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Caffeine Shown to Induce Anxiety and, in Larger Doses, Maybe More

By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Publications Manager

An April 2012 report by the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust found a link between extreme caffeine and a suicide attempt in one case report. In addition, caffeine is known to exacerbate or sometimes even induce some psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia, according to studies conducted in 2009. In rare circumstances, worsening of psychosis and mania can also result.

This latest case report only reinforces what most of us already know: lifestyle choices play a big part in recovery management. Avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising on a regular basis can work wonders when it comes to keeping the human brain healthy.

A study in 1997 by Kaplan et al. showed that a dose of 250 mg of caffeine produced pleasant effects such as elation and peacefulness, but that when subjects were given does of 500 mg of the stimulant, negative effects such as anxiety, nausea and palpitations started to set in.

Although drinking one or two servings of coffee (which clocks in between 100 and 200 mg of caffeine per cup), soda (40 mg per can) or an energy drink (often more than 200 mg per can/bottle) every day is typically fine for most people, overdoing it can be potentially harmful.

Larger doses of caffeine (over 750 mg a day) can induce overstimulation, resulting in rapid heartbeat and insomnia. The subject in the NHS case study was a healthy 28-year-old boxer with no prior physical or mental health records (although the subject lost a brother to suicide and another to a drug overdose, indicating a family history of mental illness). The subject consumed 560 mg of caffeine per day over the course of two days, resulting in a three-day bout of insomnia that ended in a suicide attempt. After resuscitation and admittance to the hospital, the subject had no attempt and had no prior suicidal ideation.

If you live with a mental health condition, be sure to monitor your caffeine intake and strive to keep it under 200 mg per day. For more tips on healthy living, visit NAMI’s Hearts & Minds web resource, where you’ll find food and exercise journals, fact sheets on substance abuse and smoking cessation among other topics as well as videos.

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