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The Confusing Case of Caffeine and Addiction Treatment

Professionals should assess the use of caffeine in addiction recovery case-by-case. Visit The Edge today to learn more about how we can help!

The Confusing Case of Caffeine and Addiction Treatment

Table of Contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

January 13, 2022

The Edge Treatment Center

Substance abuse is often talked about as being associated with the use of caffeine since over 50% of drug and alcohol users also consume high levels of caffeine. The most common form of caffeine use in addiction is coffee, but it can also include energy drinks and teas.

When it comes to addiction treatment, there has been much conversation as to whether caffeine and coffee consumption is acceptable. The discussion is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Caffeine Can Be Addictive, But Is It Dangerous?

Caffeine has the potential to become a substitute addiction. Caffeine can create symptoms of dependence, and users can develop a level of tolerance depending on how much is used, necessitating increased use. There can even be withdrawal symptoms like headaches, pain, jitters, and nausea when use has been stopped. The most common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are insomnia and anxiety. 

Although caffeine has its own addictive qualities, it is not in the same category of addiction as harder drugs or alcohol. When someone abuses those in the latter category, detox and recovery require help from a professional to safely work through the process. Habitual use creates more of a disturbance to their lives than caffeine. Harder substances have side effects like physical changes, cognitive changes, the risk for psychosis symptoms, depression, and mood swings. Caffeine’s side effects are much milder.

Should Caffeine Be Allowed in Recovery?

When asking whether caffeine should be allowed in recovery, it is hard to give a clear-cut answer due to the different effects it has on people. While caffeine does not pose a high threat or any life-changing issues, it does have its pros and cons. 

The Pros:

  • Caffeine can boost moods. Studies have shown that people who consume coffee have lower rates of developing depression. Caffeine can help with alertness and give people energy to get through their day. Many people rely on it to help them wake up in the morning when they feel sluggish and drink cups throughout the day to help keep them awake. Although caffeine can help certain symptoms of depression, it should not be relied on as a treatment for it and should still only be used in moderation.

  • It can be used as a temporary substitute. When a patient is in recovery and is giving up alcohol, tea or coffee can be used as a temporary drink replacement. If an individual is used to having a drink in their hand, swapping out alcohol for a cup of tea can help them transition out of that feeling. This is a situation that should be monitored closely so that the patient does not develop an addiction to caffeine, but it is a safe, temporary substitute for alcoholic drinks.

The Cons:

  • Caffeine adds anxiety. The purpose of addiction recovery is to learn how to navigate life and all the different emotions that come with it without relying on substances to cope. High caffeine use can aggravate anxiety and stress because it activates the body’s nervous system, commonly in the form of a racing heart, causing a similar feeling to anxiety. If you have a client that has an anxiety disorder or is prone to anxiousness, it is best to keep them away from caffeine.

  • Caffeine disturbs sleep. For people in recovery, getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial. One of the biggest symptoms of withdrawal is insomnia and disturbed sleep cycles. Consuming high levels of caffeine can keep them awake at night, compromising their ability to get good sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that heightens the body’s sense of alertness and stops the effect of drowsiness that is needed to fall asleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to poor concentration and attention and poor emotional regulation, which can result in depression symptoms.

  • Some people use it to self-medicate. This is a situation that may not be talked about frequently, but some people use caffeine to self-medicate even if it is not intentional. Depression and mood changes during the first year of recovery are some of the most common experiences. Patients may rely on coffee or energy drinks to combat depressive symptoms like fatigue, sluggishness, attention or concentration difficulties, and low mood.

Caffeine affects everyone differently. As a professional, you should assess the circumstance of your client to determine whether caffeine would be of more benefit or harm to them. If you feel as though your client would benefit from a low amount of caffeine to help them transition out of alcoholic drinks or if they need a little energy as they enter a depressive phase of recovery — or simply that caffeine consumption wouldn’t be of any harm — consult and monitor them closely as you try this approach. Assessing whether caffeine would negatively affect your client should be based on whether it will aggravate any current or potential symptoms they may experience. 

The Bottom Line: Use Your Own Judgement When It Comes To Your Clients And Caffeine

Whether caffeine should be acceptable in drug & alcohol addiction treatment is a question many professionals may ask themselves. While caffeine use has its pros and cons, use your knowledge of your clients and professional judgment to determine whether it would benefit them.

The Edge Treatment Center offers therapy services that help our patients work through addictions and other mental health issues. We understand that no two addictions are the same, which is why our treatment plans are specialized to meet the needs specific to each patient. If you are a professional looking to refer your clients to a treatment center, call us today for more information.

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