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Could heavy caffeine use lead to mental health issues?

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Could heavy caffeine use lead to mental health issues?

By Stephanie Graham, Jonah Kaplan. CREATED Jul 7, 2014

Actor Jessica Hayes starts her day with a jolt of java, and often refuels between jobs too.

"I feel like it helps me be more productive, just in general," Jessica admits.

Even if she's running late for work, she says she can't forgo a cup of joe.

"I'll call my boss and say 'I'm so sorry I slept through my alarm. I'll be there soon,' but really I'm going through a drive-through," she said. "And then you can't walk into work late with, you know, coffee that you just bought, so I'll just drink it really fast in the car."

Work issues aside, Jessica's doctor advised her to cut back on caffeine for health reasons. She stopped for a bit, but is back to craving coffee. Professor Laura Juliano researches caffeine, and says reliance on it could be a psychological problem for some people. It's called 'Caffeine Use Disorder'.

"Caffeine use disorder is having physical dependence, but in addition to physical dependence, some sort of harm because of the, the drug caffeine, as well as an inability to stop using it when someone wants to or when they're advised by a medical provider to do so," Juliano explains.

It's not an official diagnosis, but caffeine use disorder was included as a condition for further study in the American Psychiatric Association's latest diagnostic and statistical manual of medical disorders, or DSM.

Dr. Charles O'Brien chaired the working group that considered it.

"It doesn't yet exist officially," he said. "There may be a caffeine use disorder, but we need more research. For a use disorder, it would have to be people who are compulsively drinking coffee, and having it interfere with their behavior."

Professor Juliano said she's seen cases where caffeine users have sought treatment.

"It would be beneficial if, if treatment guidelines were developed in the same way they we've developed them for tobacco," she said. "People have come to us saying yes please help me, I believe my caffeine use is problematic."

She is researching potential treatment practices, which might include face-to-face counseling. If you're looking to cut down on caffeine, even if you don't think you've got a disorder, experts have this advice: "You should try reducing it gradually, not stop it abruptly."

Juliano adds, "Tell yourself the reasons why you're changing your caffeine use. Remind yourself when you're having a urge, or you're, you're thinking about using more than you should."

As for Jessica, she a says if treatment were an option, she would give it a try. "I would absolutely want help. If there were somebody who had some kind of cure, some kind of thing that would make me feel like I didn't need it everyday, I would absolutely take it."

In terms of how many people might be affected with this potential disorder, Professor Juliano says more research is needed. Since it's not a recognized disorder, it's tough to estimate.