I can across an article on line recently that called caffeine an addictive drug. Well, if you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you know I’m a bit of a stickler for correct terminology (maybe a bit overly so – sigh!). So, I wanted to check out if caffeine could really be called a “drug,” addictive or not.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, chemist, pharmacist, etc., so this is just a lay opinion.
What Is Caffeine?
Definition from Webster’s Online Dictionary:
1. A bitter alkaloid found in coffee and tea that is responsible for their stimulating effects.[Wordnet]
2. A white, bitter, crystallizable substance, obtained from coffee. It is identical with the alkaloid theine from tea leaves, and with guaranine from guarana.[Websters].
There are lots of other definitions, some containing the claim that caffeine acts as a diuretic. However, a number of sources, including this one, show that the diuretic effect can be mild and does not lead to an overall fluid loss. That is, you can drink a cup of tea and the amount of fluid outflow will be less or equal, but not more. Diuretics cause you to have more going out than coming in, fluid-wise.
What Is a Drug?
Definition from TheFreeDictionary.com:
a. A substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication.
b. Such a substance as recognized or defined by the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
2. A chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behavior and often addiction.
There are other definitions, but I presented one that seems pretty average. And since addiction seems to be part of the reason people get concerned about caffeine, It makes sense to look at that, too.
What Is Addiction?
Definition from Wikipedia (a bit long, so I present an abridged version):
…the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors. … Classic hallmarks of addiction include impaired control over substances or behavior, preoccupation with substance or behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial. … Physiological dependence occurs when the body has to adjust to the substance by incorporating the substance into its ‘normal’ functioning. … Tolerance is the process by which the body continually adapts to the substance and requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the original effects. Withdrawal refers to physical and psychological symptoms experienced when reducing or discontinuing a substance that the body has become dependent on.
I can easily see that tea can be addictive but not necessarily physiologically nor due to caffeine. It can become psychologically addictive in that you feel a strong need for a break and a cuppa. For many Brits this is almost genetic, some kind of internal clock that goes off around 4 p.m. every day.
Who cares? Tea tastes good and generally has a very low level of caffeine. There are decaffeinated teas and things like rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, and other herbals that can serve for those who are super-sensitive to the effects of caffeine. So whether caffeine is classified as a drug or not is immaterial. For now, also, it is not a controlled substance. Hurray!
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