Caffeine as a model drug of dependence: recent developments in understanding caffeine withdrawal, the caffeine dependence syndrome, and caffeine negative reinforcement

Nihon Shinkei Seishin Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2000 Nov;20(5):223-31.


Caffeine is an excellent model compound for understanding drugs of abuse/dependence. The results of self-administration and choice studies in humans clearly demonstrate the reinforcing effects of low and moderate doses of caffeine. Caffeine reinforcement has been demonstrated in about 45% of normal subjects with histories of moderate and heavy caffeine use. Recent studies provide compelling evidence that caffeine physical dependence potentiates the reinforcing effects of caffeine through the mechanism of withdrawal symptom avoidance. Tolerance to the subjective and sleep-disrupting effects of caffeine in humans has been demonstrated. Physical dependence as reflected in a withdrawal syndrome in humans has been repeatedly demonstrated in adults and recently demonstrated in children. Withdrawal severity is an increasing function of caffeine maintenance dose, with withdrawal occurring at doses as low as 100 mg per day. Increased cerebral blood flow may be the physiological mechanism for caffeine withdrawal headache. Case studies in adults and adolescents clearly demonstrate that some individuals meet DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for a substance dependence syndrome on caffeine, including feeling compelled to continue caffeine use despite desires and recommendations to the contrary. Survey data suggest that 9% to 30% percent of caffeine consumers may be caffeine dependent according to DSM-IV criteria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Caffeine*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Caffeine