Neuroscience Explains How Caffeine and Nicotine Can Cause Anxiety

It might be time to find a new vice.

by Inverse Video

People often feel more anxious (or worse) after indulging in the things many associate with feeling better — like that fourth cup of coffee or a cigarette. Though we associate them with moments of calm, the active ingredients in those drugs can actually increase anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. These substances might be to blame for increased anxiety.

Why Caffeine Makes You Anxious

Caffeine acts as an antagonist to adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a natural sedative in your brain. When a person drinks coffee, the caffeine prevents adenosine from working by keeping them alert. However, studies show that when adenosine receptors are knocked down in mice, scientists notice an increase in an anxiety phenotype, suggesting that caffeine has a direct correlation to anxiety.

"Cigarettes and coffee, man, that's a combination." 

Flickr / Dmitry Karyshev

Why Cigarettes Make You Anxious

Nicotine, however, yielded differing results. Some studies show that small doses of nicotine increase anxiety (anxiogenic effect), while others report the drug actually reduces anxiety (anxiolytic effect).

What we know for sure, though, is that ingesting nicotine will affect your mental health when you try to quit. While the direct studies were inconclusive, reports about nicotine withdrawal are in agreement that flushing the drug out of your system will definitely trigger feelings of anxiousness.

There is still more research to be done, but cutting down on your daily coffee and cigarette consumption in the long term will help keep your anxiety in check.

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