Does caffeine make OCD worse?

OCD can be intensified by caffeine consumption, increasing heart rate, anxiety and obsessive thinking. One study however showed that caffeine consumption reduced compulsive behavior. It would still be wise to stop consuming caffeine with an anxiety disorder to see if it helps, and limit the intake to see if any positives are seen.

Caffeine affects everyone differently. As does OCD. Below we take a deeper look at the correlations, with many people having similar experiences after consumption.

Caffeine's effects

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the Central Nervous System.

This study showed that 85% of Americans consumed some kind of caffeine, with 96% in the form of coffee, tea and soft drinks.

That number was up slightly compared to the previous decade.

Coffee gives us a much needed boost. We feel more alert, more motivated and happier.

This is because caffeine blocks Adenosine to the brain, a molecule that brings on drowsiness.

It is important to feel tired, and equally important to rest and recharge.

But sometimes rest isn’t possible, and we fight tiredness with a beverage, or food. A burst of energy is great, even if we succumb to a caffeine-crash later in the day.

This trade-off doesn’t always benefit those with OCD.

An increase in alertness comes with an increase in heart rate. This increases oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body, ready for battle. 

The problem is, there isn’t often a battle. 

Adrenaline is released and our brain tries to make sense of what that adrenaline is needed for.

Our ancestors used adrenaline to stay alive. Beneficial through evolution to keep us reproducing. Through evolution, these mechanisms are still at work, even if our lives have changed drastically. 

Why does caffeine make OCD worse?

OCD is an anxiety disorder. A coffee-induced boost of adrenaline can really raise stress levels. 

OCD consists of intrusive thoughts, and compulsions used to rid those thoughts. Caffeine can make these intrusive thoughts all the more apparent, increasing anxiety further.

Did I leave the oven on?

Is my headache a brain tumour?

Does that person hate me?

Danger seems imminent, our fears are even more present and compulsions seem much harder to ignore.

The brain views these thoughts as a potential threat the body is preparing for, and we start obsessing more. 

This can give a feeling of helplessness and inability to escape, sometimes resulting in panic attacks.

Are there positives to consuming caffeine?

It’s fair to say many of us love the taste of coffee. 

For some people, the positives outweigh the negatives. If there are any negatives at all.

To back this up, one study focused on the contamination aspect of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Contamination is one of five main subtypes of OCD people experience.

Those conducting the research had patients touch wet diapers for 60 seconds and after a ten minute no hand-washing rule, assessed how long they could go without washing their hands.

Half of the group consumed caffeine and the other half a placebo.

Those that consumed caffeine were less stressed, able to resist the urge to carry out compulsions and wait almost 50% longer before washing their hands. 

It seems for some, caffeine eases OCD symptoms.

Does caffeine make OCD worse? Conclusion

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that benefits everyone. It really is down to how the disorder affects you personally, and tailoring your diet around it.

Caffeine can contribute to raised anxiety and increased compulsions, depending on the person. 

Even if you feel caffeine isn’t a problem, reducing caffeine could bring surprising results.

Insomnia and other sleeping disorders can be worsened by caffeine, even if the last cup was well before bedtime. Lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety and depression, and opting for decaf may still give you that ‘kick’ needed to get you through the day.