For many of us, a cup of morning coffee is a force of habit. Now, a new study sheds light on the dark side of our daily brew: “caffeine use disorder,” a real form of addiction, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
What is caffeine addiction? Just two years ago, "caffeine use disorder" joined the official list of recognized mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The disorder is defined by caffeine dependency and an inability to consume less caffeine despite a desire to do so. The level of caffeine intake that constitutes dependency varies from person to person. In fact, an earlier study showed that addicts often drink less than the average person, in some cases as little as 100 mg of caffeine, according to a Psychology Today article.
The good news is just a single one-hour session of talk therapy may help people significantly cut their caffeine intake. This involves patients discussing their addictive behavior with a professional counselor, which helps them to understand, recognize and change irrational thoughts (like anxiety) that are causing their caffeine addiction, says study author Laura Juliano, a professor of psychology at American University in Washington, D.C. Activities might involve journaling to identify patterns and acknowledging false beliefs in order to change them.
67 research subjects were drinking about 700 mg every day, and while they were motivated to cut back, every effort had failed. The group got one hour of therapy with a professional counselor, and 75 percent reduced their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day—and they kept it at that same level one year later. "What we're talking about here are people who have not only a physical dependence on caffeine, but also negative physical and psychological repercussions from caffeine use and have been unable to cut back or quit using caffeine," Juliano told HealthDay. "And we found that therapy helped people with this disorder make significant reductions in consumption."
As for how much caffeine is ideal, there isn't a solid number. Juliano advises limiting caffeine consumption to about 400 mg per day, roughly equal to two or three eight-ounce cups of coffee. Another study supports this, as it says two to three cups of caffeinated coffee cuts the risk of colon cancer. However, another study found that three to five cups reaped major health benefits like living longer, having more energy and avoiding a host of diseases like heart disease, stroke, neurological conditions and suicide (regardless whether you drink regular or decaf).
If you feel like you can’t live without coffee, try substituting one cup at a time with a decaf version or an alternative with lower caffeine content, such as white tea. If you can’t reduce your intake, perhaps you should consider talk therapy—after all, it might just take an hour.