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Caffeine could pose a bigger health problem for some

Friday - 1/31/2014, 6:04am  ET

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A medical condition made worse by the person's use of caffeine is now identified as caffeine use disorder. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON - Many people are dependent on their morning coffee or tea -- perhaps a little more than they'd like to be. But for some, it's causing a serious health risk.

There is now a research designation for those who know they have to quit caffeine, but have a serious physical aversion to doing it.

"There is a misconception among professionals and lay people alike that caffeine is not difficult to give up. However, in population-based studies, more than 50 percent of regular caffeine consumers report that they have had difficulty quitting or reducing caffeine use," says American University psychology professor Laura Juliano.

She co-authored a new study that focuses on caffeine use disorder, a condition in which people are so dependent on caffeine that they suffer withdrawal symptoms and are physically unable to reduce caffeine consumption -- even if they have another condition that may be exacerbated by the caffeine, such as a pregnancy, heart problems or a bleeding disorder, according to the university release announcing the study this week.

This research diagnosis basically puts the problem on the radar to encourage further investigation, Juliano added.

Caffeine use disorder isn't new. Last spring, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized the condition as a health concern in need of additional research in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.

The university study summarizes previously published research, presenting biological evidence for caffeine dependence; data that shows how widespread dependence is; and the significant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms experienced by habitual caffeine users, according to the release.

But there is much more to be done, Juliano says.

"Furthermore, genetics research may help us to better understand the effects of caffeine on health and pregnancy, as well as individual differences in caffeine consumption and sensitivity."

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