Can Caffeine Treat Depression?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on October 31, 2016Written by Jerisha Parker Gordon on October 31, 2016

Overview

You may think of caffeine as the jolt in your coffee or the much-needed accelerator included in a medication to help you feel relief quicker. This plant-based substance may also help some people deal with the effects of depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that affects approximately 14.8 million Americans. It’s characterized by extended periods of extreme sadness. If you’ve had a depressive episode in the past, it may return in the future.

Depression is often treated using a combination of psychiatric therapy and medication. Some research suggests that caffeine may have some benefits for people with depression.

Keep reading to learn more about the connection between depression and caffeine.

Can caffeine treat depression?

In an analysis on observational studies on the relationship between caffeine and depression, caffeine consumption was found to decrease the risk for depression. Another study found a connection between decreased depression and coffee consumption, but no connection when other caffeinated drinks were consumed.

These findings suggest that it is something in coffee that reduces risk for depression, not caffeine. A 10-year study also found a connection between lower risks for suicide and caffeinated coffee consumption.

When looking at caffeine consumption in children and teenagers, it was found to increase risk for depression among 5th and 10th graders. Caffeine has a negative impact on sleep, which could affect a person’s mood.

The type of caffeinated drink along with a person’s age and sensitivity to caffeine may also play a role.

Are there side effects of caffeine use?

Too much caffeine can lead you to feel the following:

  • jitteriness and anxiety
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • dehydration
  • painful headaches
  • increased heart rate

Depending on your body’s sensitivity to caffeine, your symptoms might be more difficult to manage. If you decide to cut back on caffeine, these symptoms may also appear as your body goes through withdrawal.

What are the symptoms of depression?

If you think you have depression, make an appointment to see your doctor. They can help you find a treatment plan. Symptoms of depression include:

  • feelings of constant panic
  • regular feelings of sadness
  • feeling as though you are a failure
  • inability to focus and follow through
  • difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • sudden change in eating habits that includes a dramatic weight loss or weight gain
  • lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • feeling overly tired
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • regular thoughts of death

One of the most serious symptoms of depression is feeling that you want to harm yourself or commit suicide. If you have this overwhelming feeling, seek immediate help.

Depression is a cyclical disorder, meaning the symptoms can come and go. It’s important to see your doctor so that you can be properly diagnosed and receive the care you need.

How is depression diagnosed and treated?

After you make an appointment to see your doctor, write down all of your feelings and any personal situations or work-related issues you believe may be making you feel the way you do. Your doctor will listen to your concerns and possibly give you a physical exam. They will also review your family history and make a diagnosis.

Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to begin immediately. While your doctor may suggest adding gradual doses of caffeine to your diet, possibly in pill form, you cannot rely on caffeine alone to help treat your depression.

Your doctor may prescribe a medication that will help improve your mood and alleviate some of your symptoms. It may take a few days or even weeks to begin to see some improvement in your symptoms and mood.

Be patient and continue taking your medication as prescribed. If you’re concerned your medication isn’t working, talk to your doctor. They may need to adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication.

Your doctor will likely also suggest you see a therapist. A therapist will talk to you about your feelings and emotions in a judgement-free, supportive environment.

Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes, such as participating in activities you previously enjoyed. A low-impact fitness program may also help relieve symptoms. Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant and can make your symptoms worse.

Outlook

Caffeine may help relieve symptoms of depression, but it may also make symptoms worse. More research is needed to determine the impact of caffeine on depression and other mood disorders.

With the help of your doctor, you can manage your depression. While there is no cure for depression, there are multiple ways to manage your symptoms.

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