When Johns Hopkins University researcher Roland Griffiths released a study arguing that “caffeine addiction” should be recognized (alongside depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, we could have guessed how the mass media would interpret his findings. “Going Crazy Without Your Coffee?” asked a St. Paul Pioneer Press story. “One Coffee a Day Can Make You An Addict,” blared the UK’s Scotsman newspaper. And a New York Post headline screamed: “Cup A Day Makes You Java Junkie.” Two problems: Griffiths didn’t come close to proving that caffeine addiction exists — his research was a “meta-study” (a study of other studies), and was incomplete at best. And if “withdrawal symptoms” were the only criteria (as Griffiths’ study would indicate), it would open the door for all sorts of wacky new “addiction” diagnoses.
This morning the Washington Post published our letter describing this nutty turn of events — following similar exposure in the Annapolis Capital, the Ottawa Citizen, and the New York Sun. Here’s the letter:
Coffee Addiction? Don’t Swallow It
Americans are already subjected to enough conflicting health advice without hearing bogus claims that caffeine is an addictive drug. I experience baseball “withdrawal” symptoms every October, but Post-World-Series-Disorder shouldn’t be a recognized medical condition.
Roland Griffiths, the researcher responsible for this assault on common sense, isn’t exactly a reliable source. The director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has already rebutted his claim that caffeine is a psychoactive drug. And Griffiths’s earlier caffeine “addiction” study involved just seven human subjects — including himself and a family member.
His latest research also ignores a well-regarded 1999 study that demonstrated that one to three cups of coffee per day has no effect on the region of the brain responsible for addiction.
If the definition of addiction continues to be stretched to its breaking point, it won’t be long before our children need prescription drugs to break their peanut-butter-sandwich habits.
Some who may be comforted by Roland Griffiths’ new diagnostic scheme include middle-aged parents experiencing their first “empty nest,” accountants and tax preparers (every April 16), and political junkies — whose “election season addiction” symptoms should start to manifest themselves in about 8 days.