Caffeine addiction: Spot the tell-tale signs you’re drinking too much

You wake up, you make your way to the kitchen, you put the kettle on.

Whether it’s a steaming hot cup of coffee or a refreshing mug of tea, a caffeine-hit to start the day is simply routine for practically all of us.

And this neat little ‘pick-me-up’ is on-hand at all hours, too – whether it’s a mid-day brew or an energy drink before a night shift.

With its ready availability and reliable way of making us feel more alert, it’s no wonder we so often reach for the caffeine.

But when all is said and done, it’s still a drug, and drugs can be addictive.

And anyone who ingests too much is risking their health.

Caffeine addiction: what is it?
To be classed as ‘addicted’, a person will be consuming an excessive and harmful amount of caffeine day after day – and doing so in such quantities that it has a negative effect on social interactions, their health and other areas of their life.

For a quick energy boost, many of us depend on caffeine, which in moderation is harmless.

But consuming unhealthy amounts can become very dangerous, causing an increase in blood pressure.

If you’re used to having large amounts of this stimulant, you have to be careful about cutting down too quickly, as doing so could result in withdrawal headaches, usually setting in around 18 hours later, according to NHS Tayside.

It’s only a mild stimulant – can caffeine really be dangerous?
It certainly can, but only if consumed in large quantities. It can put undue strain on the heart and cause blood pressure to rise, according to medical organisation the Mayo Clinic.

Other side effects include:

digestive problems
muscle breakdown
Many bladder and bowel symptoms are made worse by caffeine, while the drug can be especially dangerous for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive.

The NHS says: “High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birthweight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life.

“High caffeine levels might also cause miscarriage. Check the labels of energy drinks as they often say the drink is not suitable for children or pregnant women.”

What are the other risks of caffeinated drinks?
Caffeinated drinks can cause harm through its other ingredients, not just from the caffeine.

Victoria Taylor, a British Heart Foundation dietitian, says: “Sugar, syrups, whole milk, saturated fat and cream add calories which can cause weight gain and increase cholesterol levels.”

So what is a sensible amount of caffeine?
Victoria says the right amount is surprisingly forgiving, with around four to five cups of tea or coffee a day being acceptable.

She says: “Research shows that this level of caffeine intake shouldn’t be detrimental to your heart health, affect your cholesterol levels or heart rhythm.”

However, the NHS points out that: “Caffeine affects some people more than others, and the effect can depend on how much caffeine you normally consume.”

As for energy drinks, people shouldn’t be ingesting more than 400ml per day, according to a comprehensive review .

How to reduce caffeine to healthy levels
If you plan to cut down on caffeine, you may be better off doing so slowly, perhaps by reducing your intake by half a cup a day over a seven-day period.

According to an NHS caffeine reduction leaflet, this should allow you to build up to a level where you are consuming fewer than five caffeine-containing drinks a week.

Another option is to switch to low-caffeine tea and coffee, fruit or herbal teas, or other types of drinks, says NHS Eatwell guidance.

Healthy levels of caffeine in the body have provided some benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic, including some protection against:

Type 2 diabetes

Parkinson’s disease

Liver disease, including liver cancer

Heart attack and stroke