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Caffeine has a long history of use in human cultures, yet is one of the drugs which receives relatively little attention in discussions of drug abuse and addiction today. However, its effects on the body, both physiological and psychological, make it evident that caffeine is one of the drugs which may be abused and which may cause addiction.

Because caffeine is considered generally benign, because use of the drug is socially acceptable (even encouraged), and because the sources of caffeine are legally controlled by large food corporations (who have a vested interest in maintaining the high level of consumption of caffeine), it is unlikely that this drug will find itself under governmental control in the near future. The individual, however, should be aware of the effects of caffeine and its potential for abuse.

Historically, caffeine has been used for many centuries in the East and in the pre-Columbian New World before its use by the Europeans. While the Europeans favored alcohol as the drug of choice (offering one explanation of the great variety of its manifestations in that region of the world), it was not long after traders and explorers began to bring back coffee from Arabia and Turkey, cocoa from the New World, tea from China, and the kola nut from West Africa that caffeine began to find a very popular adherence in Europe.

It is interesting to note that, upon its inception as a popular beverage in Europe, the use of coffee grew in spite of governmental, religious, and medical warnings and efforts at repression. In many ways, the advent of the caffeine culture brought as much hysteria as that of more current drugs.

Today, the primary sources of caffeine as it is found in contemporary use include coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks. Caffeine pills also are available, and are sold variably as an aid to keeping awake and alert, aphrodisiacs, and appetite suppressants. Though it is not seen as a drug of abuse, a surprising number of proponents of caffeine argue contradictorily that though it is a non-drug and is only taken because of its immediate enjoyment, the cup of coffee is a necessary part of the morning, as a means of getting a lift, or waking up for the day.

Indeed, a number of studies have shown caffeine to be addictive, with the withdrawal symptoms manifesting themselves in irritability, sluggishness, headache, depression and/or nervousness. Furthermore, in tests which ask non-drinkers to consume common addiction-level quantities of coffee or tea, subjects experienced increased nervousness and gastro-intestinal complaints upon drinking the beverage.

Additionally, caffeine may be subject to severe abuse, wherein seven to fifteen cups of coffee (or the equivalent) are taken at a sitting. In such extreme situations, delirium, tachycardia, tremors, and caffeine psychosis have been noted, in addition to severe gastrointestinal distress. It is evident from these findings that caffeine, far from being a non-drug, is an addictive, mind-affecting drug with the potential for abuse.

In spite of these considerations, caffeine is relatively benign as addictive drugs go. Studies have shown that taking small doses of caffeine can improve short-term memory as well as test scores which rely upon close pattern recognition and motor skills. Also, the amount of enhanced productivity in todays society by the stimulant effects of caffeine cannot be underestimated.

All of this must be weighed against the long-term effects of caffeine use, however. Ulcers and other digestive disorders are more common among caffeine users, as are problems which are related to the stimulatory characteristics of the drug (increased risk of cardiac arrest, hypertension, and personality diosorders).

Because caffeine has been domesticated as a licit drug, for genteel use, many of the short-term problems of overdose and abuse are relatively under control. The life-long effects of caffeine addiction are still incompletely known, however.


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