The need to drink a cup of coffee immediately after getting up in the morning is a sign of caffeine dependence, as are headaches, feelings of lethargy, and flu-like symptoms when caffeine is not consumed. Caffeine consumption affects the way a person feels, a person's energy levels, and certain bodily functions. As with any drug, caffeine dependence leads to certain withdrawal symptoms when a person goes a stretch of time, usually half a day to a day, without it.
A common sign of caffeine dependence is a headache about a day after abstaining. Typically, the headache will go away several days a person stops drinking coffee or consuming other caffeinated beverages. In some cases, the headaches can last nearly two weeks after caffeine cessation. A person's headache can be part of a slew of flu-like symptoms that occur as a result of caffeine dependence, including body aches, stiffness in the muscles, and even nausea and vomiting.
Other common signs of caffeine dependence and withdrawal include a feeling of drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, and a feeling of lethargy. People may become irritable, depressed, or confused. Some people experience a runny nose or sweat excessively. These signs can accompany the headache, or they can occur on their own.
While a person who consumes a lot of caffeine daily is more likely to experience more intense withdrawal symptoms, caffeine dependence can occur in people who consume only small amounts of caffeine each day. Even drinking only a cup of coffee each day can lead to physical dependence on caffeine.
Despite the signs of withdrawal after a person stops consuming caffeine, it is debated whether caffeine addiction is real for most people. A few would argue that people drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages out of habit, not because they feel they need to, as alcoholics feel they need to drink and smokers need to have a cigarette. Still, some people report being unable to quit consuming caffeine even though they wish to. Some studies suggest that the people who struggle with caffeine dependence the most also struggle with addiction to other, more harmful drugs, such as alcohol or narcotics, and that dependence on caffeine correlates with dependence on other drugs.
Although there are definite signs of withdrawal in most cases, using caffeine is typically not harmful in the manner that other socially accepted drugs, such as nicotine or alcohol, are. Unless a person has an underlying condition, such as heart palpitations or anxiety, that is worsened by caffeine, drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of soda will usually not harm a person.