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Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment

Clark
9 minute read

Like catching a killer wave or your secret habit of re-watching Desperate Housewives, caffeine can be surprisingly addictive. 

If you’re planning to cut coffee out of your life, you need to be prepared for the symptoms, timeline, and treatment of caffeine withdrawal. 

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in tea, coffee, and cacao. It perks up your central nervous system and brain, increasing alertness, energy, and focus while reducing fatigue. It’s also quite addictive and easy for the body to start depending on to function optimally.

90% of American adults drink at least one caffeinated beverage daily. That number isn’t a problem, but heavy users may suffer side effects when cutting back. Here’s what to expect.

What is caffeine withdrawal?

Twitter abounds with jokes about needing more caffeine, but caffeine withdrawal is no laughing matter. It’s now an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The side effects can be pretty unpleasant. 

What exactly is caffeine withdrawal? Caffeine withdrawal can occur in any individual who suddenly discontinues their caffeine consumption. The typical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headaches, an anxious or depressed mood, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, tremors, and irritability.

Caffeine withdrawal occurs in part because coffee blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that causes relaxation and tiredness in the brain, and coffee does quite the opposite. After quitting caffeine, adenosine receptors can return to normal in between 7-12 days.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about caffeine withdrawal and its effects:

  • What is the recommended amount of caffeine intake per day? The recommended amount of caffeine intake per day is 400 mg of caffeine or about 4 cups of coffee.
  • How long do caffeine withdrawals last? The effects of caffeine withdrawal last 2-9 days.
  • What does caffeine withdrawal feel like? Caffeine withdrawal syndrome can feel like one, several, or all of these common symptoms: 
    • Drowsiness
    • Mood issues like anxiety or depression
    • Headache
    • Concentration problems
    • Flu-like symptoms. 
  • Can I get caffeine withdrawal from other sources? Other sources of caffeine besides regular coffee can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as chocolate, energy drinks, or green tea.

5 Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

What are the side effects of quitting caffeine? The most common side effects of quitting caffeine are headaches, anxiety and tremors, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

If you expect to experience withdrawal symptoms after quitting a heavy caffeine habit, this list can help you prepare ahead of time to successfully detox.

Symptom 1: Headaches

Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, and for good reason. Caffeine affects the blood flow in the brain, constricting the blood vessels. 

With no daily doses of caffeine, the head must work to stabilize its blood flow naturally, causing headaches. 

Symptom 2: Fatigue

It’s no surprise that when withdrawing from caffeine, it’s typical to feel tired. Caffeine is known for creating feelings of alertness and energy, and without it, feelings of fatigue set in. 

This symptom is more pronounced in daily caffeine consumers than those who only have a few cups of coffee a week.

Symptom 3: Anxiety

Quitting coffee or other forms of caffeine can create particular issues for individuals with anxiety. Caffeine increases heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, but quitting can aggravate these same sensations.

Once a caffeine dependence develops, abruptly ending caffeine use can cause feelings of anxiousness. It can also trigger muscle tremors and even panic attacks in some cases.

Symptom 4: Difficulty Concentrating

Concentration issues are another unsurprising caffeine withdrawal symptom. Coffee drinkers can experience focus problems without the boost of adrenaline, dopamine, and norepinephrine that their morning cup provides.

Symptom 5: Flu-Like Effects

Like other withdrawals, caffeine addiction can trigger symptoms that mimic the flu. According to a review of the literature, nausea and muscle pain are some of the usual suspects when coming off caffeine.

Timeline: What to Expect When You Quit Caffeine

What should you expect when you end your use of caffeine? Well, the severity and length of symptoms are determined by a few factors, like how much caffeine content you usually consume or even your genetics.

Typically, the more caffeine you have per day, the more intense your withdrawal will be. That’s bad news for many heavy coffee drinkers.

Here’s a general timeline for what symptoms can happen as you go caffeine-free and when to expect them.

Day 1

You can expect to feel the beginnings of withdrawal about 12-24 hours after your last caffeine intake. The most common (and often fastest-acting) symptom is a headache. Headaches occur in about 50% of cases. 

Where is a caffeine withdrawal headache located? A caffeine withdrawal headache is usually located on both sides of the head and worsens with physical activity.

Day 2-3

Unfortunately, these are the most difficult days when withdrawing from caffeine. Your headache and any other symptoms will peak between 20-51 hours. 

It’s also possible you’ll deal with constipation, as caffeine can stimulate the digestive system.

There’s some good news, though. Only about 13% of caffeine withdrawal cases cause significant distress or functional impairment.

Days 4-9

At this point, the worst is over. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from 2-9 days, depending on the individual. The headache may persist, but you’re nearing the end of your symptoms.

How does caffeine withdrawal affect the appetite? Caffeine withdrawal may increase your appetite. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid that is thought to suppress hunger, and getting off of caffeine may leave you feeling hungrier.

How much is too much caffeine?

How much caffeine is too much? Medical advice states over 400 milligrams of caffeine in one day is too much.

Here’s what 400 mg of caffeine looks like in common foods and beverages:

  • 4 eight-ounce cups of coffee
  • 20 ounces of dark chocolate 
  • 8 cups of black tea or green tea
  • 5 energy drinks

That’s a lot of caffeine before the drawbacks kick in! In many cases, simply limiting caffeine to the recommended amount can make positive improvements without quitting it altogether.

If you’re drinking 4 cups of coffee a day, why not do it in style (and in a sleek mug)? We can deliver the best low-roast coffee on the market right to your doorstep, monthly.

Caffeine Withdrawal Treatments

Thankfully, there are some surefire ways to ease your caffeine withdrawal symptoms. If you’re attempting to go entirely off caffeine instead of weaning off slowly, talk to your healthcare professional. Beating caffeine dependency is no small decision.

How do I get rid of caffeine withdrawal? You can get rid of some symptoms of caffeine withdrawal by using the following treatment tips:

  • Taper off. Instead of going cold turkey, try making half of your cups decaf each day.
  • Drink water. Dehydration worsens the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, particularly headaches.
  • Try pain relievers. Over-the-counter options like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be able to alleviate headaches and muscle pain.
  • Get rest. Getting plenty of sleep can help your body recover from the effects of withdrawal and lessen the fatigue you may feel.

How can I treat a caffeine withdrawal headache? You can treat a caffeine withdrawal headache by applying ice packs, rubbing peppermint oil on the temples, and standard measures like over-the-counter pain relievers, hydration, and sleep.

Those are our top tips for treating caffeine withdrawal headaches. We’d also suggest avoiding staring at photos of coffee on your lunch break or sniffing someone else’s morning cup of joe. 

Be cool.

Do you need to give up coffee?

Here’s a question you may not have asked yourself: do you actually needto give up drinking coffee? If you’re pregnant, have heart arrhythmia, deal with anxiety, or struggle to sleep, giving up caffeine may be a health-conscious decision.

Despite its bad rap, coffee can provide health benefits in many ways. You don’t automatically need to cut coffee altogether — consider cutting back. With science approving up to 4 cups, you have a caffeine fix without overdoing it. 

In many cases, coffee can actually be good for you!

Many people find themselves quitting coffee because of its acidic effects on the stomach and digestive system. That’s why we’ve created Golden Ratio: a coffee that’s low-acidity and smooth on the taste buds.

If you want your caffeine rush without the bitterness and stomach discomfort, we’ve got three reasons to give us a try. We’re environmentally friendly, full of unexpected flavors like vanilla coconut gold coffee, made from all-natural ingredients.

If you’re considering giving up caffeine, give us a try first and skip the headache.

Sources

  1. Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) in foods: a comprehensive review on consumption, functionality, safety, and regulatory matters 
  2. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications 
  3. The role and regulation of adenosine in the central nervous system 
  4. The effect of daily caffeine use on cerebral blood flow: How much caffeine can we tolerate? 
  5. Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women 
  6. Adrenal Responses to Stress 
  7. Caffeine increases striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability in the human brain 
  8. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features 
  9. Genome-wide meta-analysis identifies six novel loci associated with habitual coffee consumption 
  10. Caffeine Withdrawal 
  11. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features 
  12. Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache

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