Coffee lovers don’t actually love the coffee they brag about — they just have a caffeine addiction, according to a new study.
Aficionados of the strong stuff can weigh their beans all they want, but what they perceive as an affinity to freshly brewed beans is actually just a sign of their dependency — or addiction — to caffeine.
Scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany recently published their findings in the Journal of Psychopharmacology where they took a deeper look at tackling whether coffee drinkers want and like drinking coffee.
Think of it like this: coffee drinkers have a set drink that they normally enjoy. Whether it comes from Starbucks or is made in their kitchen at-home, some people are branded by what they drink (or how often they talk about “loving” their Morning Joe).
But it’s not the love of coffee, but the caffeine that coffee contains, according to researchers. While caffeine has been linked to making people better at problem solving, it can also be addictive in the sense that regular use can cause a physical dependence, but it is no where near as detrimental as addictive drugs.
“The development and the maintenance of drug addiction is the result of a selective sensitization of brain regions that are relevant for wanting without a corresponding increase in liking,” researchers wrote. “Dissociations of wanting and liking have been observed with a wide range of drugs in animals. For human subjects, results are inconclusive, which is possibly due to invalid operationalizations of wanting and liking.”
For this study, researchers had 56 students — 24 of which were considered heavy coffee drinkers, meaning they had more than three cups daily, and the remaining participants were either occasional coffee drinkers or passed on coffee. Through a series of surveys, participants were asked to look at pictures and determine whether they were “pleasant” or unpleasant,” which included analysis of coffee, other drinks, and things like a skull or puppy.
So, what happened? Liking vs. wanting. Researchers said that habitual coffee consumers showed a stronger desire for a cup of coffee, but found that actually liking coffee was a different story.
In each round, the keystroke for positive and negative responses remained the same, so researchers assume that someone who loves coffee would smash that like button as quickly as they do for other agreeable images.
They found this wasn’t the case.
“Habitual consumers of relatively high levels of coffee (at least three cups a day) differed from low/no coffee drinkers to a much stronger degree in wanting coffee,” study authors wrote — “wanting” being the operative word. When it came to actually liking coffee, answers from the coffee consumers and java abstainers differ far less.
“The current findings suggest that . . . caffeine shares crucial properties with other drugs,” according to the report.
“The main difference between highly addictive drugs (e.g., alcohol or cocaine) and substances with lower addictive strength (e.g., caffeine) may mainly be a quantitative rather than a qualitative one.”