Coffee Addiction

Emily Evans

Why I chose to research coffee dependence

Addiction to coffee really interested me because I drink it everyday, and on the days where I am running out the door and don't have time to make some, I feel some of the withdrawal symptoms from the lack of caffeine. So, I thought it would be interesting to research about coffee addiction and learn that caffeine is in fact addicting.


In 1994, Dr. Roland Griffiths and Dr. Eric Strain conducted a study on caffeine dependence. They put out an advertisement in the newspaper asking for volunteers who thought they were hopelessly addicted to caffeine; after phone & psychiatric interviews, they found 11 who met the criteria of serious addicts. The doctors did not mention the study was on caffeine but they did tell them not to eat or drink certain items for 2 days. Some people were given dummy pills that only contained starch, and others were given pills containing the exact amount if caffeine they habitually consume on a daily basis. Most of the volunteers went to bed early, but the ones who received the starch pills ended up functionally impaired for a day and a half. Dr. Griffiths concluded that caffeine is a drug that should be given respect; and it may be harder than someone thinks to get off the drug.

The biology behind it all

Structurally, caffeine closely resembles adenosine, a molecule that is naturally present in our brain. Essentially, caffeine can fit into the receptors for adenosine, effectively blocking them off. Whereas without the caffeine replacing these molecules, they would produce that feeling of tiredness.

So the caffeine blocks that from happening, and your body is more alert for a few hours. While that happens, some of the brains natural stimulants such as dopamine work more effectively and the extra adenosine floating around the brain tells the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, yet another stimulant. The more someone eats or drinks something containing caffeine, the brains chemistry and physical characteristics change over time & creates more adenosine so the brain stays at its new normal state because of constant intake which explains why normal coffee drinkers build up a tolerance to the caffeine. It also explains why giving up caffeine may trigger withdrawals such as fatigue and the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headache.

Your Brain On Coffee


Compared to most drug addictions, caffeine withdrawals are not too life threatening and typically subside after about 7-12 days. During this time, your brain will naturally decrease the amount of adenosine receptors on each cell in response to the lack of caffeine. If you can resist to consume caffeine, the number of receptors will reset to their normal levels, and your addiction will be broken.


  • It’s believed that some 3 out of 4 regular caffeine users are actually addicted to the substance.
  • about 90% of Americans consume some amount of caffeine a day, mostly in the form of coffee.
  • Caffeine is quite addictive in the sense that it is a psychoacive substance.

Impacts of Addiction

A lot of people do not think much about caffeine but it is one of the most popular drugs. Just like other drugs, some people who have a lower tolerance to caffeine can essentially "overdose" on it because their body is not used to metabolizing so much caffeine. And a lack of caffeine can cause withdrawal symptoms as well.

Benefits of not drinking coffee

Always buying coffee to feed that addiction of yours can get pricey, so I found this to maybe put things into perspective:
  • A Grande Starbucks Latte: $3.65 a day | $26 a week | $1,332 a year

**Two Starbucks Lattes per day would cost $2,665 a year!


Stromberg, Joseph. "This Is How Your Brain Becomes Addicted to Caffeine." Smithsonian. N.p., 9 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2015.

Blakeslee, Sandra. "Yes, People Are Right. Caffeine Is Addictive." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Oct. 1994. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Rufus, Anneli. "The World's Most Popular Drug." Psychology Today. N.p., 27 May 2010. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.