Caffeine Withdrawal: DSM-5 Declares It a Mental Disorder
Ever had that all-nighter where you had far too many coffees and the next day you just felt like your mind and body were completely malfunctioning? According to the American Psychiatric Association, that is now considered a mental disorder.
The APA's just-released fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known by its acronym DSM-5, includes symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal as qualified mental disorders. Nobody can deny the headaches, shivers, and general mental chaos following a caffeine binge are anything but serious. However, to designate the admittedly temporary state of withdrawal as a mental disorder is insulting to serious drug-related neurological problems and to mental disorders in general.
Dr. Charles O’Brien, chair of the Substance-Related Disorder Work Group for the DSM-5, explained the decision to the New York Post as equivalent to a drug-dependency: “Caffeine is a drug, a mild stimulant, which is used by almost everybody on a daily basis. But it does have a letdown afterwards. If you drink a lot of coffee, at least two or three [eight ounce] cups at a time, there will be a rebound or withdrawal effect.”
This is now a mental disorder.
Caffeine withdrawal is categorized as “Caffeine-Related Disorders" in the DSM-5 and acknowledges the following symptoms of withdrawal: "restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis (having to pee a lot), gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility or psychomotor agitation (unintentional motion, say rapidly bouncing one leg)."
So what does this mean? Can you show up to a doctors' office and legitimately claim that you need a day or two off from work because of caffeine withdrawal? Will classically stingy health insurance providers start covering your herbal tea purchases as treatment for caffeine withdrawal similar to nicotine patches? Will there now be public service announcements, Just Say No campaigns, or even an episode of Intervention if it was still on the air?
No. Because that is completely ridiculous, as is this designation.
Jokes aside, this designation is infuriating for mental health professionals who are actually trying to build awareness of actually debilitating disorders. The recent spate of public attention towards mental illness has come only in the context of gun violence, which further damages the image of mental disorders as a public health issue.
The DSM has historically served as the authority on the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders but it has also always been plagued regarding its credibility. A week before the release of the DSM-5 the National Institute of Mental Health announced that they will be revoking support of any DSM-5-related projects. The acutely critical statement by the organization attacked the DSM for lacking any "validity" and empirically-verifiable research.
The DSM has been powerful in highlighting the variety and seriousness of mental illness to the general public but they have been equally damaging. Another controversial aspect of the DSM-5 is the demotion of Asperger's Syndrome as a distinct classification, and just another part of the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, hoarding and "bereavement" have been added as qualified illnesses.
NIMH is thankfully developing their own alternative to the DSM because according to them, quite simply "patients with mental disorders deserve better.”
I couldn't agree more.