If you have a hard time functioning in the morning without coffee, you’re not alone. In fact, caffeine is considered the most commonly used drug in the world. Many people see coffee drinking, and the caffeine intake that goes with it, as one of the few socially acceptable addictions. However, some are wary of putting coffee or caffeine in the same category as stronger addictions.
How About Tea?
Tea is one of the most popular beverages worldwide. It comes in a range of varieties, all originating from the Camellia sinensis plant. Many of the compounds in tea are consistently linked to various health benefits, causing most people to consider this beverage a healthy addition to their diet.
Nonetheless, some argue that some of tea’s compounds may have addictive properties and that drinking too much could do more harm than good. This article explores whether you can become addicted to tea, and if so, what you can do about it.
Contains caffeine, which may be addictive
Coffee and Different types of tea contain varying amounts of caffeine, the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance worldwide. It’s a natural stimulant, and the compound most often blamed for tea’s potentially addictive properties.
Caffeine is often labeled as addictive because it has a chemical structure resembling that of adenosine — a compound naturally found in your body that relaxes your central nervous system.
Because of this chemical structure, caffeine can fit into adenosine receptors located in your brain and prevent adenosine from binding to them. The resulting lack of adenosine prevents your brain cells from signaling that you’re tired
This can also cause your body to release larger amounts of other natural stimulants, such as dopamine, which further suppress feelings of tiredness and help you stay alert.
It’s speculated that regularly drinking caffeine-containing beverages, including tea, may cause your brain cells to make more adenosine receptors to compensate for the ones blocked by caffeine.
Over time, this can mean that you need increasingly larger amounts of tea to experience the same effects from caffeine. It may also cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly quit the beverage.
Ultimately, these changes in brain chemistry are why caffeine-containing foods and drinks are considered potentially addictive.
Caffeine’s Effect on Your Brain
When you consume caffeine, it’s quickly absorbed by your gut before traveling to your brain. Once there, it has a direct stimulating effect on your brain cells.
This is because caffeine’s chemical structure resembles that of adenosine, a molecule that has a relaxing effect on the central nervous system.
This allows caffeine to fit into adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking them and preventing adenosine from binding to them to produce feelings of tiredness.
In turn, the blocked receptors stimulate the release of other natural stimulants and allow some of them, such as dopamine, to work more effectively. This further increases alertness and reduces feelings of tiredness.
Put simply, caffeine works in two ways:
- It prevents your brain cells from signaling that you’re tired.
- It causes your body to release other natural stimulants and boosts their effects.
The end result of caffeine’s effect on the brain is feelings of alertness, well-being, concentration, self-confidence, sociability and motivation to work (4Trusted Source).
Is it a true addiction?
Addictions come in many shapes and forms but tend to share several clinical symptoms. The ones most often used by health professionals to recognize an addiction include:
- continued use despite experiencing harm
- a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to control or cut down usage
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when cutting down or discontinuing use
Research suggests that some people who regularly consume caffeine may develop addiction-like symptoms, and the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognizes caffeine dependence as a syndrome.
On the other hand, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not classify caffeine addiction as a substance abuse disorder.
It’s currently unclear how many people develop addiction-like symptoms as a result of drinking tea. There’s also limited information about whether tea drinkers struggle with reducing their intake.
Therefore, more research is needed before conclusions can be made about tea’s addictive properties.
Tea contains caffeine, a compound that may cause physical changes in your brain that coincide with symptoms of addiction. However, more research is needed before tea addiction can become universally recognized as a true addiction.
How much does it take to become addicted?
It remains unclear how much tea you’d need to drink per day before risking becoming addicted to it.
However, you may experience withdrawal symptoms from reducing your caffeine intake even if you only consume 100 mg per day.
The caffeine content of tea depends on the variety. Here’s the amount of caffeine typically found in 1 cup (240 mL) of popular tea varieties:
- Black tea: 35–44 mg
- Green tea: 33–71 mg
- Oolong tea: 37–38mg
- White tea: 33–48 mg
- Matcha tea: 38–89 mg
- Yerba mate: 45–67 mg
- Decaffeinated tea: up to 12 mg
- Herbal teas: 0 mg
Based on these numbers, drinking as little as 2–3 cups of certain types of tea each day may be enough to cause symptoms of physical addiction, although more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Signs and symptoms of dependency
It can be difficult to tell whether you’ve developed a physical tea dependency.
One sign may be that you find it difficult to reduce your intake despite experiencing unpleasant side effects like headaches or jitteriness when drinking the beverage.
Another way to tell whether you’ve become addicted is to check if you experience any withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop drinking tea. These can include:
- lack of concentration
- depressed mood
These symptoms may appear as soon as 12–24 hours after cutting tea from your diet and last for up to 9 days. The severity of symptoms usually peaks within the first 9 days and gradually decreases after that.
Can drinking too much tea be harmful?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), encourage people to consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day. This equals 4.5–12 cups (1.1–2.9 liters) of tea per day depending on the variety.
Those who are pregnant should limit their daily caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg.
Tea intakes below these guidelines are considered safe for most people. That said, some individuals may be particularly sensitive to caffeine, causing them to experience unpleasant side effects from lower intakes.
These side effects can include jitteriness, insomnia, increased urination, irritability, muscle twitches, heart palpitations, migraines, and potentially an increased risk of heart attacks.
Individuals with severe anxiety, seizures, or heart, kidney, or liver disease are also encouraged to limit their tea intake to avoid worsening their symptoms.
Drinking up to 12 cups (2.9 liters) of tea per day appears to be safe for most people. However, individuals with certain medical conditions or who are sensitive to caffeine may benefit from drinking less tea than that.
How to quit caffeine
The following tips can help you reduce or discontinue your intake of caffeinated beverages like tea without experiencing too many unpleasant side effects.
- Stop gradually. Reducing your intake by 0.5–1 cup per day rather than going cold turkey may reduce the likelihood of experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. This can reduce your likelihood of experiencing fatigue, a lack of focus, or poor memory despite no longer consuming the same quantity of caffeine.
- Drink enough fluids. Replace caffeinated drinks with the same amount of non-caffeinated beverages to stay well hydrated. This may reduce your risk of headaches, fatigue, or dizziness after cutting out tea.
These caffeine-free beverages are good alternatives if you want to gradually decrease your intake of caffeinated drinks:
- ginger, turmeric, or fresh mint leaf infusions
- warm water with a dash of freshly squeezed lemon
- a golden milk latte
- mulled apple juice
- warm beet or carrot juice
- warm almond milk with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg
- warm, low sodium broth
- caffeine-free or herbal tea
If you’re looking to reduce your intake of caffeinated drinks like tea, do so gradually and make sure to get enough sleep while continuing to drink sufficient amounts of caffeine-free liquids.
The bottom line
Some types of tea contain caffeine, a psychoactive compound that many people consider addictive.
It’s speculated that regularly drinking tea may be linked with dependency-like symptoms in some people, but experts are still debating whether tea addiction can be considered a true addiction.
If your current tea intake isn’t causing you any issues, there’s likely no reason to worry about it. However, if you’d like to cut down, make sure to do so gradually while continuing to consume enough caffeine-free liquids and getting enough sleep.