Caffeine might be legal and it might be found in every other beverage on the street, but it is still a powerful mood-altering drug and easily the most widely used such drug in the world. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that we take for granted, and one to which we rarely ascribe anything more negative than some trouble sleeping.
Fortunately, the American Psychiatric Association doesn't take its effects for granted. Rather, the APA has included three caffeine-related disorders with its official list of diagnoses:
- Caffeine intoxication
- Caffeine-related anxiety
- Caffeine-related sleep disorders
That second diagnosis is pertinent here. Caffeine doesn't cause anxiety per se, but it can certainly promote anxiety. In our bodies, caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical that naturally depresses some functions. The response in our bodies is feeling focused and energetic.
Caffeine may Exacerbate Anxiety
But for people who are predisposed to anxiety, consuming something with caffeine might not be a very good idea since the drug can exacerbate existing nervousness or anxiety and actually contribute to a panic attack—heart racing, feeling a cold sweat, ears ringing, the works.
Some psychologists try to treat this through cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which the patient learns to recognize the oncoming jitters not as a real reason for panic but simply as symptoms of having consumed something with caffeine in it.
So to re-address the question does caffeine cause anxiety, the reasonable answer is that in some people it can lead to an episode of anxiety that maybe would not have occurred had they not consumed caffeine. Saying it actually causes or is the direct cause of anxiety, therefore, is not accurate.