Caffeine is the new Xanax.
March 30, 2008 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Are there long-term risks to using caffeine as a method for coping with social anxiety?

In short, I've had mild-moderate social anxiety issues since adolescence. Namely, I tend to freeze up around people I'm not comfortable with and generally become very quiet and anti-social, both in work environments and social settings. I've seen a therapist off and on, and have tried a couple of different prescriptions meds - most recently Zoloft. Zoloft seemed somewhat helpful, but gave me the dreaded "sexual side effects."

Recently, I tried an energy drink (Rock Star, to be specific) and found that it had the interesting side effect of causing me to be much more sociable and outgoing around anyone I came into contact with. Over the past few days I've drank a can before work and experienced the same thing each time. I found this a little odd, particularly given that people suggest giving up caffeine to help with anxiety. But nevertheless, it allows me to actually feel comfortable talking with people and feel like "one of the gang" at work.

So, is using caffeine in this way on a long-term basis a bad idea? I've read that about 300mg of caffeine can be safely consumed by healthy adults each day, and I've been getting around 160mg from the energy drink (a double-size can with 80mg per serving). I don't drink coffee or get caffeine in any other form. That being the case, would any of the effects listed here be a concern?

I do intend to ask my therapist/doctor about this, but in the meantime I'm looking for anecdotal advice. Surely low doses of caffeine are safer than prescription drugs like Xanax or Valium...right?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just as a point of reference, 160mg is (very very roughly) the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee. So, you know, there are worse things you could be doing to your body. You can certainly relax on that score, though it's always a good idea to discuss coping strategies with your therapist/doctor, as you mentioned.
posted by different at 2:24 PM on March 30, 2008

What happens to you when you come down from the caffeine?

For me, the way my body handles caffeine has changed over the years (all 30 of them here on earth, maybe the last nine drinking coffee). Just fyi that this might not be a permanent solution, but it doesn't sound bad to me.
posted by salvia at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2008

Caffeine doesn't seem to be an issue to worry about long-term, but take note of the amount of sugar in Rockstar. Apparently, it's recommended that you consume about 40g of sugar for every 2000 calories and each double-serving can of plain ol' Rockstar has about 62g of sugar. FWIW, at least energy drinks are more socially acceptable to consume before work in order to combat social anxiety than other types of drinks.
posted by puritycontrol at 2:50 PM on March 30, 2008

If you're just starting to drink caffeine now, you'll almost certainly find your tolerance going up. It'll be worth keeping an eye on what happens when it does. Do you need more caffeine to get the social effect you're going for? Is your social anxiety worse when you haven't had a cup yet?

But hey, there's a reason people like to get together for a cup of coffee. It makes us chatty and pleasantly excited. The ideas flow faster, and everything's just a little more interesting. I suspect that there may be a lot of people out there getting the same benefit from coffee that you do — only without a formal diagnosis, and without as much reflection as you're putting into it.

(As for the negative effects you link to — yup, that's what it's like to drink too much coffee. But generally, those aren't long term chronic effects. If you have an extra few cups one day, you'll be irritable and twitchy and overexcited. The next day, if you drop back down to your usual intake, you'll feel fine again.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2008

It is possible to get addicted to caffeine, but the equivalent of one cup of coffee a day is probably not going to get you hooked. I think it would be good to get your blood pressure checked on a (more) regular basis if you start drinking it more heavily/regularly.

I am addicted to caffeine, and basically what happens is if I have a day (well, morning, really) of no caffeine I'll get withdrawal symptoms - usually in the form of an unbearable migraine. I think they go away in a couple weeks if you totally quit caffeine. You'll also build a tolerance to it, so watch out for that.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:58 PM on March 30, 2008

It's fine for an indefinite period, unless your doctor thinks you have a specific health issue that means you don't need to use caffeine. As a taciturn person, I always go for a high caffeine dose if I need to be talkative during the daytime. I think you'll find most of us do -- it's no coincidence that coffeehouses are where people have always talked about ideas!
posted by Countess Elena at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2008

I think your instincts are correct with regard to the relative safety of caffeine over prescriptions. Another datapoint: professional cyclists, who have very strict diets and drug-consumption rules, drink plenty of coffee without problems from their coaches, the organization, or their nutritionists.

FWIW, I noticed the same sociability effect when I started drinking daily coffee every day, which was about a year ago. I've drank English black tea-with-milk for 20 years, but the coffee was different.
posted by rhizome at 3:26 PM on March 30, 2008

While you may not get physically addicted, there is great chance of a psychological addiction. I had a similar problem but it was cannabis that helped me to relax. After some time, I felt as if I needed it to interact socially. It seems like you might be heading down that route. Be careful because you will play tricks and try to fool yourself. Be on the watch! Good luck!
posted by saxamo at 3:28 PM on March 30, 2008

I need a cup of coffee to be even remotely human at work in the morning (which I define as before 11am). I've been that way since I was about 17 and I'm still alive and healthy and haven't had to go to rehab yet. I don't drink it on the weekends usually and I'm fine.

btw, if it's just the caffeine I'd start drinking coffee instead as that Rock Star stuff is basically soda, also it's expensive. It might be that you don't get the same effect without all the other ingredients though- does it have taurine? Red Bull fueled my thesis writing to the point where I thought of thaking the company in my acknowledgments. I don't get the same effect from any other brand though.
posted by fshgrl at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2008

I agree that you should forget the energy drinks and consider coffee, which is usually cheaper. The fizzy drinks are basically sugar water sold at a premium price.

I don't really drink coffee, but I do like caffeine. When I feel like I could use some, I often just take a caffeine tablet, 100mg, and it gives me the boost I need. I don't do it every day but it's a good way to get it.
posted by tomble at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2008

FWIW, there is a sugar-free version of Rock Star and most other energy drinks. Of course, they usually have something like sucralose (aka splenda) in place of sugar, which may have problems of its own. But it's something to look into if you do continue with energy drinks.
posted by iamisaid at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2008

Energy drinks hugely increase your blood pressure, which over time isn't good for your heart. I have a cardiologist and he says avoid the stuff like the plague.
posted by xmutex at 5:00 PM on March 30, 2008

Caffeine, like other stimulants can cause anxiety, but it can also make you feel pleasantly chatty. Unlike other stimulants, it is safe in moderation. It's the pot of coffee a day for 10 years that will mess you up; but a cup or two a day, it seems, is actually good for you. There have been a billion tests on the health and safety of caffeine in coffee and they just can't find anything conclusively proving that it's bad. They've proven that DEcaffeinated coffee and CAFFeinated soft-drinks are bad for you. I'd switch from Rock Star (isn't it like soda?) to coffee or tea (black and pu-erh are highest in caffeine). Coffee has antioxidants and is good for your liver. Tea has all kinds of health benefits.
posted by keith0718 at 6:11 PM on March 30, 2008

I have this experience too - I love who I am on caffeine. I'm glib, fast-thinking, and entertaining. Woo!

I recommend trying healthier sources of caffeine, like tea. I especially recommend green tea - full of health benefits, and I find that the energy is more slow-burning and lasts much longer (plus you aren't hit with as much of it all at once). Coffee and energy/soda drinks work for me in the short-term but make me crash horribly later in the day.
posted by cadge at 7:21 PM on March 30, 2008

I love who I am on caffeine. I'm glib, fast-thinking, and entertaining. Woo!

I have encountered cocaine users who believed the same thing. You might care to get an external reality check from a trusted friend :-)


anonymous: if, several weeks from now, you find your general anxiety levels rising to the point where they annoy you: try cutting back on the caffeine and see if it gets better. I know several people who get unacceptable anxiety symptoms from even moderate caffeine use.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

/social anxiety suffer

Okay, I tried this strategy years ago when starbucks first started becoming popular and kept drinking large amounts of caffeine for a couple of years. What happened is:

1. It also made me angry.
2. It made me short-tempered.
3. Outgoing but in a bad way.

So you might find that you may feel confident and outgoing but in reality people are starting to think youre a little crazy.

Surely low doses of caffeine are safer than prescription drugs like Xanax or Valium...right?

Not for me. I now only drink Green Tea and limit my exposure to speedy drugs. I see this affecting me when I take cold medicine with the old pseudoamphetime forumula. Its not pleasant. So I'd really be careful right now. The solution is always more relaxation not more speed. Right now that may be hard to believe but I highly recommend you re-think this strategy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:06 PM on March 30, 2008

1. It also made me angry.
2. It made me short-tempered.
3. Outgoing but in a bad way.

There's a reason they call it "crab juice" - makes you crabby!
posted by BinGregory at 9:21 PM on March 30, 2008

Re: this strategy - goodbye social anxiety hello diabetes!

Do yourself a favour and get an espresso machine, a bean grinder and a hookup for choice organic beans. Or, even better discover the fine art of "perpetual green tea consumption."
posted by serial_consign at 5:33 AM on March 31, 2008

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