The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, has previously listed a condition known as “caffeine intoxication.”
The symptoms include restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia, and psychomotor agitation.
But the most recent edition (May 22) of the Manual (DSM-5), now includes caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder. According to DSM-5, symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include fatigue, headache, difficulty focusing, and depressed mood, among others.
“Caffeine is a drug, a mild stimulant, which is used by almost everybody on a daily basis,” said Dr. Charles O’Brien, who chairs the Substance-Related Disorder Work Group for DSM-5.
“But it does have a letdown afterwards. If you drink a lot of coffee, at least two or three cups at a time, there will be a rebound or withdrawal effect.”
Time writer Matt Peckham suggests some are questioning whether a common disorder like caffeine withdrawal even belongs in a guide devoted to mental disorders.
Alan Budney, who served on the DSM-5 working group for substance-use disorders, explained the rationale for including caffeine withdrawal to Medscape Medical News in 2011.
“Caffeine is invading our society more and more. So there’s concern enough to consider this topic seriously, even though it’s probably one of the more controversial issues faced by our work group,” said Budney, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“We feel that there is enough data to support a caffeine-withdrawal syndrome,” said Budney.
“There are enough people who go into withdrawal — that if they don’t get caffeine, it becomes a real syndrome and can affect work, sleep, or whatever they need to do. So we’re suggesting that it ‘make the big leagues’ and become part of the DSM to make sure everyone is aware of it.”
New York Post writer Michael Blaustein points out that by classifying caffeine in this way, the energy-inducing substance joins the ranks of powerful drugs like alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, hallucinogens and other mind altering substances.
The Caffeine Defense
Last year, a Seattle school bus driver convicted of assault for groping teens and women claimed caffeine drove him to the acts.
According to the police, Sands touched a 46-year-old woman’s breasts three different times and later grabbed her butt as she was trying to get away from him. Sands also grabbed a 15-year-old girl’s butt and slapped a 16-year-old girl’s butt as she was getting onto the bus.
Sands said it was caffeine that had driven him to act out of character.
“That caused a psychotic episode,” he told the court. “My son-in-law and daughter had never seen that kind of behavior from myself.”