Effects of caffeine on performance and mood: withdrawal reversal is the most plausible explanation

Abstract

Rationale

Although it is widely believed that caffeine can enhance human performance and mood, the validity of this belief has been questioned, giving rise to debate. The central question is whether superior performance and mood after caffeine represent net benefits, or whether differences between caffeine and control conditions are due to reversal of adverse withdrawal effects.

Objectives

To provide a focussed review of relevant experimental studies with the aim of clarifying current understanding regarding the effects of caffeine on human performance and mood.

Methods

To avoid the shortcomings of standard placebo-controlled studies, which are ambiguous due to failure to control for the confounding influence of withdrawal reversal, three main experimental approaches have been employed: studies that compare consumers and low/non-consumers, pre-treatment and ad lib consumption studies, and long-term withdrawal studies.

Results

Of the three approaches, only long-term withdrawal studies are capable of unambiguously revealing the net effects of caffeine. Overall, there is little evidence of caffeine having beneficial effects on performance or mood under conditions of long-term caffeine use vs abstinence. Although modest acute effects may occur following initial use, tolerance to these effects appears to develop in the context of habitual use of the drug.

Conclusions

Appropriately controlled studies show that the effects of caffeine on performance and mood, widely perceived to be net beneficial psychostimulant effects, are almost wholly attributable to reversal of adverse withdrawal effects associated with short periods of abstinence from the drug.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Alsense K, Deckert J, Sand P, de Wit H (2003) Association between A2A receptor gene polymorphisms and caffeine-induced anxiety. Neuropsychopharmacology 28:1694–1702

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Bruce M, Scott N, Shine P, Lader M (1991) Caffeine withdrawal: a contract of withdrawal symptoms in normal subjects who have abstained from caffeine for 24 hours and for 7 days. J Psychopharmacol 5:129–134

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Chait LD, Griffiths RR (1983) Effects of caffeine on cigarette smoking and subjective response. Clin Pharmacol Ther 34:612–622

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Christopher G, Sutherland D, Smith A (2005) Effects of caffeine in non-withdrawn volunteers. Hum Psychopharmacol Clin Exp 20:47–53

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Denaro CP, Brown CR, Jacob PI, Benowitz NL (1991) Effects of caffeine with repeated dosing. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 40:273–278

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Garrett BE, Griffiths RR (1998) Physical dependence increases the relative reinforcing effects of caffeine versus placebo. Psychopharmacology 139:195–202

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Gilliland K, Bullock W (1984) Caffeine: a potential drug of abuse. Haworth, New York

    Google Scholar 

  8. Goldstein A, Kaizer S, Whitby O (1969) Psychotropic effects of caffeine in man. IV. Quantitative and qualitative differences associated with habituation to coffee. Clin Pharmacol Ther 10:489–497

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Griffiths RR, Bigelow GE, Liebson IA (1986) Human coffee drinking: reinforcing and physical dependence producing effects of caffeine. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 239:416–425

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Griffiths RR, Juliano LM, Chausmer AL (2003) Caffeine: pharmacology and clinical effects. In: Graham AW, Schultz TK, Mayo-Smith MF, Ries RK, Wilford BB (eds) Principles of addiction medicine, 3rd edn. American Society of Addiction Medicine, Chevy Chase, MD, pp 134–193

    Google Scholar 

  11. Haskell CF, Kennedy DO, Wesnes KA, Scholey AB (2005) Cognitive and modd improvements of caffeine in habitual consumers and habitual non-consumers of caffeine. Psychopharmacology (in press)

  12. Heatherley SV, Hancock KMF, Rogers PJ (2005a) Psychostimulant and other effects of caffeine in 9- to 11-year-old children. J Child Psychol Psychiatry (in press)

  13. Heatherley SV, Hayward RC, Seers HE, Rogers PJ (2005b) Cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood, and pressor effects of caffeine after 4, 6 and 8 h caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology 178:461–470

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Hughes JR, Oliveto AH, Bickel WK, Higgins ST, Badger GJ (1993) Caffeine self-administration and withdrawal: incidence, individual differences and interrelationships. Drug Alcohol Depend 32:239–246

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. James JE (1990) The influence of user status and anxious disposition on the hypertensive effects of caffeine. Int J Psychophysiol 10:171–179

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. James JE (1994a) Does caffeine enhance or merely restore degraded psychomotor performance? Neuropsychobiology 30:124–125

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. James JE (1994b) Psychophysiological effects of habitual caffeine consumption. Int J Behav Med 1:247–263

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. James JE (1995) Caffeine and psychomotor performance revisited. Neuropsychobiology 31:202–203

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. James JE (1997) Understanding caffeine: a biobehavioral analysis. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA

    Google Scholar 

  20. James JE (1998) Acute and chronic effects of caffeine on performance, mood, headache, and sleep. Neuropsychobiology 38:32–41

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. James JE (2003) Caffeine, mental performance and mood. In: Watson D (ed) Performance functional foods. Woodhead, London, pp 168–194

    Google Scholar 

  22. James JE (2004) A critical review of dietary caffeine and blood pressure: a relationship that should be taken more seriously. Psychosom Med 66:31–71

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. James JE, Gregg ME (2004a) Effects of dietary caffeine on mood when rested and sleep restricted. Hum Psychopharmacol Clin Exp 19:333–341

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. James JE, Gregg ME (2004b) Hemodynamic effects of dietary caffeine, sleep restriction, and laboratory stress. Psychophysiol 41:914–923

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. James JE, Paull I, Cameron-Traub E, Miners JO, Lelo A, Birkett DJ (1988) Biochemical validation of self-reported caffeine consumption during caffeine fading. J Behav Med 11:15–30

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. James JE, Gregg ME, Kane M, Harte F (2005) Dietary caffeine, performance and mood: enhancing and restorative effects after controlling for withdrawal relief. Neuropsychobiology 52:1–10

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Juliano LM, Griffiths RR (2004) A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychopharmacology 176:1–29

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Lelo A, Miners JO, Robson R, Birkett DJ (1986a) Assessment of caffeine exposure: caffeine content of beverages, caffeine intake, and plasma concentrations of methylxanthines. Clin Pharmacol Ther 39:54–59

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Lelo A, Miners JO, Robson RA, Birkett DJ (1986b) Quantitative assessment of caffeine partial clearances in man. Br J Clin Pharmacol 22:183–186

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Lieberman HR, Wurtman RJ, Emde GG, Roberts C, Coviella ILG (1987) The effects of low doses of caffeine on human performance and mood. Psychopharmacol 152:167–173

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Mitchell SH, de Wit H, Zacny JP (1995) Caffeine withdrawal symptoms and self-administration following caffeine deprivation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 51:941–945

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. Mumford GK, Evans SM, Kaminski BJ, Preston KL, Sannerud DC, Silverman K, Griffiths RR (1994) Discriminative stimulus and subjective effects of theobromine and caffeine in humans. Psychopharmacology 115:1–8

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Pfeifer RW, Notari RE (1988) Predicting caffeine plasma concentrations resulting from consumption of food or beverages: a simple method and its origin. Drug Intel Clin Pharm 22:953–959

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Phillips-Bute BG, Lane JD (1998) Caffeine withdrawal symptoms following brief caffeine deprivation. Physiol Behav 63:35–39

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Reyner LA, Horne JA (2002) Efficacy of a ‘functional energy drink’ in counteracting driver sleepiness. Physiol Behav 75:331–335

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Richardson NJ, Rogers PJ, Elliman NA, O'Dell RJ (1995) Mood and performance effects of caffeine in relation to acute and chronic caffeine deprivation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 52:313–320

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. Robelin M, Rogers PJ (1998) Mood and psychomotor performance effects of the first, but not of subsequent, cup-of-coffee equivalent doses of caffeine consumed after overnight caffeine abstinence. Behav Pharmacol 9:611–618

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. Robertson D, Wade D, Workman R, Woosley RL, Oates JA (1981) Tolerance to the humoral and hemodynamic effects of caffeine in man. J Clin Invest 67:1111–1117

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Rogers PJ, Dernoncourt C (1998) Regular caffeine consumption: a balance of adverse and beneficial effects for mood and psychomotor performance. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 59:1039–1045

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  40. Rogers PJ, Richardson NJ, Elliman NA (1995) Overnight caffeine abstinence and negative reinforcement of preference for caffeine-containing drinks. Psychopharmacology 120:457–462

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. Rogers PJ, Stephens S, Day JEL (1998) Contrasting performance effects of caffeine after overnight and chronic caffeine withdrawal. J Psychopharmacol 12:A13

    Google Scholar 

  42. Rogers PJ, Martin J, Smith C, Heatherley SV, Smit HJ (2003) Absence of reinforcing, mood and psychomotor performance effects of caffeine in habitual non-consumers of caffeine. Psychopharmacology 167:54–62

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Rogers PJ, Heatherley SV, Hayward RC, Sears HE, Hill J, Kane M (2005) Effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on mood and cognitive performance degraded by sleep restriction. Psychopharmacology 179:742–752

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  44. Silverman K, Griffiths RR (1992) Low-dose caffeine discrimination and self-reported mood effects in normal volunteers. J Exp Anal Behav 57:91–107

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Silverman K, Mumford GK, Griffiths RR (1994) Enhancing caffeine reinforcement by behavioral requirements following drug ingestion. Psychopharmacology 114:424–432

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. Smit HJ, Rogers PJ (2000) Effects of low doses of caffeine on cognitive performance, mood and thirst in low and higher caffeine consumers. Psychopharmacology 152:167–173

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Smith AP (1995) Caffeine, caffeine withdrawal and psychomotor performance: a reply to James. Neuropsychobiology 31:200–201

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. Smith AP (2002) Effects of caffeine on human behaviour. Food Chem Toxicol 40:1243–1255

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  49. Streufert S, Pogash R, Miller J, Gingrich D, Landis R, Lonardi L, Severs W, Roache JD (1995) Effects of caffeine deprivation on complex human functioning. Psychopharmacology 118:377–384

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  50. Tinley EM, Yeomans MR, Durlach PJ (2003) Caffeine reinforces flavour preference in caffeine-dependent, but not long-term withdrawn, caffeine consumers. Psychopharmacology 166:416–423

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. van Duinen H, Lorist MM, Zijdewind I (2005) The effect of caffeine on cognitive task performance and motor fatigue. Psychopharmacology (in press)

  52. Warburton DM (1995) Effects of caffeine on cognition and mood without caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology 119:66–70

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Warburton DM, Bersellini E, Sweeney E (2001) An evaluation of a caffeinated taurine drink on mood, memory and information processing in healthy volunteers without caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology 158:322–328

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  54. Watson JM, Lunt MJ, Morris S, Weiss MJ, Hussey D, Kerr D (2000) Reversal of caffeine withdrawal by ingestion of a soft beverage. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 66:15–18

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  55. Yeomans MR, Spetch H, Rogers PJ (1998) Conditioned flavour preference negatively reinforced by caffeine in human volunteers. Psychopharmacology 137:401–409

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  56. Yeomans MR, Ripley T, Davies LH, Rusted JM, Rogers PJ (2002) Effects of caffeine on performance and mood depend on the level of caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology 164:241–249

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jack E. James.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

James, J.E., Rogers, P.J. Effects of caffeine on performance and mood: withdrawal reversal is the most plausible explanation. Psychopharmacology 182, 1–8 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-005-0084-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Caffeine
  • Performance
  • Mood
  • Sleep restriction
  • Withdrawal reversal
  • Fatigue
  • Alertness