americans are spending 3.4 billion on just Red Bull.

We could easily conclude that people are not buying all that coffee and Red Bull because they just “love the taste”. They are spending the money because these products are fulfilling a strong “need” for something both physiological and psychological.

If caffeine wasn’t addictive, on at least some level, we wouldn’t see so much money being spent on products that have no nutritional value so to speak.

Understanding Your Level of Addiction

While we can debate on the whether or not caffeine should be labeled as an addictive substance, most would agree that caffeine is indeed “addictive” for many people.

People have to determine personally whether or not their dependance of caffeine is manageable or not. This involves asking themselves the following questions:

  1. Is my caffeine habit negatively affecting my ability to function?
  2. Is my caffeine habit negatively affecting my finances?
  3. Is my caffeine habit contributing to or causing health concerns?
  4. Is my caffeine addiction negatively affecting those around me?

Answering yes to any of those questions, my cause the need to further evaluate the level of addiction, the amount of caffeine consumed daily, and the need to detox from caffeine.

What’s your experience? Are you or have you been addicted to caffeine?

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  • Dr.Nuke

    Excuse me….Not addictive? Why didn’t the lethargy go away after six months off the stuff? If the withdrawl symptoms are easily reversed by ingesting more caffiene, isn’t that the same as getting a fix? I wouldn’t classify it with amphetamines or alchohol, but it is a drug. More of a drug than ibeprophen and tylenol certainly, even after a couple months of 4 200mg. ibeprophen a day (tendonitis), I was able to get off it without trouble. Signed by the American Beverage Association, eh? Hmm….

    Just ’cause I don’t think a kid should have beer and amphetamines doesn’t mean caffiene is a good thing, or not a drug.

  • What a load of crap.

    Yes, caffeine is certainly not as bad for you as many other drugs, but caffeine DOES meet the common-sense definition of addiction: If you drink two or three cups of coffee a day and then skip a day, are you gonna feel withdrawal symptoms? Probably…

    And as Dr. Nuke says, getting another fix doesn’t count as an effective way of kicking a habbit. That’s like saying “heroin isn’t so bad, if you don’t like the withdrawal symptoms, just keep taking it.”

  • Dave

    Thats called Dependency, not addiction, buddy.

  • Dusty

    I’ll try and help shed light on this post. You guys are being misled by an incomplete and somewhat shotty interpretation of the article.

    First, an addiction is constituted by dependency. Taking caffeine to suppress withdrawal symptoms is not dependency. Adding on, I read the abstract of the actual article and the poster of this news didn’t fully explain this. The article states that some people argue that caffeine is taken to avoid withdrawal symptoms but realistically this behavior has to be proven in the lab, it’s too inconsistent.

    Maybe this will help, too. Here’s the criteria for something to be defined as an addiction;
    * loss of willpower
    * harmful consequences
    * unmanageable lifestyle
    * tolerance or escalation of use
    * withdrawal symptoms upon quitting

    Really only the last two apply. All of these must be met for it to be defined as an addiction.

  • Dusty

    I take that back, this news post did mention the withdrawal behavior not being able to be proven. My bad.

    This, however, is another important point that was not mentioned in this news post and is causing confusion. When it’s said that “Though cessation of regular use may result in symptoms such as headache and lethargy, these
    are easily and reliably reversed by ingestion of caffeine,” it’s meant that the withdrawal symptoms can be eliminated by gradually decreasing intake over the course of a week. This is mentioned directly in the conclusion of the article. Show me one addiction you can do this with.

  • Dr.Nuke

    Ibeprophen. You can get off that stuff pretty much instantly even after taking it for 3-4 months @ 800mg+ a day.

    Isn’t dependancy worse than addiction, by your definition of terms? Addiction, you want it, but you can live without it with counsiling; dependancy, needing it to feel ok on a physical level. Also, I was off caffeine for about 6 months, and had farily frequent lethargy, despite 7-10 hours of sleep per day, protien and carb rich diet, vitamin supliments, running/a lot of cardio, etc….

  • Dusty

    I think a lot of the confusion here between us is due to the lack of operational definitions. We both have slightly different subjective definitions of dependency and addiction. As far as I’m concerned, dependency is a trait of an addiction.

    And is ibeprophen really documented as eliciting a true addiction? I can’t get Google to agree with that.

  • Will strinz

    I’m pretty sure this is how define addicting (says google, thats who):

    1.Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance

    Does caffeine use create a compulsive physiological and psychological need to have more caffeine? Yes, unless you like being tired, thinking less clearly, and getting getting headaches (both because of the dependancy factor, and because this is what you were like without caffeine).

    It seems as though it fits what the definition for “addicting”, but it doesn’t mean its harmful. I’m sick of the media and people in general believing that anything addicting is a bad thing. Reading? often addicting. Excercise? often addicting. etc.

  • Dusty

    Will, a dictionary definition like you mentioned and an operational definition like I brought up are two very different things!! When defining a psychological attribute, a one sentence definition is ludacris. Just go look up the DSM-IV and you’ll see what I mean.

    Second up, read the freaking article that was posted. The behavior of being “dependent” to escape the symptoms of not ingesting caffeine is not shown to be statistically significant in its frequency, this was taken from the article.

    Reading and exercise aren’t addicting, they’re reinforcing. You’re falling back into our previous problem, that of relying on your own subjective opinion f what the definition of a word is. People SAY that exercise is addicting etc. but they don’t mean it in that in it’s true sense, it’s become more of a figure of speech.

  • Dave

    Dr. Nuke,
    Maybe you have a sleep disorder such as Sleep Apnea.

  • Dr.Nuke

    Why Would I suddenly develop Sleep Apnea? The only time in my life when I’ve been even remotely overweight was when I was 10-12, puberty and a naturally fast metabolism took care of that. As to genetic potential, no one from either side of my family has it. I was fine before I started on caffeine, but not after.

    Dunno, doubt it.

  • Michael

    Caffeine is addictive, i know it is because ive found Pro+. But it is good. i get so much more work done because of caffen. It keeps me awake, makes me more alert and helps my attenspan. I dont sleep much but even without caffeine i never slept much anyway. Im on about 4-5 Pro+ tablets a day. Plus sometimes redbull or caffeine bassed drinks.

  • Brian

    I don’t know how someone could say caffeine is not addictive. If you are lethargic without, and use it to reverse lethargy, you are dependant upon it, ie. addicted. You are getting a fix.

  • Robert

    Brian, it seems that by that definition, pretty much any medicine–or, indeed, any chemical that one uses in order to alter the body in any way–is addictive.

  • mike

    yea, well dr nuke you dont seem to have any idea what your saying, every point youve tried to make has been 100% subjective. robert is completely correct in saying that any one can get addicted to anything. now why do people consume caffine in one way or another? because it helps them wake up. dr nuke, why dont you try sleeping more before you go saying that caffine is so terrible. you can become dependent on caffine easily, everyone knows this. but you can not become addicted. addiction is a term to be used for something truly ‘addictive’, like nicotine. without nicotine, for people who are addicted to it, they become aggitated and after enough time basically all around pissed off. dependency is in no way shape or form worse than addiction. addiction is what happens with certain narcotics, ex cocaine, heroin, amphetamines. also, as to your first post, dont use terms designed for heavy narcotics, like ‘fix’, in association with caffine. do you ever see people skinny to the bone with winter coats huddled up in a corner shaking because they think they are freezing to death; and all they are thinking about is when they can scrap together money for their next fix of caffine.

    michael, again caffine isnt addictive. in your case you are using the drug caffine as a preformance enhanching drug. your using it to help get more work done and focus. thats not addiction. from what you have said your using it as a sort of ampetamine.

    robert, you seem to be the only other person without a prior bias towards this, even better you actually know what you are saying.

  • John vane

    I’ve come into this discussion late but I can actually add some facts about caffeine having taken part in a Military study on the effects of caffeine on high performance and conversely the effects of caffiene withdrawal on performance. The first thing to note is that while caffeine does initially make you more alert, increases your reaction speed and has other physiological effects such as increasing blood flow to muscles the more you drink the less effective it is until it reaches the point where it has absolutely no effect whatsoever. So, for example, in the case of someone studying all night drinking cup after cup of coffee to keep them awake its far more likely to be the getting up and walking around to make the coffee or the continual urinating that is keeping them awake. The second thing is that as far as the famous withdrawal affects go any minor symptoms that may result such as headaches and such are commonly exacerbated because of dehydration as people do not replace the coffee with other fluids such as water.
    It is also worth noting the people who may drink a couple of cans of caffienated sodas a day don’t complain about withdrawal when they stop drinking them. Mainly because they drink other fluids.

    As far as Dr Nuke and his sleeplessness and lethargy goes I would think that he should look no further than the ibeprophen as anti inflammatories taken for that length of time can certainly cause that type of fatigue. In fact that is an astonishing length of time to take such a high level of that medication for tendonitis. I’m only surprised he isn’t complaining of reflux being hungry all the time and losing muscle tone which are other common symptoms of taking the drug long term.

  • Cannyone

    Oh so you expect me to believe a “study” funded and published by the “American Beverage Association”? Well I don’t think so, as they obviously have a vested interest. And while I’m not a medical professional, I do have personal experience that contradicts their conclusions. Now you probably don’t develop an addiction to caffeine as readily as some other substances. I would suggest that is the reason this “study” failed to produce the results that other medical professionals have observed. But I won’t go on, I’m sure no one here wants to be confused by other people’s experience, or observations.

    But I do have one question: Just what is “Taurine” really?

  • thegrossboy

    jeez, learn to use google

  • Dr.Nuke

    To John: I never said sleep*less*ness. I said I was getting 7-10 hours of sleep per night (please re-read my comments), more than what should be nessisary. I ate right, I was doing a lot of running (started suddenly, hence the tendonitis, the tendons in my foot didn’t have time to develop to match my running), and my lethargy started in Oct.-Nov. ’05 when I first got off caffiene, and kept up until summer ’06 when I gave up on staying off it and got back on. It probably wasn’t the ibeprophen (starting in spring ’06: I’m not saying that it didn’t make things worse) that caused the fatigue (already present), but I find it interesting that adding caffiene back into my diet at the start of summer pretty well cured my lethargy.
    I don’t recall being hungry all the time during that time period, and later during the summer made a point of low calorie dieting for a few weeks with no real cravings or other physch problems, but I definately muscle tone.
    Further note on needing the ibeprophen that long. I didn’t stop running for more than about 2 weeks, and probably didn’t need to be on the anti-inflamitory meds for as long as I did, but I wanted to be sure that was the last time I had to put up with the tendonitis for a while. I stopped when I finished the bottle I had been useing.
    More recently, I got off caffiene for a couple of weeks (break between fall and winter quarter) and noticed the same sort of lethargy and tiredness as I’d expirianced in the past. I wasn’t on any sort of anti-inflamitory drug, or any drug at all, I was giving my body a rest for the break so I could get back to the daily caffiene suplimentation I’m on. I also noticed that I was more irritable and more easily angered for the first few days I was off.

  • Mark James

    There is no such thing as caffeine addiction. I’m a pretty heavy caffeine user. Really tolerant to the stuff. Just this friday I downed a bottle of upshot with an empty stomach. Its got 200mg of caffeine in a 4oz bottle. I barely noticed. About a month ago I decided to see if I really would have withdraw symptoms from caffeine. I didn’t drink any caffeine for three days and didn’t notice a thing. Afterwards I downed a can of that orange rockstar. Caffeine addiction is a load of bull.

Last Modified: March 16, 2016