For some women, kicking coffee is not so easy


Most pregnant women have little trouble kicking caffeine once their doctors warn them that the common stimulant found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and other foods could endanger their babies' health.

But researchers have found a group who does have trouble - women with a family history of alcohol abuse.

"It's not just an academic issue," said Dr. Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine whose earlier research established caffeine as an addictive substance. "These are people who want to quit, should quit and can't quit."

Griffith, whose study appears in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry, said the finding suggests that alcoholism and caffeine addiction share a common genetic factor. It also suggests that pregnant women may need extra help avoiding caffeine if they have a family history of alcohol abuse. For them, the standard warnings may not be enough.

In the study, researchers tracked 44 pregnant women seeking care at a suburban Baltimore obstetrics practice. While most of the women had little trouble kicking caffeine, seven of the women couldn't quit or significantly cut back - and all of those women had a family history of alcohol abuse.

No woman in the study was actually an alcoholic. A family history was defined as having at least one parent or sibling who was an alcoholic.

Women who consume caffeine while pregnant run a higher risk of miscarriage and stunted fetal growth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its counterparts in Canada and Great Britain recommend avoiding caffeine during pregnancy.

The women who couldn't quit caffeine said they were thwarted by withdrawal symptoms, caffeine cravings and difficulty carrying out daily activities.

Dace S. Svikis, co-author of the study, said women who shared the two risk factors also reported higher rates of past cigarette smoking and problematic alcohol use.

"This suggests that caffeine dependence may be a useful marker for risk of dependence on other drugs of abuse," she said.

In the 1994 study that established caffeine as an addictive substance, Griffiths found that caffeine has the essential properties of an addictive drug.

Some who consume caffeine regularly suffer headaches, nausea and other symptoms when they try to cut back. They may also need increasing doses to achieve the same level of alertness, and may repeatedly fail in their attempts to quit.

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