Bipolar Disorder and Caffeine’s Effects


According to the National Institute of Mental Health 90% of Americans use caffeine daily, including, of course, those suffering from mood disorders such as depression and bipolar. Considering the amount of coffee, tea, sodas, sports drinks, ice cream and chocolate that is consumed, the percentage should be no surprise. And, yes, you read correctly, there can be significant amounts of caffeine in some ice creams and chocolates.

As for me, I love coffee. I’ve been known to drink a full pot faster than you can say Starbucks. As a matter of fact, I managed a coffee shop for several years. When it came time for me to take a break, my staff knew what to make without me having to ask – a large iced coffee with 4 extra shots. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I was a jittery mess. I don’t know how anyone was capable of reading any of my handwritten reports. I’m sure there were plenty who assumed I had a crack addiction.

You know before you read any further that I’m going to say that people with mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar, should limit their caffeine intake because that is true of everyone. The question is, how much more of an impact does it have on those with mood disorders, if any.

Let’s admit it, we are a sleep deprived, caffeine addicted nation. Too many of us choose coffee in place of getting an adequate amount of sleep. Our cell phones and computers, which were supposed to make our lives easier, have actually resulted in longer work days. We just happen to be working at home instead of the office. On top of working from home, the average American watches 5 hours of television each night, according to the New York Times. My God, is it any wonder that we don’t sleep? Pass me a Red Bull, please, these statistics are exhausting me.

In the NIMH sponsored study, 61 participants were tested in the morning on verbal memory, motor, and perceptual skills. After lunch, they were separated into 3 groups. One group napped for 60-90 minutes, one group listened to a book on tape and took a caffeine pill which contained about as much caffeine as a Tall Starbucks coffee, which you may know is Starbucks equivalent of a small cup of coffee anywhere else. I don’t know who was the marketing genius who said, “Let’s name a small cup of coffee a tall cup of coffee.” but, it bugs the hell out me! The third group also listened to the book on tape but took a placebo.

Not surprisingly, the nap group performed significantly better than the other two groups. In addition, the evidence suggests it wasn’t just the napping that made the difference; the study showed that the caffeine actually interfered with the caffeinated groups tasks. In simple terms, the caffeine didn’t just keep them awake – it made them dumb too.

So, now that we know about everyone, what about those of us with mental disorders? For that information we’ll look at a study conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University, where they’ve learned that among those with a history of panic attacks, large amounts of caffeine can trigger an attack. There’s no information regarding what constitutes a large amount of caffeine, but I’m certain that a large iced coffee with 4 extra shots qualifies.

For further information, they interviewed and studied the caffeine habits of 3,600 adult twins. They determined that people who drank the most caffeine were more likely to suffer from psychiatric or substance abuse disorders and therefore there was an association, but that did not mean that one causes the other. In fact, their final conclusion was that caffeine does not cause or worsen psychiatric symptoms even when one twin consumed a lot more of caffeine and the other almost none.

It’s important to note that the study did not focus specifically on bipolar disorder. One could speculate that the results would be the same, but no specific studies have been done.

So, the conclusion seems to be there is no conclusion. At least not regarding anything specific to those with mood disorders. Everything in moderation seems to be the rule for everyone. Beyond that, I’ll allow you to make your own decision regarding caffeine intake. As for me, I have no intention to turn in my Starbucks card anytime soon. I just won’t be using it to purchase high octane iced coffees.

8 comments on Bipolar Disorder and Caffeine’s Effects

  1. I have gone through periods in my life where I drank pots of coffee, Redbull, iced tea by the gallon. I have also gone through periods in my life where I kept my caffeine down to 1-2 cups of coffee each day. By far, I sleep better when I don’t drink as much caffeine. I sleep more restfully, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. And when I’m awake, I function at a much higher level and am much clearer if I only have one to two cups of coffee (or soda or tea or whatever). I also have a rule that I won’t consume caffeine after 3:00pm. Sometimes I drink my last bit of caffeine at 9:00 in the morning and won’t have any for the remainder of the day. I am glad you brought attention to this issue because it is really important for everyone, but especially for someone with mental health issues.

    1. I’ve cut back on a lot of my caffeine, but nothing close to what you have. good job. I struggle the most with the stopping late afternoon/early evening rule. I try to fool people by sa8ying it doesn’t affect me, but I believe I’m really just trying to fool myself,

  2. “…..For that information we’ll look at a study conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University, where they’ve learned that among those with a history of panic attacks, large amounts of caffeine can trigger an attack……”

    This is in fact very true. I usually drink 2 or 3 cups of coffee in the morning, and never past noon (I have enough trouble sleeping as it is). I have gone and had that 4th and 5th cup, and it is interesting. All of a sudden my anti-anxiety medication does not work anymore. I start feeling panicked and paranoid, my heart begins to palpitate, and the walls close in on me. This whole attack is caused by an innocent little bean. So, I stick to the 2 or 3 cup rule pretty regularly so I do not have to take even more medication to bring me down off the ceiling.

  3. Reading this makes me think it might be about time to give up my one-energy-drink-a-day habit, which usually comes after a couple strong cups of coffee. I’ve got such a strong coffee addiction that I’m afraid to see what will happen if I quit.

    1. Thank you for stopping in, jk. Those energy drinks are bad for you In many ways, including destroying your teeth.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: