Giving up coffee? I can’t even think of that.
But if you have to because of medical reasons, I feel sorry for you. You may have to go through a few days with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop or significantly reduce your caffeine intake.
Common caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. All of these symptoms are very common during the first few days after you cut back on caffeine. They vary in length and severity and don’t affect everyone equally. But they may be unpleasant but not life-threatening.
In this article, I will go over the most prevalent caffeine withdrawal symptoms and how to cope with them.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in tea, coffee, cacao, and cola nuts.
It is also added to energy drinks, bars, and some medications, like pain relievers.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and boosts energy, mood, and mental performance. Caffeine speeds up the circulation of cortisol and adrenaline and blocks the effects of adenosine, adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and relaxation. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine can take action, increasing alertness and cognitive function.
The effects of caffeine typically appear within 15 minutes of consumption and can last for several hours, depending on the individual and the amount consumed.
- The habit of tea drinking goes back to at least 2,700 BC.
- The success story of coffee began, according to legend, around 850 CE when an Ethiopian shepherd observed that his goats had more energy after nibbling on the beans.
- The history of cacao also goes back about 4,000 years in Central America.
- The first energy drinks containing caffeine were created in the late 1800s, and they were originally marketed as “stimulants.” And now the supermarket shelves are overbearing with energy drinks.
These days, an estimated 85% of the US population has caffeine at least once a day, and many regular coffee drinkers are more or less dependent on coffee. Caffeine is one of the most popular and socially accepted psychoactive substances. It is generally considered safe but may become somewhat dependent on caffeine over time. To call that addictiveness seems a bit exaggerated and is in no way comparable to the destructive addictiveness of drugs.
What are the typical caffeine withdrawal symptoms?
When you suddenly reduce or completely stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks after a long period, you may experience unpleasant side effects such as headaches and irritability.
Doctors call it caffeine withdrawal syndrome. Headache, fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, nausea/vomiting, and depression/anxiety are some of the symptoms.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms may last two to seven days. They will vary in severity from person to person, and if you are lucky, you may not even experience them at all.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, and their severity can depend on factors like the amount of caffeine consumed and individual sensitivity. Here are 15 potential caffeine withdrawal symptoms, along with short descriptions and explanations of each:
Headache is the most frequent symptom of caffeine withdrawal experienced by individuals who abruptly reduce or stop their caffeine intake. Changes in blood vessels and neurotransmitter activity in the brain primarily cause headaches. Here’s a breakdown of the reasons for a caffeine withdrawal headache:
- Vasoconstriction Reversal: Caffeine is known to cause vasoconstriction, which means it narrows blood vessels. In one study, cerebral blood flow was reduced by 27% in some people when they consumed only 200 mg of caffeine. That’s less than three cups of coffee. This constriction can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain. When caffeine intake is abruptly stopped, the blood vessels in the brain dilate (widen) due to the absence of caffeine’s vasoconstrictive effects. This sudden change in blood flow can trigger headaches.
- Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Caffeine consumption influences the release and activity of adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and relaxation; caffeine blocks its effects. Over time, the brain might increase the number of adenosine receptors to compensate. When caffeine intake is reduced, the increased adenosine receptors can lead to a neurotransmitter imbalance, which might trigger headaches.
- Inflammation and Sensitivity: Caffeine can have anti-inflammatory effects. When caffeine is removed, there might be a temporary increase in inflammation in the body, including the brain. Inflammation can sensitize pain receptors, contributing to headache pain.
- Withdrawal from Stimulant Effects: Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can improve alertness and temporarily alleviate headaches for some people. When caffeine is withdrawn, the absence of these stimulant effects can make individuals more susceptible to headaches.
- Individual Sensitivity: Some people are more sensitive to changes in blood flow and neurotransmitter activity, making them more prone to experiencing caffeine withdrawal headaches.
The first headache occurs 12 to 24 hours after quitting caffeine and can last two to three days. Although it may be severe, the headache typically disappears in about one week. Symptoms can range from mild, barely noticeable headaches to severely painful ones that could interfere with daily activities for days on end.
To minimize the risk and severity of a caffeine withdrawal headache, gradually reducing caffeine intake is often recommended instead of quitting abruptly. This gives the body and brain time to adjust to the changes in blood flow and neurotransmitter activity. Staying hydrated, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and managing stress can also help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. If headaches persist or become severe, it may be advisable to seek medical advice.
Caffeine increases dopamine activity in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and motivation. When you stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, dopamine levels drop rapidly, leading to mood swings, irritability, and frustration.
Caffeine is a stimulant that raises blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Caffeine sensitivity can make people feel agitated and uneasy after drinking just one cup of coffee. Caffeine consumption can cause anxiety, but cutting it out can also result in this side effect. Anxiety is a common symptom in people who stop drinking caffeine suddenly. Furthermore, if you get a large percentage of your caffeine from soda or sweetened coffee, the significant drop in sugar may exacerbate caffeine withdrawal anxiety.
Another coffee withdrawal symptom is depression. This may be accompanied by feeling uninterested in activities or lacking any motivation. Coffee drinkers who become physically dependent on coffee may experience intense cravings when they abruptly stop drinking coffee. The brain has to adjust to caffeine’s absence, which can cause emotional changes like depression in some people.
Depression can be a challenging symptom during caffeine withdrawal. Feeling sad, dispirited, and hopeless is no fun, but it is important to remember that this is only temporary and should be overcome in about a week.
Caffeine has a notable effect on your nervous system and can keep you from feeling tired. When coffee drinkers stop drinking coffee, they may become unusually tired or lethargic initially because of the drop in caffeine levels.
It usually makes people feel like taking a nap, which most coffee drinkers do not normally do. The fatigue should gradually disappear within a few days.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms cause some coffee drinkers to feel sleepy or tired when they stop drinking coffee. It isn’t your typical tiredness; this is tiredness while sitting up straight but still unable to keep your eyes open.
Caffeine withdrawal can cause insomnia in sensitive people. Drinking coffee regularly late in the day can make matters worse. After cutting caffeine out, you may feel sleepy during the day and restless and irritated at night. Falling asleep may become more difficult, and your sleep quality may suffer.
The symptoms may last for a week or two, but it can vary depending on how long and how much caffeine you have been consuming. Establish a regular bedtime routine, and you should be fine.
8. Low Energy
Most caffeine drinkers and eaters are looking for a way to boost their energy levels. Many people turn to external sources of energy, such as coffee and energy drinks, to recharge after losing energy from poor sleep, stressful occupations, and bad diets.
Caffeinated drinks are frequently used as a crutch to provide the energy required to get through the day or make up for lack of sleep. Drinking a coffee or an energy bar increases concentration, heart rate, and blood sugar, resulting in feelings of enhanced physical and mental energy.
These preferred effects are due to caffeine addiction, requiring increasing amounts of caffeine to achieve the same energy boost. People who quit or reduce their caffeine intake frequently complain about low energy.
9. Nausea and vomiting
Habitual caffeine consumers may become nauseous when they stop drinking coffee. Caffeine stimulates gastric acid production. Withdrawal can therefore lead to feeling queasy or experiencing an upset stomach. A very sensitive person may even suffer from vomiting.
Some people may even notice changes in bowel movements, from constipation to diarrhea, leading to discomfort and inconvenience in daily life. These unpleasant symptoms will also disappear after the body has readjusted and found its natural rhythm again in about a week.
Symptoms of stomach discomfort or nausea usually start within 12 to 24 hours after stopping coffee intake and peak two or three days later. They are only temporary and should be gone in a week or so.
Tremors are another coffee withdrawal symptom that may occur. It is associated with a drop in caffeine levels and usually only lasts a few days or weeks at most, but it can be very severe for some people.
Tremors can occur in people with serious caffeine addiction, though they are less common than other withdrawal symptoms.
Because caffeine is a potent stimulant, drinking too much might make you feel jittery or nervous, and your hands may shake. Consuming caffeine is often discouraged for people with anxiety disorders to avoid exacerbating their symptoms.
11. Muscle Pain, Stiffness, and Cramping
Coffee drinkers may experience muscle pain, stiffness, and cramping when they stop drinking coffee. Caffeine can have muscle-relaxing effects. Withdrawal might cause muscle tension and discomfort.
Dizziness, or feeling lightheaded or unstable, is a coffee withdrawal symptom that may occur. Caffeine can influence blood pressure regulation and lead to brief episodes of dizziness. This condition usually only lasts a few days or weeks at most, but it can be very severe for some sensitive people.
13. Brain Fog
Some people may experience caffeine withdrawal brain fog. This includes the inability to have coherent thoughts, think clearly, and perform common tasks. Caffeine withdrawal might temporarily affect cognitive processes, causing irrational thinking patterns.
These problems will go away in a few days.
14. Difficulty Concentrating
The coffee drinker may experience difficulty focusing or concentrating after they stop drinking coffee. Caffeine enhances alertness and concentration. When this stimulus is gone, it may temporarily decrease cognitive performance.
After a few days, your brain should have adjusted and again work reliably without caffeine.
People who have developed a strong dependence on caffeine may have strong cravings for products containing caffeine.
Giving up caffeine without the pain
If you are really determined to quit coffee, it’s important to be aware that you may be in for some unpleasant coffee withdrawal symptoms. But please note that not everyone will experience these symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary widely. The most common are headaches, anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating on daily tasks. The signs of caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically show up 12 to 24 hours after the last coffee intake and typically last only 3-5 days after quitting coffee. They will eventually subside as your body adjusts.
Withdrawing from coffee doesn’t have to be hard– just proceed slowly by gradually reducing your coffee intake. By going slow instead of going cold turkey, you will not need to feel terrible or experience any severe caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Give your body the time to adjust.
Drink smaller cups of coffee, switch to decaf or beverages with less caffeine like teas.
It is important to stay well hydrated, which is especially effective against headaches.
If you’re concerned about caffeine withdrawal or its impact on your health, consider consulting a healthcare professional.