, Volume 176, Issue 1, pp 1-29
Date: 21 Sep 2004

A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features

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Abstract

Rationale

Although reports of caffeine withdrawal in the medical literature date back more than 170 years, the most rigorous experimental investigations of the phenomenon have been conducted only recently.

Objectives

The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the literature regarding human caffeine withdrawal to empirically validate specific symptoms and signs, and to appraise important features of the syndrome.

Methods

A literature search identified 57 experimental and 9 survey studies on caffeine withdrawal that met inclusion criteria. The methodological features of each study were examined to assess the validity of the effects.

Results

Of 49 symptom categories identified, the following 10 fulfilled validity criteria: headache, fatigue, decreased energy/activeness, decreased alertness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and foggy/not clearheaded. In addition, flu-like symptoms, nausea/vomiting, and muscle pain/stiffness were judged likely to represent valid symptom categories. In experimental studies, the incidence of headache was 50% and the incidence of clinically significant distress or functional impairment was 13%. Typically, onset of symptoms occurred 12–24 h after abstinence, with peak intensity at 20–51 h, and for a duration of 2–9 days. In general, the incidence or severity of symptoms increased with increases in daily dose; abstinence from doses as low as 100 mg/day produced symptoms. Research is reviewed indicating that expectancies are not a prime determinant of caffeine withdrawal and that avoidance of withdrawal symptoms plays a central role in habitual caffeine consumption.

Conclusions

The caffeine-withdrawal syndrome has been well characterized and there is sufficient empirical evidence to warrant inclusion of caffeine withdrawal as a disorder in the DSM and revision of diagnostic criteria in the ICD.