Why does caffeine give me a paradoxical effect?
June 24, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

For the past year, caffeine has had a strange effect on me. I drink soda or coffee -- and within minutes, I feel groggy, fuzzy headed, and almost kind of drunk. I get absolutely no stimulating effects. The more I drink, the more fuzzy-drunk I feel. Caffeine used to make me feel wonderful -- awake, cheerful, on-point. I've never drank an excessive amount (2 coffees a day, max). Can anyone explain what might be going on in my brain chemicals?
posted by the jam to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
do you have the same effects with caffeine free soda or decaffeinated coffee? what about tea? herbal? do you put sugar in your coffee?

i use to get this with coffee (but not soda), it was seemingly the warm coffee putting me to sleep before the caffeine could be effective. i would fall asleep quickly and then have fucked up caffeine fueled dreams and wake up in an hour or so totally hyper.
posted by nadawi at 1:07 PM on June 24, 2009

This happens to me, but usually not from a cup or two ofcoffee, tea or soda. It typically happens with caffeine pills/gum/mints and/or OTC diet pills (which are probably just repackaged caffeine pills). Someone once told me that it probably meant that I had ADD (which I do have, though the person didn't know it, nor did he know me well enough to assume based on personality/quirks). I never explored the ADD/Caffeine relationship, so I can't tell you if that is what's going on.

Incidentally, I remember this question being asked before on AskMe, but I don't recall the answers.
posted by necessitas at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2009

What's your source?

It could be as simple as the source being decaffeinated (when you think it isn't). If you have multiple sources, this becomes less likely as cause.

Anyone playing switcharoo with the coffee you buy? A significant other than thinks you're wonky when you drink it, so decides to "mediate" the issue with a little decaf?

Any physiological changes recently. Extreme weight gain?

Medications? Major simplification, but if remember, caffeine works as an adenosine agonist, which simply means it gets snuggly with the adenosine receptors in your brain so adenosine can't dock and slow/modulate your central nervous system. Your medication could be acting against/with the adenosine itself, the adenosine receptors, the caffeine, or something related in the adenosine pathways.

I know people that claim caffeine has an inverse effect on them (i.e. they drink it, they get sleepy). It's hard for me to believe because caffeine has such a potent effect on me, but I've certainly heard of this on more than one occasion.

I have not heard of a sudden switch from one to the other, however.
posted by foooooogasm at 1:24 PM on June 24, 2009

I'm eager to see the answers given because I too have experienced the same thing. I'm a longtime caffeine drinker who has observed over the past year or two that caffeine is increasingly giving me a fuzzy effect rather than the "sharper" effect I used to get from it. It's kind of like I still get increased heart rate, etc, from drinking it, but the mental clarity that used to come from it is gone. It's a sense of the jitters without the corresponding focus.
posted by sherlockt at 2:20 PM on June 24, 2009

I went out with a girl in High School who had this exact condition. She described it to me as being "allergic to caffeine". It's been a while now, but I'm pretty sure that came from a legitimate diagnosis, so it may be something worth looking into.

Here's a link albeit from some random source, but it does describe what you're referring to.
posted by indiebass at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2009

It doesn't sound much like it, but it could be something like caffeine intoxication. Or perhaps you have become tolerant to caffeine, and when you psychologically expect a stimulant effect, but get none (due to a developed tolerance), you feel groggy.

I'm not particularly convinced by my theories, but just throwing them out there. This would probably be a good question for your doctor.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:43 PM on June 24, 2009

If you have a regular pattern of caffeine use, and if you've been maintaining a constant dose for a long time, then I would suspect tolerance buildup.

Which is to say that it isn't the caffeine that's making you feel drowsy, it's lack of caffeine because you're no longer ingesting enough to overcome tolerance. At certain times of day your body has grown used to getting a boost from caffeine, and when it doesn't get it you get the opposite reaction.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:50 PM on June 24, 2009

As I understand it, one of the things caffeine does is release sugar from your blood - which perks you up. That's why, if you drink too much coffee in a day, it eventually stops working and just makes you irritable and tired. I've found that, unlike when I was younger, I need to put a couple teaspoons of sugar in with my coffee to get a true perky effect. You may want to try that.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2009

I have a similar condition. It's a combination of caffeine tolerance and the "crash" that normally comes at the end of the caffeine's effect. Essentially, what is happening is that you are getting the crash with none of the "up." It has a genetic component-- my father is the same way.

On the plus side, you can now use coffee as a sleep aid.
posted by Electrius at 6:29 PM on June 24, 2009

How's your weight? Do you have other factors putting you at risk for diabetes? Because caffeine can increase insulin resistance, and insulin resistance syndrome is a prediabetic indicator with symptoms of its own. You may want to check with your doctor to see if your blood glucose is OK.

I am now Type 2 diabetic, and it sneaks up on you -- all of a sudden you cross a barrier and your glucose levels rise and fall like a roller coaster, because your signaling is all messed up. That can lead to symptoms that may coincide with your description of "fuzzy drunk". On the other hand, I should add that it usually takes more than a matter of minutes for a glucose event to become symptomatic. But if you're over 40, and/or heavy, it's worth looking into anyway.
posted by dhartung at 8:59 PM on June 24, 2009

Could it have anything to do with aspartame? Do you use sugar substitutes in your coffee? Most diet sodas don't bother me, but if I drink Sierra Mist Free (aka Diet Sierra Mist), I get a migraine every time.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:33 PM on June 24, 2009

Caffeine has always made me tired rather than alert, which I've found strange.
posted by god particle at 9:45 PM on June 24, 2009

I dated a guy who was later diagnosed as being allergic to caffeine.
He rarely had caffeine, but when he did, the symptoms were always the same: First he would become very paranoid and experience a mild to moderate panic attack and then would get overwhelmingly sleepy and conk out for about four hours.
This would happen after even just a few small sips of a caffeinated drink.
posted by Brody's chum at 10:15 PM on June 24, 2009

Caffeine has this effect when you've had it regularly. If you don't have it for weeks or months, it will make you jittery again.

This is my experience, of course, but I've actually gone through the process; caffeine used to make me tired until I cut it entirely out of my diet for a few months. Now a sip of coffee keeps me wired for days.
posted by koeselitz at 11:47 PM on June 24, 2009

By the way, even one coffee a day is quite enough to create enough dependence to kill the effect in the way you're describing. Caffeine is precisely that type of drug: you tend to need more and more to get the same effect. Seriously, if you cut it out entirely, you'll feel better; or at the very least, if you cut it out for a few weeks, you'll get your buzz from coffee back.
posted by koeselitz at 11:50 PM on June 24, 2009

My mother-in-law once managed to knock me out in 5 minutes flat with a shot of espresso. So these things do happen.

I've got ADD as well, btw, so I have a feeling that that had something to do with it in my case.
posted by arishaun at 11:58 PM on June 24, 2009

not to sound like an abuser, but i get this from cocaine. and its certainly not a tolerance issue, since i dont do it with any regularity, but everyone else gets so amped up from it and it makes me just want to take a nap. i guess thats a good thing.
posted by fumbducker at 8:08 AM on June 25, 2009

Are you drinking enough water? I find that if I have a cup of coffee but don't drink enough liquid beforehand, the coffee dehydrates me and makes me even more tired.
posted by moutonoir at 7:19 AM on June 26, 2009

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