Some research shows that caffeine may negatively impact anxiety. Understanding the symptoms of caffeine-induced anxiety can help you discover ways to cope.

From coffee to tea to soda, caffeine is found in many products that thousands of Americans drink daily.

A staggering 75% of the American population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage a day. The National Coffee Association (NCA) found that about 70% of Americans drink at least one coffee a week and about 60% drink it once a day.

What many people don’t consider is that caffeine is a psychoactive drug that can boost alertness, energy, and feelings of well-being. In other words, many of the reasons people drink coffee in the first place.

But, too much caffeine can lead to unwanted side effects, like jitters, disrupted sleep, gastric distress, and irritability. For those living with anxiety or other mood disorders, too much caffeine may worsen symptoms.

In a comprehensive review of literature from 2017, researchers found that caffeine is generally safe for healthy adults to consume in moderation. But for certain, vulnerable groups, it can lead to potentially harmful side effects.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that the caffeine found in roughly 5 cups of coffee can trigger panic attacks in people with panic disorders. They also noted that caffeine can increase anxiety in people with panic disorders as well as healthy adults.

Still, they don’t know what the connection is between caffeine-induced anxiety and panic attacks.

Caffeine has several effects on your body. One of the main mechanisms of action is blocking adenosine receptors. This causes an increase in dopamine, noradrenalin, and glutamate. A study from 2019 showed that adenosine receptor genes may play a role in the development of anxiety.

This relationship could suggest that certain at-risk people may be more prone to develop anxiety related to caffeine consumption, but more research is still needed to figure out the connection.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) defines caffeine-induced anxiety as a condition where caffeine interferes with your daily functioning. To get diagnosed with the condition, your symptoms must relate directly to consuming caffeine.

The DSM-5-TR also describes possible criteria for a caffeine use disorder. They suggest that symptoms of this disorder would include:

  • withdrawal symptoms when you don’t get enough caffeine
  • continuing to use caffeine even when it causes you harm
  • desire to stop or inability to stop caffeine use

Caffeine content

Whether you are just curious or looking to cut back, the following are estimates of caffeine content in some popular beverages:

  • 12 ounce (oz) can of a caffeinated soft drink – typically contains 30 to 40 milligrams (mg) of caffeine
  • 8 oz cup of green or black tea – 30 to 50 mg
  • 8 oz cup of coffee – 80 to 100 mg
  • 8 oz energy drinks – 40 to 250 mg
  • 8 oz decaf coffee – 2 to 15 mg

When you drink too much caffeine, it can lead to unwanted symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that consuming about 400 mg of caffeine a day shouldn’t cause symptoms in most healthy adults. This is about 4 to 5 cups of coffee.

Experts generally recommend that if you’re living with anxiety, panic disorders, or some other conditions, you should limit or avoid caffeine altogether.

Some common caffeine anxiety symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • jitters
  • upset stomach
  • fast heart rate
  • headache
  • general feeling of unhappiness

If caffeine triggers anxiety, it may also cause you to experience feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness or excessive worry.

Caffeine and anxiety medication

Research dating back to the early 2000’s notes that caffeine can interfere with several different psychiatrist medications, including antidepressants and antianxiety medications.

It’s suggested that it competes with the same receptors that the medications use, which can lead to interference with treatment.

More recent studies continue to support the idea that caffeine can interact with and interfere with several different medications. They caution healthcare providers to take dietary consumption of caffeine into account when prescribing medications.

Was this helpful?

If you want to safely consume caffeine, cut back, or better monitor how much you need, you can try the following tips.

1. Start later in the day

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that waiting an hour from when you get up to your first cup of coffee can help reduce consumption.

They suggest that your body naturally increases hormones that help you wake. Instead of drinking it early, they suggest waiting until mid-morning to early afternoon.

2. Try consuming only when you need a boost

If you don’t regularly consume a lot of caffeine, you can take advantage of its positive effects from time to time. To do this, try only drinking it ahead of a long drive, before a lecture, or other times when you need a boost to energy.

3. Wean off slowly

If you drink a lot of coffee or consume a lot of caffeine, you may find that slowly decreasing your consumption will work best. A slow withdrawal may help you avoid symptoms of withdrawal, such as headaches or increased anxiety.

Withdrawal from caffeine isn’t dangerous, but it can be unpleasant.

4. Switch to decaf

Decaf coffee, teas, or soda can provide a similar flavor but far less caffeine compared to their alternatives. It may help you reduce the amount of caffeine you consume while not cutting off all caffeine at once.

5. Try exercise

Exercise can help boost your energy levels. You may find that an early morning walk or run may help increase alertness or help you wake up. Alternatively, you could plan a workout when energy levels dip in the afternoon or evening.

If you consume a lot of caffeine and want to cut back, you may find that starting small is the way to go. Try skipping one extra cup of coffee, switch to decaf, or drink coffee a bit later than normal. You may find that replacing exercise for the first caffeine intake may also work well.

There’s no set treatment for caffeine withdrawal or cutting back in general. You may find that you need to try different things to see what works best for you.

If you are having trouble with managing anxiety or panic attacks, you may want to speak with a licensed mental health worker, doctor, or other medical professional to help get symptoms under control. You may find additional therapy, changes to medications, or other strategies may help.

For more information on finding a therapist, check out this article.