Drug addiction is a condition that affects more than just the addict. The rising prevalence of drug and substance abuse is causing major damage to health care systems, causing relationship problems, and damaging the mental health of everyone involved with the addict.
When considering drug addiction, we generally tend to think about the most commonly reported substances that are abused. This generally includes marijuana, amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and similar substances. What many people do not realize is that some of the items they use in their daily lives may affect them similarly like these drugs.
According to some studies, coffee is one such culprit. To be more specific, coffee seems to affect similar pathways and receptors in the body as opioids. This leads to a question about the relationship between coffee and opioids – and makes many people ask whether coffee should not be classified as an opioid.
In this post, we explore what coffee really is, how it affects the body, and what studies say about the content of your favorite hot beverage and opioid receptors.
Coffee: A Global Favored Beverage
One thing that we are certain of would be that coffee is one of the most popular beverages – even on a global scale. For quite a big portion of the population, starting a day without a cup of coffee is sure to be the recipe for a bad day. Coffee helps us wake up in the morning and offers that initial boost in both physical and mental energy needed to get the day going.
According to one report, coffee has been voted as the most popular beverage between 2018 and 2019. Within this period, 165.35 million bags of coffee – with statistics using 60kg coffee bags as a calculation – were consumed by the global population. That is quite a lot of coffee!
Coffee consumption has become so popular for a number of reasons. Many studies have been done to see how exactly coffee affects the body – and there are now several potential health benefits associated with this popular beverage.
Drinking a cup of coffee has been proven to reduce feelings of tiredness by studies. The studies also provide evidence that the caffeine content in coffee creates an increase in energy levels. This is why many people rely on coffee early in the morning. There are psychoactive effects associated with coffee, too – this is particularly due to the stimulant effects produced by the caffeine content.
As the caffeine runs through the body, it can affect the brain – and this may lead to a temporary enhanced focus and concentration. A person may feel more alert when they had a cup of coffee – even if only for a short while.
There are other benefits associated with the beverage too, such as:
- It might be useful in boosting metabolism, which is ideal for people who are trying to lose weight.
- Physical performance may be improved, which has been associated with the stimulation of the nervous system – another effect of the caffeine content.
- There are some nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, and riboflavin, found in coffee beans.
Opioid Abuse In The General Population
There are many types of drugs commonly abused by the general population, but some do tend to be bigger risks – especially for those who may not necessarily seem like a person to form an addiction. This is why a large number of opioid misuse reports are found in people using prescription or over-the-counter opioid medication.
One publication report that up to 29% of people who received opioids as part of a treatment plan from a medical practitioner end up abusing the medication. Among these, as many as 12% may develop what is commonly referred to as opioid use disorder – this is when a problem develops, and the person starts to rely on opioids.
Things get even more concerning when looking at the fact that the next step for many of these people seems to be heroin. In fact, up to 6% of these individuals with opioid use disorder may go on to start using heroin. On the other side, studies also find that 80% of those with a heroin problem abused prescription opioids before moving to this drug.
Recognizing the connection between prescription use of opioids, as appointed by a healthcare provider, and the potential risk of misuse need to be realized. When an addiction develops in a patient provided with opioids to treat pain, this may lead to a more serious substance abuse disorder – ultimately causing the patient to be at risk of an overdose.
Coffee & Opioid Receptors: Is There a Link?
One of the first studies to look at how coffee affects the specific receptors in the brain, known as opiate receptors, were published as early as 1983. The publication was posted in the Nature Journal. The idea behind this study was to analyze how a variety of substances commonly added to the body would affect opiate receptors in the human body. Coffee was not the primary target of the study, but later on, it became an interesting topic after initial discoveries were made.
The study was initiated after exorphins were identified in gluten hydrolysates and casein. Similarly, researchers also found that traces of morphine seem to be present in bovine, as well as in human milk. This created interest in seeing how household foods would affect these receptors, apart from the elements that were now already tested.
What was interesting in this study – researchers found that chemicals in coffee seemed to bind to opiate receptors in the body. By activating the opioid system in the body, it created similar effects to opioids that are commonly used as a prescription for pain conditions.
A major difference was noted, however – since coffee is not classified as an opioid. Instead, it binds to these receptors without having a chemical structure that is the same as an opioid. These findings suggest a possible inhibitory effect produced by coffee.
This gets even more interesting when we consider a more recent study that was published in 2015. This study was published in the Journal of Caffeine Research. The study reveals that coffee is more than just the caffeine content that wakes people up at night. While some studies have focused on the fact that coffee seems to have a binding effect on receptors that are similar to opioids, this particular study had a somewhat different approach.
The study shows that coffee might actually hold opioid antagonists. With this in mind, there now lies two sides of coffee when looking at the effects of the opioid receptor.
With this new data presented, it seems like coffee might become a potential complementary option when therapeutic measures are taken in people with a drug abuse problem.
Opioid antagonists are generally used during a treatment plan for opioid addiction. Naltrexone and Naloxone are the two most common examples of opioid antagonists.
Naloxone is provided through an intravenous route. This helps the drug enter the blood and take action faster. Both of these drugs bind to the opioid receptors that are found in the body. When these chemicals bind to the receptors, it makes it harder for opiate chemicals to also have receptors to bind to. Essentially, this effect leads to an inhibition of opioids attaching to its appropriate receptors.
The FDA has approved the use of intranasal, intramuscular, and intravenous use of Naloxone in specific cases. These particular cases mentioned by the FDA include:
- To assist in the treatment of an overdose on opioid medication.
- To help reverse a state of respiratory depression that is linked to the use of opioids.
Due to a similar action presented by the opioid receptor binding effects of coffee, this has now created a new area for researchers to focus on. Future studies might be used to determine how this effect of coffee might be complementary to an existing treatment plan initiated on a patient with an opioid use disorder.
Should Coffee Be Classified As An Opioid?
We have established that coffee contains chemicals that are able to bind to receptors that are generally associated with opioids – generally called opiate receptors or opioid receptors.
With this in mind, the main question still needs a more definite answer.
Is coffee an opioid? The short answer would be no. While opioids generally bind to opioid receptors in the human body, particularly in the brain, there are other chemicals that can also have similar binding effects on the receptors.
As mentioned previously, two great examples of such chemicals would be Naloxone, as well as Naltrexone. Methylnaltrexone is another example. This is where coffee comes into the picture too.
Coffee tends to have a similar effect on opioid receptors as Naltrexone and related drugs. This means the chemicals in this popular beverage acts as an opioid receptor antagonist.
Being an opioid receptor antagonist means the coffee will cause receptors that react to the presence of opioids to become “blocked.”
An antagonist can be utilized to help block the binding of opioids to receptors in both the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system.
Coffee & Substance Use Disorders
Coffee seems to provide a possible inhibitory effect on opioid receptors, which could prove useful in the future. There are still, however, negative factors that we need to take into mind.
The caffeine content in coffee is classified as a stimulant – a class of drugs with addictive potential. With this in mind, both “sides” of coffee needs to be considered when looking at its effects on opioid receptors.
Current Treatment Protocols For Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)
With substance abuse disorder continuing to grow as a concerning public health problem throughout the world, researchers are constantly conducting further studies to find the best methods for treatment.
Searching for a drug rehab facility for opioid abuse near Fort Worth, Texas, like the one offered at Stonegate Center, may provide patient access to an inpatient treatment program at first. During this stage, medicated treatment may be used to assist in reducing the initial withdrawal symptoms that the patient could experience. The specific medication used during the initial treatment phase would be based on the symptoms and the severity of the disorder. Such a treatment option may also be presented when a person looks for the best medical detox for opioid addiction in DFW.
Detoxification refers to a process used during the first few days or sometimes a week or two. During detox, the patient’s access to the opioids that are abused will be revoked. Depending on withdrawal symptoms, prescription medication may be provided to the patient to help in managing these effects.
Experts on the topic of substance abuse have suggested that pharmacotherapy should remain an important part of a treatment plan provided to an addict. At the same time, experts advise healthcare providers to carefully consider current options that are available. The right agonists need to be provided to the patient, which helps to ensure withdrawal symptoms can be effectively reduced during a detox program.
While coffee is not considered a treatment option for opioid use disorder at the moment, it is a beverage often consumed by individuals throughout their program at a residential or outpatient facility.
With coffee being a proven option for boosting mental and physical performance, millions turn to this beverage first thing in the morning. While favored for its cognitive boosting and energy enhancing effects, there seems to be a “bad” side to coffee too. Some studies have found that coffee consumption triggers receptors that are generally associated with opioids. While this does not mean coffee is actually an opioid, it is still something to keep in mind while brewing that next cup of coffee.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.