In some circumstances, eliminating or even reducing caffeine in the diet can trigger caffeine withdrawal symptoms. While many of the effects are mild, such as being irritable after missing morning coffee, some caffeine withdrawal symptoms are serious—enough so that caffeine withdrawal has been recognized as a disorder. Learn what to expect from caffeine withdrawal, including when it occurs and which symptoms are common, as well as how to reduce these symptoms.
When Do Symptoms Occur?
Around 50 percent of people experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms when they cut back on or eliminate caffeine. Experimental studies have shown that around 13 percent of individuals experience withdrawal symptoms severe enough to make them unable to work.
Typically, the more caffeine you consume, the higher your chance of experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and the higher the chances of your symptoms being severe. As little as three consecutive days of caffeine consumption can be enough to cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms when its use is discontinued. Symptoms often begin around 12 to 14 hours after stopping caffeine intake. They are typically at their worst after 24 to 48 hours and can last for up to nine days.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms vary in type and severity from person to person. These are common:
- Chills or hot spells
- Decreased alertness
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking
- Digestive issues (usually constipation, but sometimes also nausea or vomiting)
- Fatigue, lethargy, or sleepiness
- Headaches (ranging from moderate to severe) usually starting behind the eyes before spreading
- Irritability (moderate to extreme) and restlessness
- Insomnia (although it seems counterintuitive)
- Muscle stiffness or pain
- Sinus problems (blocked sinuses or cold-like symptoms)
How to Reduce Symptoms
The easiest way to reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to drink caffeine. If your caffeine withdrawal is caused by accidentally missing out on your morning cup of joe, then drinking more caffeine is the obvious solution. While some people believe caffeine is bad for you, medical science has shown that for most people a cup or two of coffee a day is just fine.
Weaning Is Better Than Cold Turkey
Unfortunately, caffeine is a stimulant and not meant for everyone. If you are intentionally reducing or eliminating caffeine in your diet for health reasons, you can avoid some withdrawal symptoms by cutting back slowly.
Although many people prefer to quit their bad habits suddenly (the "cold turkey" method of quitting), it is not recommended for caffeine elimination, as quitting caffeine "cold turkey" tends to worsen caffeine withdrawal symptoms substantially. Instead, try cutting back gradually.
If coffee is your caffeine vice, cutting back by half a cup per day is a good approach, as is drinking a blend of regular and decaf coffee or gradually switching to decaf. If you drink tea, reduce your intake slowly, try teas with lower caffeine levels, or opt for decaf teas. If you drink colas, try getting smaller sizes or slowly scaling back your daily intake. Learning how to reduce caffeine intake is the best way to wean yourself off this popular substance.