Can therapy kick a caffeine habit?

by | Mental Health

A short session of counselling is effective in helping people cut down on their daily coffee intake.

Caffeine has been described as the world’s most popular psychoactive drug. Even though caffeine is considered mostly harmless (and may even have some health benefits), some people consume it in questionably high quantities.

Though not considered a true addictive disorder, an over-reliance on coffee and an inability to consume less has left some people with what could be described as a ‘caffeine problem’.

Over-consuming caffeine can cause anxiety, tension, sleep problems and general jitteriness and has been linked to pregnancy complications and heart disease.

A small scale study used a single one-hour session of cognitive behavioural therapy in 33 people seeking help for problematic caffeine use.

‘Problematic’ in this case meant an average daily caffeine consumption of 666 milligrams; that is around 4-6 strong cups of coffee per day.

The therapy was designed to change maladaptive thoughts and behaviours by learning to pay attention to them and then develop alternative strategies for handling the challenges.  After the treatment session, participants completed daily diaries of caffeine consumption for five weeks.

The treatment was shown to be very effective with significant reductions of up to 75 percent in self-reported caffeine use. Validating the self-reports of caffeine consumption, measurement of salivary caffeine levels also showed a drop.

This was not a short-term change as the reduction in caffeine consumption was still evident up to one year later.


A brief therapy session with some ongoing follow-up appears effective in helping people to reduce their caffeine consumption. If confirmed in larger studies, this could help in formulating accessible programs for the wider public.