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How caffeine and nicotine affect those with schizophrenia

Posted on 01-15-16 in Addiction, Dual Diagnosis

How caffeine and nicotine affect those with schizophrenia

Approximately 80 percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia smoke, with many receiving a regular dose of nicotine through a tobacco use disorder. Furthermore, the chemicals in tobacco smoke have been shown to intensify the removal of caffeine from the body, which may contribute to similarly high levels of caffeine use in schizophrenic populations. Although both are legally consumable, these chemicals influence everything from task performance to mood in positive and negative ways.

The effects of caffeine

At the Sant Joan de Déu Research Foundation of the University of Barcelona, researcher Christian Núñez and a team of other scholars recently looked into the effects of caffeine and nicotine on neurocognition. Núñez observed a group of hospitalized adults with schizophrenia and found that caffeine intake was significantly correlated with improved task performance in male participants, boosting areas such as:

  • Semantic fluency
  • Cognitive speed
  • Working and visual memory

This study was one of the first documented cases of caffeine use contributing to dominantly positive effects. Back in 1990, Peter Lucas, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health coordinated an observation of acute caffeine consumption. Although brief psychiatric symptoms such as unusual thoughts increased by 33 percent, schizophrenia patients given 10 mg/kg of caffeine experienced:

  • Mood improvements
  • Decreases in withdrawal
  • No changes in anxiety

The available findings of caffeine and schizophrenia detail that a large amount of intake in a short time period can lead to increased mental difficulties, but comparable amounts of intake over a longer duration are more associated with psychological improvements.

The effects of nicotine

The University of Barcelona study also determined that smoking cigarettes had a negative impact on male patients with schizophrenia. Smoking particularly reduced semantic fluency, or the ability to freely list different categories. Interestingly, neither nicotine nor caffeine had any noticeable impact on female participants, suggesting that a deeper biological component may be involved in how these chemicals interact.

Previous research demonstrated that nicotine-based treatments had more promising effects, such as a 2011 study led by Michael H. Allen, M.D., of the University of Colorado. In the initial hours after schizophrenia patients entered smoke-free treatment settings, a large majority developed significant emotional and behavioral symptoms. While more than 50 percent became agitated, another 6 percent required physical restraint.

Allen and his team then administered a 21 mg nicotine patch to the patients. The group experienced more stabilized moods, with agitation levels dropping by:

  • An initial 33 percent at 4 hours
  • Another 23 percent at 24 hours

The results of these two studies found that the act of smoking is tied to more hindering behavioral consequences, but nicotine itself may in fact be beneficial.

How caffeine and nicotine affect those with schizophrenia

infographic effects of caffeine and nicotine on schizophrenics.







Overall, the accumulated research shows that schizophrenia, tobacco use disorder and caffeine use disorder can all interact with each other in various ways. In addition, all three conditions can lead to health-related complications, but Sovereign Health can stop them in their tracks. Effectively managing a mental illness such as schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders requires comprehensive therapy and other evidence-based modalities. Contact one of our representatives by phone through our 24/7 helpline or online to learn how we can help you. For more information and other inquires about this article, contact the author at

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer