Chances are you’ve had at least one cup of coffee in the past 24 hours. You may even be enjoying one now. Though coffee consumption has decreased slightlyover the past few years, roughly 59% of adults drink coffee regularly. For those that drink coffee, the average is about two cups per day. There are plenty of people that rely on caffeine to get through the day, and there are also plenty who just enjoy the experience. The problem is, caffeine is a drug, and it messes with your body chemistry. For people with bipolar disorder, that means proceeding with caution.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
First, here’s how caffeine works.
There’s a chemical in your body called adenosine. When it reaches the brain, it binds to receptors called AI receptors. As this happens, nerve cell activity slows down and your body starts to feel tired. It may not be an appropriate time for a lie down, so you reach for a liquid nap including plenty of caffeine.
It just so happens that caffeine molecules resemble adenosine molecules enough that they can bind to those AI receptors in the brain. However, the caffeine molecules won’t trigger the same reaction that makes you tired. So, your body is no longer reacting to the adenosine buildup because the caffeine is blocking the way. You get to stay awake.
More than this, it doesn’t just keep the brain from slowing down. It helps speed it up. This reaction also pulls adrenaline into the action and that’s how you end up with an increased heart rate, jitters and seemingly higher energy levels.
In other words, it’s a stimulant.
That can be all well and good for most people, but for those with anxiety problems or vulnerability towards mood swings, like bipolar disorder, these shifts in energy levels can easily become triggers. You have to be careful.
It has health benefits, but…
There are quite a few claims made about the health benefits of coffee. It can help stave off type II diabetes. It helps with liver and heart health and is full of antioxidants. Great! There are studies that have found coffee actually has an antidepressant effect as well. There is evidence that inflammation in the brain can cause depressive symptoms. Inflammation can occur for many reasons, but when it occurs in certain parts of the brain, the physical changes can affect everything from mood to memory and how we process emotions. When coffee comes into play, it acts as an anti-inflammatory. That could possibly lead to the antidepressant effects.
Another theory is that it affects serotonin and dopamine levels in the same way that some antidepressant medications do. However, if you have bipolar disorder, this might not be a good thing. The use of antidepressants with bipolar disorder runs the risk of overcorrecting the problem. That is, there’s a chance you could swing from a depressive state and right into a manic state.
Don’t overdo it.
Another problem is that caffeine withdrawal may actually cause depression. Think about a caffeine crash. You’re buzzed all morning on four cups of coffee, but the afternoon hits and the effects wear off. You want to actually sleep at night, so you decide not to reach for another cup. Well, all of the adenosine that wasn’t able to get where it was going earlier is now ready to latch on to its receptors and make you drowsy. Your adrenaline will also lower and you’re more susceptible to depressive symptoms. This is especially the case if you already deal with problems like major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
It may sound a little dramatic, but too much caffeine is even linked to suicidal behavior. Anything over 8 cups of coffee per day increases the risk of suicide by 60%. That’s huge.
So can caffeine worsen your bipolar disorder? Possibly. Over-use of any drug is likely to cause some problems, but for some people it may not even take that much. It really depends on you, personally. If you’re a coffee drinker, keep track of how it makes you feel. You may not need to change your habits, but if you do it could turn out to be for the better.