Caffeine Withdrawal Is A Mental Disorder

Photo by robertbanh

A few years ago, McDonald's released a commercial that made me legitimately want to throw my television out the window. And that's a big deal, seeing as I love, love, love my television.

It featured a hipster business guy type walking around town on his way to work, telling everyone not to talk to him until he had his morning coffee. And then, he walked into the local McDonald's for breakfast, pulled the same dismissive nonsense on the lady at the counter, who replied about how they actually do have coffee for him. Having gotten his morning fix, he was now able to talk to people once again.

(Here: Watch it if you'd like, but I refuse to embed it seeing as I might accidentally click it and then be forced to throw my computer out the window.)

The whole bit was intended to simply introduce the concept of the new coffee flavor at McDonald's to America. And while I actually do enjoy the coffee brewed by the Golden Arches more than any other large corporate coffee, the point of view of the guy in the commercial is what got to me. What's wrong with these people who feel as if they can't physically be part of our world until they have their morning cup of joe? I mean, sure, I love my coffee, but to actually feel as if you cannot operate until you get your jolt of caffeine in the a.m. is simply a clichéd bit of nonsense that McDonald's was proliferating and legitimizing. No one's that addicted to it.

Turns out, I was wrong. Way wrong. Not getting your caffeine is now an actual mental disorder.

This is not just according to some small-time shrink trying to make a quick buck by going viral; it's an idea put forth by the strongest word in the world of mental disorders: The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." Or, as it's better known, the DSM-5.

As the afore-linked article over Time.com explains, the newly-released latest edition of the manual is taking caffeine seriously:

If you've had more than 250 mg of caffeine (two to three cups of brewed coffee) and experienced five or more of the following symptoms, says the guide, you've probably been caffeine-buzzed: restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis (having to pee a lot), gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility or psychomotor agitation (unintentional motion, say, rapidly bouncing one leg).

As luck would have it, as I write this passage, I'm sitting in a cafe in Oakland and just got a cup of cappuccino, my second coffee beverage of the day. Looking through the above list of possible symptoms, I can certainly claim excitement, unintentional moving my legs rapidly, and restlessness. And, I'm afraid to say, I have a feeling that both diuresis and some gastrointestinal disturbance will be going on in the near future. (As my mother would say to that last bit: "TMI," so sorry.) Which is to say, I'm most definitely "caffeine buzzed." But does that mean if I stopped drinking it I'd have caffeine withdrawal?

As the DSM-5 goes on to explain, people who don't get their fix can be expected to go through withdrawal by experiencing fatigue, have a headache -- in some cases, a terrible and excruciating one -- and have a difficulty in focusing. Pretty much a mild case of the DTs. But thankfully, I have yet to experience those kinds of symptoms if I go a few days, or even a week, without my coffee.

But that's not to diminish the effects of caffeine withdrawal, or to somehow undercut those who experience it. This is certainly a legitimate thing, and more importantly there's a big warning for all of us from this news: Caffeine is a drug. A minor one, sure, but one nevertheless. Sometimes, especially in our current culture of coffee ubiquity, we may lose sight of that fact and simply look at a cup as something as benign as water. It's not. So maybe, it wouldn't be the worst idea to ask for a cup of decaf every now and then.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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