It's official: caffeine bona fide addictive

The Associated Press

CHICAGO They're not called java junkies for nothing.

Medical research now confirms what coffee drinkers long have suspected: Some people get so hooked on caffeine that they have many of the same dependency traits of alcoholics or drug addicts.

But caffeine-aholics can rest easy if their jittery, jangly nerves will let them.

"In general, caffeine use has not been associated with serious health risks," said lead researcher Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"Our findings in and of themselves should not be used as a reason to quit caffeine use."

Psychiatrists identify addiction by a cluster of traits. The study found that some people who drank as little as one or two cups of coffee a day had enough of the traits to qualify as chemically dependent.

Those traits include developing a tolerance for a substance, or getting less of a kick from the same amount of caffeine; trying unsuccessfully to quit or cut down; and inability to give up the habit even when ordered to by a doctor.

Previously only one addictive trait, physical dependency, was well-documented in caffeine users, researchers said in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. Coffee drinkers can suffer withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and sluggishness when they give up caffeine.

The study involved 27 people recruited because they believed themselves to be psychologically or physically dependent on caffeine. Sixteen met the formal definition of addiction. They consumed anywhere from one to 25 cups of coffee a day or two to 34 caffeinated soft drinks.

Dr. Peter Dews, an emeritus professor of psychiatry and psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, saw nothing new in Griffiths' report.

"People say they can't stop all sorts of things. When they try, they can," said Dews, a consultant to the International Food Information Council, a nonprofit group in Washington funded largely by the food industry.

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