Are you trying to kick your caffeine habit? You might be worried about caffeine withdrawal — a host of unpleasant symptoms that can occur when you abruptly decrease your caffeine intake.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically begin 12 to 24 hours after your last sip of caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms are often worse for people who are used to a high caffeine intake. If you typically drink a whole pot of coffee or sip on caffeinated soda all day long, you may have more intense withdrawal symptoms than someone who only consumes small amounts.
Fortunately, caffeine withdrawal symptoms are usually mild and resolve on their own in two to nine days.
Caffeine is vasoconstrictive — it causes the blood vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow. When you quit drinking caffeine, your blood vessels enlarge again, and increased blood flow around the brain can cause headaches.
You can treat caffeine withdrawal headaches with an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you're trying to kick your caffeine habit completely, make sure your headache medication doesn't have caffeine in it.
Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that can relieve drowsiness and boost performance. Caffeine blocks a chemical called adenosine, which causes drowsiness, preventing you from getting sleepy when you usually would. If you consume a lot of caffeine regularly, your body increases the number of adenosine receptors in your CNS, which makes you more sensitive to adenosine.
When you stop drinking caffeine, adenosine is no longer being blocked, but you're still more sensitive to adenosine than usual, making you feel drowsy. If you're quitting caffeine, plan to get extra rest and ensure you're staying well-hydrated to combat fatigue.
When consumed in moderation, caffeine can cause feelings of well-being, sociability, and overall happiness. Why else would people put on a pot of coffee first thing in the morning or halfway through a work shift?
It only follows that cutting off your caffeine intake will produce feelings that are quite the opposite — caffeine withdrawal can lead to feelings of decreased contentedness and depression.
Quitting caffeine can make you moody and irritable because caffeine has dopamine-enhancing properties. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating your emotions and motivation, so you may become irritable when this regular dopamine boost is gone.
Since quitting caffeine negatively affects your sense of well-being, some people avoid quitting or reducing their caffeine intake to prevent this emotional and motivational crash.
Muscle stiffness and pain have been widely reported as symptoms of a caffeine withdrawal crash. If you're experiencing this symptom, consider using caffeine-free, over-the-counter pain relievers as you cut back your caffeine intake.
Some withdrawal symptoms first appear to be something entirely different, which can make diagnosis difficult at first. Nausea and even vomiting have been associated with caffeine withdrawal. Combined with muscle pain, this symptom is often misidentified by caffeine users as the flu.
Luckily, you can treat gastrointestinal symptoms with over-the-counter medications. A gradual decrease in caffeine intake can alleviate these withdrawal symptoms and, combined with medication, can make quitting caffeine a more tolerable experience.
In a study reported by the Journal of Caffeine Research, 13% of users reported having difficulty concentrating 12 hours after being deprived of caffeine. This may not sound serious, but concentration is necessary for many tasks. Users experiencing caffeine withdrawal have reported missing or making mistakes at work or school, as well as an inability to take care of children.
No one enjoys bathroom-related trouble, and if you experience caffeine-withdrawal-related constipation, continued caffeine use may look especially appealing.
Fortunately, constipation from caffeine withdrawal is a problem that you can solve with increased fiber in your diet or, if necessary, over-the-counter medications for bowel function.
Cardiovascular and respiratory issues
Possibly the most complex sets of caffeine withdrawal symptoms to diagnose are breathing or heart rate issues. These are often associated with anxiety or much more severe health issues and can cause a lot of unnecessary time wasted if you go to the emergency room.
Both patients and physicians should be aware of the severe symptoms caffeine withdrawal can cause, and it will go a long way if you mention your caffeine intake at the hospital or clinic. As with all the above, even in the face of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, it's best to take the gradual or incremental route — not the sudden one — to quitting caffeine for the good of your health.
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Mayo Clinic: "Caffeine: How much is too much?"
Cleveland Clinic: "Caffeine: How to Hack It and How to Quit It."
Mayo Clinic Health System: "Does caffeine treat or trigger headaches?"
Sajadi-Ernazarova K.R., Anderson, J., Dhakal, A., Hamilton, R.J. StatPearls, "Caffeine Withdrawal," StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
John Hopkins Medicine: "CAFFEINE WITHDRAWAL RECOGNIZED AS A DISORDER."
National Library of Medicine: "Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda."
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