Coffee Ruins Mental Health: Mania, Depression and Anxiety

Updated on August 21, 2018
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I studied neuroscience and am passionate about the brain and the way that we perceive reality. Article-writing is my favourite hobby.

Caffeine Makes Some of Us Feel "High" and Euphoric

Many people regularly enjoy caffeinated drinks, primarily in the form of tea and coffee. These delicious beverages are associated with a famous "buzz" that varies in intensity among individuals.

Certain people can exhibit total mood transformations after a cup of coffee, becoming energised and productive, while others claim to be unaffected by it, and thus, never become hooked (Krankl and Gitlin, 2015). If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may find that it provides you with a euphoric, focused high that is conducive to the completion of piles of tedious work and the heightened ability to converse with others.

This article will tackle the physiological and emotional implications of using caffeine when you are affected significantly by it.

A matcha latte: more gentle than coffee, but still noticeably stimulatory for sensitive people.
A matcha latte: more gentle than coffee, but still noticeably stimulatory for sensitive people.

Slow Caffeine Metabolism = A Strong Mental Response to Caffeine

Firstly, we need to target some of the biology behind pharmacokinetics (the way that the body "deals with" foreign drugs). Why is there such a disparity in the way that we are affected by caffeine, a substance that is so commonly consumed? The answer is that polymorphisms (natural variations in our genes) can explain the majority of possible drug reactions that one may experience (Shenfield, 2004).

Caffeine is metabolised by the CYP1A2 enzyme in the liver, coded for by the CYP1A2 gene that has varying forms (alleles). Each allele combination leads to a different response to caffeine, and hence, may dictate a person's response to caffeine (Horn and Hansten, 2007).

A recent study indicates that around 30% of us are "slow caffeine metabolisers," meaning that caffeine remains in our bodies for long periods of time, exerting stimulatory effects (Yang et al., 2010). This provides a pharmacological basis for why certain people can sleep perfectly well after a double espresso while others cannot drink a single cup of coffee without becoming anxious.

Source

If Caffeine Makes You "Happy", You Should Quit It!

While many people complain about the classic negative symptoms that accompany caffeine consumption, few people become alarmed when coffee brightens up their morning, or when it fills them with the desire to talk and frantically clean their house. Society normalises this unhealthy response to caffeine and renders it a common point of comedy; we frequently hear statements such as, "Don't talk to me until I've had my morning coffee," or, "I had 3 Redbulls and organised my entire house last night!"

Hence, many of us particularly responsive people keep drinking the stuff; we love how "fast" and switched-on caffeine makes us feel, and therefore, we overlook heart palpitations/occasional panic attacks and deem those normal side-effects. We are very susceptible to becoming addicted, all while suffering negative physical and mental symptoms. We typically find ourselves having to drink more and more caffeine as we chase the optimism and "buzzed" energy that we once achieved from a mere cappuccino.

If you are someone who experiences a strong mental response to caffeine, including talkativeness and feelings of utter rising joy, this means that you should quit coffee (and if you must drink tea, drink it in low quantities).

Why? Pharmacological responses follow the laws of duality. If a drug makes you perked-up or improves your mood, you will always suffer consequences of what is an artificial high. Not only will you have to deal with the crash, but you'll also be faced with the fact that this mini-high will be temporarily softening your view of the people in your life. Yes, that's right - if caffeine makes you feel enthralled by people and desperate to converse, you'll also be more generous and inaccurate when you judge your feelings towards these people.

A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (April, 2018) revealed that moderate doses of caffeine positively influence peoples' feelings towards themselves and their colleagues (Unnava et al., 2018). While it may seem like caffeine promotes rapport in the workplace, it would be naive to deem it beneficial from this evidence; the problematic psychosocial implications of altering interpersonal judgment temporarily through stimulant use should not be overlooked.

By consuming caffeine regularly, particularly in the form of coffee, you are allowing yourself to become manic on a daily basis while other peoples' realities aren't changing. This is a recipe for odd, unstable behaviour towards others that you probably aren't aware of, as well as temporarily seeing people through rose-tinted glasses when they will not be seeing you in such a fond way.

Source

Caffeine Is Making You Unstable and Distorting Your Reality

Your personality and natural spark is affected by caffeine a lot more than you think—and not only when you are under the influence.

Due to the dopamine-induced mood boost that it can offer, being perked-up temporarily means that you will almost definitely either be feeling depressed and unmotivated later, or you'll be consuming a problematic amount of caffeine just to avoid this come-down (Sinicki, 2014).

At the peak of my caffeine addiction, I truly believed that the drug was my "secret" to morning productivity and a positive mood, when the reality was I just falling into a temporary state of mania on a daily basis. Absurdly unstable with regards to my work ethic and my personal relationships, my opinions of people changed regularly and I struggled to discern who and what I truly liked.

During university exam season, I would arrive at the library, depressed, unfathomably tired and lacking the desire to complete any work, until I drank my first coffee of the day. This would plunge me into an electric state of motivation, permitting me to speed through 3 hours of work in an uncharacteristically optimistic trance. In this caffeinated, hypomanic state, I would also feel a lot more friendly and at times I even messaged certain people that I was trying to distance myself from, arranging plans that I would later regret and want to cancel.

Inevitably, I'd crash at around 2:00 pm and consume more caffeine; the second strong, black cup of coffee always pushed me over the edge, resulting in horrendous, dissociative panic attacks, derealisation and heart dysrhythmias. Topping up on the stimulant also reliably worsened the low mood I would have to face when I eventually came down. In the aftermath of the stimulant "buzz", I'd be adverse to socialising, groggy and incapable of achieving anything productive. More importantly, I'd regret a lot of the overly-friendly advances I'd made on people while essentially manic earlier that day, wallowing in a sense of embarrassment comparable to that of an alcoholic.

My life was a vicious cycle of caffeine, anxiety and depression. Although I did not realise it at the time, caffeine was robbing me of any innate motivation that I had, in addition to tricking me into thinking that wasn't fit to face people unless I was "buzzing". The caffeine sped me up for a couple of hours and let me power through socialising and banal tasks, but I was wrecking my natural motivation and my mental health.

It also must be noted that caffeine is known to precipitate a range of unpleasant, unpredictable mental health problems in those who respond strongly to it. The substance is stimulatory by nature, and some level of depression always follows a strong high when dopamine is involved; anxiety and panic disorder are also very closely linked to high levels of cortisol and adrenaline, both of which are hallmarks of a persistently high caffeine intake (Jin et al., 2016).

A matcha latte that I had recently.
A matcha latte that I had recently.

How To Quit Caffeine (Or Drastically Reduce Your Intake)

Hopefully, you will now realise that the strong, "positive" effects of caffeine are just as indicative of the substance's detrimental impact on the body as the negative ones. That is not to say that occasional caffeine is always bad; pharmacology shows us that there is often a ying and yang to a particular substance, as low levels of certain drugs can be as beneficial as they are compromising.

Nonetheless, if caffeine makes you feel wonderfully wired, it is time to stop relying on it in your daily life; it isn't delivering you with a lovely personality boost, it is quite literally hijacking your brain and stealing future excitement, joy and energy from you.

To escape the cycle of caffeine over-stimulation, temporary energy and subsequent apathy, despair and fatigue, the first thing to do is quit coffee. The amount of caffeine in a cup of black coffee can range from around 80-400mg, and it is simply not a concoction that someone with the slow-metaboliser CYP1A2 allele combination can handle.

You can then decide whether you are going to suffer the cold-turkey caffeine withdrawal symptoms, or drink tea as a coffee replacement to soften the blow. A cup of black tea contains around 35mg of caffeine and green tea 25mg, both of which are far more gentle and well-tolerated than coffee.

The Coffee Conspiracy - A Very Interesting Watch

So, Is Tea Safe For Mania-Prone People?

Containing L-Theanine, an amino acid that works synergistically with caffeine to provide you with calm energy and no sudden crash, tea is tolerated by some slow caffeine metabolisers. Personally, I am able to drink 1 cup of tea a day, but notice that I start experiencing low-level "buzzed happiness" if I increase this to 2-3 cups a day. It is pleasant and not accompanied by much anxiety at this level, but I now know to cut back on the amount that I am drinking if I start to experience even the smallest mood amelioration from baseline.

I choose to drink one cup of matcha tea in the early afternoon. In doing so, I can incorporate a delicious, hot drink into my day and slightly enhance my focus, without suffering any marked personality changes. Matcha tea also offers a plethora of health benefits and is truly a "superfood", though that term is certainly overused.

The bottom line is that no one who is prone to manic mood states or sensitive to caffeine can drink coffee; the dose of caffeine it carries is too high, and it doesn't contain natural "calming" compounds (found in tea) that balance the excitatory neurotransmitter activity that the drug induces.

Through experimentation, you can determine whether or not you can incorporate tea (black, green or matcha) into your life without wreaking havoc on your personality and natural workflow. However, the most important thing to be aware of is that any mood-boost that you experience from even a low dose of caffeine is not only fake and ephemeral but also detrimental to your sleep cycle, personality and energy levels.

A delicious, softly stimulating matcha tea that I recommend

Jade Leaf - Organic Japanese Matcha Green Tea Powder - USDA Certified, Authentic Japanese Origin - Classic Culinary Grade (Smoothies, Lattes, Baking, Recipes) - Antioxidants, Energy [100g Value Size]
Jade Leaf - Organic Japanese Matcha Green Tea Powder - USDA Certified, Authentic Japanese Origin - Classic Culinary Grade (Smoothies, Lattes, Baking, Recipes) - Antioxidants, Energy [100g Value Size]

This matcha tea is genuinely the best that I have tried, and I am someone who is very caffeine-sensitive, mania-prone and anxious. I have not once suffered a panic attack since switching coffee for this green tea, and am full of energy and natural motivation. Try it and let me know if it works for you!

 

Conclusion? Pharmacology Is Complex, and No Drug Is "Totally Beneficial"

This article is only an introduction to the complex nature of drug reactions, and the limits of our own bodies and thus our emotions. There is no way to hack the body to feel motivated and bubbly every hour of the day; quitting caffeine will, however, give you your best chance in life as it will take you back to your natural sleep rythm, sense of motivation and ability to work well.

The struggle is being brave enough to quit caffeine in a world that is so focused on constant productivity. While it may seem like a risk when there is a 2-4 week withdrawal period, a more authentic and stable future is definitely worth some moderate suffering. Once the withdrawal phase is over and you have greatly reduced your caffeine intake for a few weeks, you are guaranteed to feel more stable and naturally brighter, albeit in a softer, less manic way. You will also be far more in touch with your body (appetite, natural sleepiness) and your emotions (how you truly feel about your colleagues, your friends and your work).

We so readily consume alcohol and caffeine because they are considered acceptable by society, without realising that they can be as damaging as illegal narcotic drugs. In doing so, we suffer from a plethora of unnecessary symptoms and side effects, as well as distancing ourselves from what our bodies truly want and need.

References

Jin et al. (2016). The Relationship of Caffeine Intake With Depression, Anxiety, Stress and Sleep in Korean Adolescents.

Journals.sagepub.com. (2018). Coffee with co-workers: role of caffeine on evaluations of the self and others in group settings - Vasu Unnava, Amit Surendra Singh, H. Rao Unnava, 2018.

M, K. (2018). Caffeine-induced mania in a patient with caffeine use disorder: A case report. - PubMed - NCBI.

Pharmacytimes.com. (2018). Get to Know an Enzyme: CYP1A2. [online] Available at: https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2007/2007-11/2007-11-8279 [Accessed 21 Jun. 2018].

Shenfield, G. (2018). Genetic Polymorphisms, Drug Metabolism and Drug Concentrations.

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Lucy

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      • hallucinogen profile imageAUTHOR

        Lucy 

        2 months ago from Leeds, UK

        It sounds like you're very familiar with just how powerful and hypomania-inducing the coffee buzz is for a small percentage of the population.

        I, too, used to be utterly addicted to and dependent on the stuff, and would experience the same type of high that you've described. Music would sound incredible, my classmates would ALL seem interesting and likeable to me and nature/colours would come alive.

        What goes up always comes down, though, and the restless "crash" that you mentioned is unpleasant and scary - you're full of undesirable energy and are paranoid rather than euphoric.

        Thanks for the great comment!

      • profile image

        Storm Boy Jack 

        2 months ago

        Coffee is just like any other drug - you get accustomed to it and eventually you need more and more to get on the same high.

        I am anxiety driven, depressed and depersonalized. Around 2-3 years ago when I thought the key to recovery was exercise and diet, I was pretty fit. I didn't have the perfect six-pack, but I was considerable more well equipped to exercise than even my gym-goer friends, and I didn't drink coffee, drank less alcohol and tried to eat mostly clean food.

        In the very beginning even drinking a single Starbucks coffee at 14:00 (whether the very strong Americano or just a half-Latte) would cause me extreme joy in the afternoon, and restless energy til 3AM. Recently, drinking a strong coffee and listening to music would get me euphoric for an hour or two. Nowadays drinking even double the amount as before doesn't make me happy at all, and I still get a caffeine crash.

        Heed my call reader, as the article writer noted: if you do anything out of achieving euphoric happiness you will get addicted. Whether it is healthy or (usually) un-healthy is just another question.

      • Camille Harris profile image

        Camille Harris 

        5 months ago from SF Bay Area

        "This explains why certain people can sleep perfectly well after a double espresso and others cannot drink a single cup of coffee without becoming anxious."

        THIS. I'm the person who can sleep no matter what - even after a literal double espresso. My 23andme results confirmed that I am likely to consume more caffeine than average due to my CYP1A2. I'm having a matcha latte now (for the taste) and will have no trouble sleeping.

        Great article!

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