Coffee: For many of us it's the last great vice of our lives. After we've given up everything else — cigarettes, drugs, binge drinking — coffee is the one thing we hold onto, the one drug we allow ourselves as we become old and boring. But recent weeks have held some depressing news for coffee lovers.
First, the Wall Street Journal reported that withdrawal from caffeine is now classified as a mental illness. Wait, what?
The latest version of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as DSM-5, includes both caffeine intoxication and withdrawal. These conditions are considered mental disorders when they impair a person's ability to function in daily life.
While the article goes on to say that withdrawal would “only rarely cause enough clinically significant impairment to be considered a mental disorder,” and one critic of the new manual saying “We shouldn't medicalize every aspect of life and turn everyone into a patient,” (um, yeah), the bar you have to cross to be diagnosed with the “illness” seems pretty low:
To be diagnosed with caffeine withdrawal, a patient must experience at least three of five symptoms within 24 hours of stopping or reducing caffeine intake: headache, fatigue or drowsiness, depressed mood or irritability, difficulty concentrating, and flulike symptoms such as nausea or muscle pain…
The symptoms…must cause “clinically significant distress or impairment” that affects your functioning at work, home or in a social setting
I experience four of these five symptoms (everything but flulike symptoms) if I don't get coffee within two hours of getting out of bed. And yes, sleepiness and irritability do affect my functioning at home and work. Lock me up!! Or at least give me some Xanax or something. Forget it, a cup of coffee will do.
Meanwhile, over at the New Yorker, they're reporting that coffee actually inhibits creativity. The reason is that true creativity needs the brain to be allowed to wander, and coffee makes it less likely to do so.
Creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated. In one recent study, participants showed marked improvements on a task requiring creative thought–thinking of alternative uses for a common object, such as a newspaper–after they had engaged in a different, undemanding task that facilitated mind wandering. The more their mind wandered when they stepped away, the better they fared at being creative. In fact, the benefit was not seen at all when the subjects engaged in an unrelated but demanding task.
…Caffeine prevents our focus from becoming too diffuse; it instead hones our attention in a hyper-vigilant fashion.
This mainly makes me think about all the ADD medication being prescribed to thought-wandering children, but that's beside the point.
So, apparently coffee can make you insane (but only if you stop drinking it) and boring (but only if you drink it). Good to know.
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