When the office coffee-maker breaks, office morale and energy may plunge, too. Because people need their caffeine fixes, right?
Kinda. Caffeine Withdrawal Syndrome isn’t B.S. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (which sets guidelines for diagnosing all mental disorders) lists it as an official substance use disorder. But, coffee addicts may not need to ingest actual caffeine to ward off pesky and painful withdrawal symptoms including headaches, droopiness and irritability — they just need to think they're getting it. According to a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers found that merely believing you’ve mainlined espresso might make you feel a lot better.
Here's how it worked:
1. 89 college students who regularly drink at least three cups of coffee a day gave up the habit for 24 hours.
2. Researchers gave each participant a cup of decaf coffee.
3. Half of the participants knew it was decaf and the other half were told they got the real thing.
4. Participants filled out questionnaires on caffeine withdrawal symptoms both before and after drinking their decaffeinated beverages.
5. The questionnaires asked participants to rate withdrawal symptoms including drowsiness, cravings, moodiness and various types of physical pain.
Result: Participants who thought they drank caffeinated coffee reported considerably improved withdrawal symptoms compared to those who knew they’d consumed decaf.
Certain symptoms emerged as especially susceptible to the placebo effect: cravings, decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating and drowsiness. By contrast, “the simple belief that caffeine has been ingested” appeared to have less of an impact on negative physical symptoms, including nausea and headaches. The results suggested to authors that, in the context of ditching caffeine, cognitive sensations associated with trips to the Keuring may be most vulnerable to mental manipulation.
It’s also possible that it takes longer for physical symptoms to abate in response to caffeine. In the study, participants waited 45 minutes after drinking coffee before they re-assessed withdrawal symptoms. Had they waited longer, study authors noted, perhaps they would have reported a similar level of reduction in nausea and headaches as they did in drowsiness.
Overall, study authors wrote, “these findings add to the growing body of research indicating that in addition to known pharmacological factors, expectancies concerning current levels of a drug in the body also play a significant role in the way that individuals addicted to that drug perceive their withdrawal symptoms.”
So, if your coworker skips their daily flat white and starts complaining about being sleepy, here's your excuse to avoid waiting with them in that Starbucks line.