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What is the Connection Between Caffeine and Panic Attacks?

Laura M. Sands
Updated: May 17, 2024

The effects of caffeine and panic attacks are closely related. This is because, as a stimulant, caffeine increases individual anxiety levels, which may lead to panic attacks. Caffeine also prevents or seriously interferes with rejuvenating sleep. Individuals under inordinate stress, who feel anxious and who are not sleeping properly are more prone to have panic attacks. For these reasons, many believe that there is a causative relationship between caffeine and panic attacks.

Panic attacks tend to occur spontaneously in people who routinely experience times of anxiety and exaggerated fear. These attacks are not due to an external threat, but rather to an uncontrolled mental state that produces extreme panic. The side effects of caffeine and panic attacks are very similar and doctors who treat anxiety disorders recommend that individuals who are prone to panic attacks strictly avoid caffeine.

Symptoms of panic attacks can be wide ranging, from an increased pulse and heart rate and uncontrollable shaking to a fear of dying as the result of a heart attack while in the midst of panic attack. Other symptoms include a loss of concentration, an inability to calm down, chest pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, and rapid breathing. People who experience a panic attack are not faced with actual circumstances warranting this reaction, but a loss of focus and control in conjunction with mounting symptoms that will not allow individuals experiencing an attack to view their surroundings realistically.

While some people experience only a single panic attack during a lifetime, others experience them so often that they develop a fear of future panic attacks. This then triggers the onset of an attack and locks the person in a cycle of anxiety that can only be relieved by medication and therapy. Scientists who study caffeine and panic attacks have discovered that even mild use of the stimulant can increase these symptoms.

Most people can consume caffeine and feel very few adverse symptoms. While many intentionally use it to stay awake and increase brain alertness, the side effects of caffeine can have a devastating affect on someone with an existing panic disorder. Caffeine and panic attacks sometimes also share overlapping symptoms. Some of the side effects of caffeine include a rapid heart rate, anxiety, tremors and restlessness. Each of these can lead a person with an anxiety disorder toward panic.

Caffeine and panic attacks are not the only cause for concern. Caffeine and depression are also closely related. This is due to caffeine increasing insulin levels several hours after entering the bloodstream and decreasing blood glucose levels which then suppresses a person’s mood.

Caffeine and panic attacks are also related because caffeine creates a chemical imbalance in the brain. Specifically, it interferes with adenosine, which is a chemical that helps keep the body calm. When this imbalance is present, a person prone to panic attacks is even more vulnerable to having one.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing to her work. With a background in social sciences and extensive online work experience, she crafts compelling copy and content across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a skilled contributor to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Dec 09, 2013

Could caffeine be causing a placebo effect?

I know that caffeine can increase pulse rate. Could this be causing people to feel that they are having a panic attack when they are not really?

By fBoyle — On Dec 09, 2013

@literally45-- I don't agree. I don't suffer from an anxiety disorder but I do become panicky when I have too much caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It stimulates the adrenal glands and causes the release of certain hormones like adrenaline. Adrenaline is what causes the fight or flight response. So caffeine can make someone feel that they are facing danger.

I feel this way when I have caffeine.

By literally45 — On Dec 08, 2013

I suffer from anxiety from time to time. When I'm going to a stressful and difficult time, I develop chronic anxiety. During these times, I can't have much caffeine because it makes my anxiety worse and it can trigger a panic attack or an anxiety attack.

If I don't have anxiety though, I don't have this problem. I can have a cup of coffee or a few cups of tea without side effects. So I think the connection between caffeine and panic attacks depends on whether the person already has anxiety.

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing...
Learn more
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