Due to the prevalence of coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, caffeine is one of the most popular drugs in the world and is found in many common foods and drinks too.
Similar to other drugs, if you stop ingesting caffeine you may experience caffeine withdrawal, which is a set of symptoms that can occur when someone abruptly stops taking it.
In this article, we will discuss caffeine withdrawal, including its signs and symptoms, how to temper it, and who needs to avoid taking caffeine.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that naturally occurs in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans and is also added to energy drinks, soda, and some over-the-counter medications among many others.
When caffeine enters your body, it stimulates the central nervous system (CNS). The effects of caffeine include an improved mood, increased alertness and cognitive performance, and giving you a boost of energy.
There are some negative caffeine effects as well such as increased anxiety, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.
What is caffeine withdrawal?
Caffeine withdrawal occurs when someone who regularly consumes caffeine suddenly stops or dramatically reduces their intake.
Caffeine is a drug that you can develop a dependence on, and caffeine withdrawal can cause both mental and physical symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?
There are a number of signs and symptoms you may have if you are experiencing the effects of caffeine withdrawal.
If you are addicted to caffeine, the common symptoms of withdrawal may include:
The most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal is headaches. Chronic headaches occur during caffeine withdrawal because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels.
When you suddenly stop the consumption of caffeine, your blood vessels dilate allowing more blood to flow inside your brain.
The increase in blood flow causes can cause your head to hurt resulting in headaches. It is for this reason that caffeine is also included in some pain relievers that can help with headaches.
Another common symptom of caffeine withdrawal is fatigue or feeling tired which is because caffeine acts as a stimulant and can mask how tired you actually are.
Caffeine makes you feel more alert because it prevents drowsiness by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy.
When caffeine is no longer in your system, the adenosine can build up and make you feel tired.
The effects of caffeine can normally last for around 4 to 6 hours after caffeine consumption but can vary from person to person.
When the effects wear off, you may take more doses of caffeine, such as more cups of coffee, which will only increase your caffeine intake and reliance on it as a way to stay alert.
The caffeine withdrawal effect can also cause irritability and mood swings because caffeine affects the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
When caffeine levels drop, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain also drop, which can lead to feelings of irritability.
Another symptom of caffeine withdrawal is trouble concentrating or feeling foggy-headed. As noted above, caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy, and when caffeine blocks it, you can feel more awake. When caffeine is no longer in your system, the adenosine can build up and make it difficult to concentrate.
Withdrawal from caffeine can also cause flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and an upset stomach.
Vomiting is a rare symptom although the queasiness of nausea and having an upset stomach are more common when going through caffeine withdrawal.
Having a negative mood
Caffeine withdrawal can also cause feelings of depression because caffeine affects the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
When caffeine levels drop, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain also drop, which can lead to feelings of depression or mood disturbances.
Due to caffeine being a stimulant, caffeine withdrawal can also cause anxiety. Caffeine works by stimulating the nervous system, which can lead to feelings of anxiety or jitteriness.
However, when caffeine is no longer in your system, anxiety is also a side effect of removing it from your system as well.
It is believed this happens due to you having a physical and psychological dependence to it, so when you stop having it in your system you can become anxious.
Dizziness is also a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor that constricts your blood vessels.
As noted above, when you suddenly stop consuming caffeine your blood vessels dilate allowing more blood to flow inside your brain which can cause dizziness and lightheadedness.
Lack of energy
One of the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms is a lack of energy or feeling fatigued.
Caffeine works as a stimulant to help you feel more awake and energetic and when caffeine is no longer in your system, it can leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
Tremors of shakes
Caffeine withdrawal can also cause tremors or shakes because caffeine is a stimulant. When caffeine is no longer in your system, it can lead to symptoms of tremors, also known as the shakes, as your body adjusts to the lack of stimulation.
Tremors are not a common symptom and are usually only seen in caffeine withdrawal if you are heavily dependent on the drug.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with your doctor to ensure that caffeine withdrawal is the cause.
These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions such as lack of sleep, stress, anxiety disorders, and thyroid problems.
Caffeine Withdrawal from around the web
How long do caffeine withdrawal symptoms last?
The duration of caffeine withdrawal can last anywhere from 2 to 9 days.
The intensity and duration of the symptoms will depend on how much caffeine you consume on a regular basis as well as how quickly you stop consuming it.
If you consume large amounts of caffeine and suddenly stop, you are more likely to experience more severe symptoms that will last longer.
How do I temper my caffeine withdrawal?
If you are experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms, there are a few things you can do to help ease the symptoms and adverse effects.
Drink lots of fluids
Drinking water or herbal tea can help to replace the fluids that you have lost and help to ease headaches.
Get some rest
Taking a nap or getting more sleep at night can help to ease the fatigue that you are feeling.
Eat healthy foods
Eating healthy foods and avoiding caffeine can help to ease symptoms such as nausea and an upset stomach and it also has numerous health benefits too.
Getting some exercise can help to increase your energy levels and improve your mood.
Slowly cut back on caffeine
If you are trying to quit your caffeine habit, it is important to slowly cut back your caffeine consumption as sudden caffeine withdrawal can lead to more severe symptoms.
Try cutting back your daily caffeine intake gradually over a period of days, weeks, or even months to lessen your dependence on caffeine.
You can also try decaffeinated coffee, tea, or sodas, and even mix them with their caffeinated counterparts to slowly wean yourself off of caffeine.
Who needs to avoid taking caffeine?
Caffeine is not recommended for children and adolescents as it can interfere with their sleep and cause anxiety.
Caffeine is also not recommended for pregnant women or if you are breastfeeding as caffeine can also be passed through breast milk to the baby.
Caffeine is also not recommended if you have an anxiety disorder or sleep disorder such as insomnia and several others.
Please talk to your doctor or health care provider if you have questions about whether you can consume caffeine.
How do I know how much caffeine is in my food and drinks?
The caffeine content of a food or drink can vary depending on how it is prepared. For example, regular coffee that is brewed for a longer time will have more caffeine than coffee that is brewed for a shorter time.
The caffeine content of tea also varies depending on the type of tea and how long it is brewed.
Energy drinks and sodas typically have more caffeine than coffee or tea. You can also find caffeine in chocolate, although the amount is typically lower than in coffee or tea.
Caffeine is also sometimes added to foods and drinks that do not naturally contain caffeine such as ice cream, yogurt, and even some types of water.
The best way to know how much caffeine is in a food or drink is to check the label.
The caffeine content is usually listed in milligrams (mg). For reference, a can of cola typically contains about 35 mg of caffeine and a cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 80-175 milligrams of caffeine.
Please note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires foods or drinks that have caffeine added to them to list their caffeine content on their labels; however, this is not the case for foods or drinks that naturally contain them.
The FDA also does not require any food or drink to list the amount of caffeine in the item although some companies do choose to list it anyways.
To avoid caffeine, always read the labels of what you are eating or drinking and familiarize yourself with foods and drinks that may contain caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can commonly be found in caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, sodas, and in some foods as well like chocolate and it is also used in some medications too.
Caffeine withdrawal can occur when someone who regularly consumes caffeine and develops a caffeine dependence suddenly stops or drastically reduces their intake.
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can include headaches, fatigue, and nausea among others. To ease symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, drink lots of fluids, get some rest, and eat healthy foods.
You can also try to slowly cut back on caffeine over a period of days, weeks, or months to help mitigate the effects of withdrawal.
Finally, be sure to check the labels of what you are eating and drinking for the caffeine content, as it is not always listed, and familiarize yourself with foods and drinks that usually contain it.
If you have any questions about caffeine or caffeine withdrawal, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References and Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/ – Caffeine Withdrawal
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Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Pharmacists.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Diabetic.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate USARx.com, Allergies.org, Diabetic.org.
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