Dopamine’s nickname is “the feel-good hormone”. Caffeine helps trigger dopamine which is why you “love” coffee.
A little background here. Caffeine is super similar to adenosine (which triggers you to fall asleep). So when you are tired and feeling sleepy, caffeine can rush in and take the parking place in your brain that would normally trigger sleep. That means your brain can’t shut down and sleep while the caffeine is active.
Does Caffeine Release Dopamine?
But more than just keeping you from falling asleep, caffeine has also been shown to increase dopamine activity in the brain. More than just increase feeling good, it seems to be mimicking behavioral effects similar to stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. Now, no one is saying that caffeine and cocaine are the same. But caffeine is definitely making the brain’s pleasure centers go above and beyond anything but cocaine and amphetamines.
And the strong triggering of that pleasure center explains why it can be so hard to quit caffeine.
Caffeine Is Addictive
When your central nervous system gets used to it, it won’t let you just stop consuming caffeine without experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms like:
- Difficulty Concentrating (Brain Fog)
- Muscle Pain
- Even Flu-Like Symptoms In Extreme Cases
Caffeine and Dopamine Are A Hard Combo To Quit
But dopamine explains why most people can’t just get past those physical symptoms triggered by caffeine dependence. You are also fighting your brain’s desire for pleasure.
You shouldn’t even like coffee.
Coffee (and caffeine in general) is bitter. Bitterness is usually a warning to our tastebuds and we are wired to avoid bitterness.
But with coffee, they have found the more sensitive a person is to bitter tastes, the MORE coffee they consume!
Research is suggesting that consumers are acquiring a taste for the bitterness or an ability to detect the bitter caffeine flavor due to the learned positive reinforcement elicited by caffeine and dopamine.
So the stimulation of caffeine along with triggering dopamine (which makes them feel good) creates a positive association in the minds of consumers.
Can dopamine really make something bitter be associated as good thing? Yes, it IS that powerful.
Coffee And Dopamine
Dopamine does more than make you feel good. Dopamine has actually been found to influence ongoing behavior. It literally gets your brain firing the pleasure sensors and making you feel good about tasting something bitter and makes you ACT to get more of that good feeling.
This works the same way as video games and our phones trigger dopamine releases as well, also making us come back for more of those good feelings they can help trigger.
Does Caffeine Increase Dopamine?
While caffeine is triggering a release of dopamine, it is not creating it. And when you have run through that release, you will quickly feel fatigued.
Does Caffeine Deplete Dopamine?
When you have run through the dopamine release that caffeine triggered, you’ll feel exhausted. That’s a caffeine crash. And the reason you reach for the 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee in your day.
Does Caffeine Destroy Dopamine?
Research is mixed on the long-term effects of caffeine on dopamine levels.
There has been some research showing that long term heavy caffeine use effected dopamine transmission in people with schizophrenia and had small instances of causing psychosis sin otherwise healthy people going so far as to indicate extended caffeine use should be evaluated as a mental health question when evaluating chronic psychosis.
While millions of people drink coffee every day for years without any adverse mental health issues, the rise in mental health issues makes this research an interesting side note to caffeine being allowed to hold the position as our last socially acceptable addiction.
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