Other Drugs

Caffeine

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It's one of the most popular drugs in the world, consumed by up to 90% of people in the world in one form or another, but most commonly in beverage form. It is a naturally occurring substance found in plants like cocoa beans, tea leaves, coffee beans, and kola nuts.

What are the effects of caffeine?

Caffeine's strongest effects are felt in the first hour after consuming it, but some effects can last from 4 to 6 hours. Caffeine causes neural excitation in the brain, which the pituitary gland perceives as an emergency and stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Caffeine also increases dopamine levels -- the neurotransmitter that is affected by drugs like amphetamines and heroin. Although this occurs on a much smaller scale than seen in other drugs, this may attribute to caffeine's addictive quality.

While caffeine is mildly addictive, it has not been shown to have a direct link with any serious health risks. Still, anyone who's been up all night after drinking too much coffee can tell you that caffeine can affect a person's mood and sleep pattern. Here are some of the frequent effects of caffeine:

Caffeine is a diuretic. Caffeine prompts the body to lose water through urination. This can lead to dehydration and is the reason that caffeinated drinks are not a good idea when working out or doing other activities that require fluids. In fact, it is suggested that you consume an additional 8 ounces of water for every cup of coffee you drink.

Caffeine can cause you to feel nervousness, restlessness, irritability or anxiety. It can temporarily speed the heart rate and raise blood pressure. If you're feeling stressed out, a cup of coffee can actually exacerbate, rather than help, this feeling. Too much caffeine can also hurt a person's ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study.

Caffeine can cause insomnia. It can be very hard to fall asleep when you consume a lot of caffeine. This is especially true if you consume it at night, but is also true of higher doses consumed earlier in the day.

Some caffeinated beverages can have other health effects. For instance, the acid in coffee can upset the stomach, and worsen ulcers. Coffee consumption has also been linked to a possible increased risk of having elevated blood cholesterol. Additionally, the high quantities of sugar found in caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks and sodas can predispose an individual to diabetes and other related cardio metabolic disorders.

Caffeine can have negative effects on a pregnancy. These effects include an increased risk for difficulty conceiving, low birth weight of babies born to people who consumed moderate amounts of caffeine, and miscarriage. Caffeine is transmitted through the placenta and through breast milk to the baby. Therefore, if you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, the FDA recommends that you stop consuming caffeine or cut back to 1 cup per day.

How much caffeine am I having?

In the U.S., the average person drinks 200 milligrams a day (about two 8 ounce cups of coffee). Check out the list below to see how much you're having.

Beverage/Food

Serving Size

Average Amt. (mg)

Range (mg)

Brewed Coffee

8 ounce

85

65-120

Instant Coffee

8 ounce

75

60-85

Decaf, Brewed

8 ounce

3

2-4

Decaf, Instant

8 ounce

3

1-4

Espresso

Single 2 ounce

80

60-100

Cappuchino/Latte

2 ounce

80

60-100

Moccachino

2 ounce

90

70-110

Black Tea

8 ounce

40

30-60

Decaf Black Tea

8 ounce

4

<5

Green Tea

8 ounce

40

30-50

Iced tea mix, unsweetened

8 ounce

13

 

Iced tea, ready to drink

8 ounce

30

 

Cocoa beverage

5 ounce

5

2-20

Chocolate Milk

8 ounce

5

2-7

Dark chocolate, semi-sweet

1 ounce

20

5-35

How do I cut back on caffeine?

Remember that caffeine is addictive. If you feel like you can't get going in the morning, feel overly fatigued during the day, or get headaches when you try to stop taking caffeine regularly, these can be signs of dependence.

If you're having trouble sleeping, feel like you are consuming too much caffeine or you don't like the effects of caffeine on your body, here are some suggestions for quitting or cutting back:

  • Switch to decaffeinated beverages, or to a mixture of decaffeinated and regular coffee.

  • Reduce the number of caffeinated drinks you have every day. If you have coffee in the morning and a Coke in the afternoon, try skipping the Coke and replace it with water or juice.

  • Brew tea for a shorter time. The less time you brew it, the less caffeine it will contain. Try herbal teas that don't contain caffeine as well.

  • Watch out for soft drinks and energy drinks like Red Bull which can contain added caffeine. This will be listed on the label.

  • If you are trying to quit and feel yourself getting a headache, you can try having a small amount of caffeine to alleviate the headache. For some people, this helps keep up the momentum to quit.

  • Know what's in over-the-counter medications. These can contain large doses of caffeine, too.

  • Drink water or non-caffeinated drinks when you're thirsty. Remember, caffeinated beverages will only add to your body's dehydration. 

What other stimulants contain caffeine?

Some herbal stimulants can contain naturally occurring caffeine, especially guarana and mate. This form of caffeine can have the same effects as caffeine found in coffee or tea. Be cautious with energy drinks, which can contain up to 180 mg of caffeine per 8oz serving and other stimulant ingredients. Additionally, be careful with shot size caffeine supplements such as Redline Energy and 5-Hour Energy, these products can contain up to 100 mg of caffeine per oz. See our web page on energy drinks for more information.  

What about caffeine powder?

Powdered, pure caffeine is being sold in stores and on the Internet.  It is very dangerous given the fact that one teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in about 28 cups of regular coffee. While consumers of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and soda may be aware of caffeine’s less serious effects – such as nervousness and tremors – they may not be aware that these pure powdered caffeine products are much more potent and can cause serious health effects, including rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity.

Most recently, on September 1, 2015, the FDA issued warning letters to five distributors of pure powdered caffeine because these products are dangerous and present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers.

Related Links

How Stuff Works
This link has medical and chemical information on caffeine as well as the breakdown of how much caffeine is in medications like Anacin, Vivarin and Dexatrim.

The American Dietetic Association 
This link has several brief articles on caffeine, including Cutting Down on Caffeine, Chocolate: Facts and Fiction and Straight Facts About Beverage Choices.

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