Caffeine Withdrawal: It’s A Real Thing

By:    Published: October 16, 2012

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Many people often make remarks about needing their coffee fix to properly function, and how they, half-jokingly, are addicted to caffeine. What many of these people don’t realize is that caffeine addiction is a real thing, and so is having caffeine withdrawal. According to CNN Health, between 80 percent and 90 percent of North Americans consume caffeine products every day. Of those individuals, almost half would experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms if they were to stop consuming this substance. It’s true – studies have found that caffeine withdrawal is real and comes with several difficult symptoms. Find out how caffeine withdrawal could affect you as well as how to avoid it.

When Caffeine Withdrawal Occurs

There are many reasons that a person might experience caffeine withdrawal, but they all have one thing in common: it occurs when people with regular caffeine consumption eliminate or lower their caffeine intake. Women finding out that they’re pregnant are told to limit their caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day, while surgical patients may miss their morning cup of coffee on the day of their procedure. Others may be advised to cut back on their caffeine intake due to issues with anxiety or panic attacks. Or maybe they just ran late and didn’t have time to stop at the coffee shop on their way into work. In any case, caffeine withdrawal will likely occur if the person is a daily consumer of caffeine.

[Related – Caffeine During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?]

Many Underestimate Their Caffeine Dependency

Most people believe that only those who drink coffee, tea or soda non-stop are the ones who are addicted. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much caffeine for you to become “dependent” on it (some doctors prefer this term to addiction when it comes to caffeine). In fact, those who drink just one cup of coffee per day may find that they experience the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal when they fail to drink their daily cup.

Symptoms Of Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal is an unpleasant experience. In fact, it is often associated with the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Stiffness
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

Out of all the symptoms listed above, headaches are one of the most commonly cited symptoms for those going through caffeine withdrawal. That’s because caffeine blocks receptors in the brain, which can dilate blood vessels that cause headaches. Without that protection in place, headaches are more likely to occur.

[See – 10 Possible side Effects Of Too Much Caffeine]

Expect caffeine withdrawal symptoms to start about 12 to 24 hours after your last cup of coffee, soda or tea. They’ll peak about two days later and continue for up to nine days. In general, the more caffeine an individual regularly consumed each day, the worse his or her symptoms would be when abstaining from caffeine.

How To Avoid Caffeine Withdrawal

As with other drugs, users of caffeine are advised to gradually cut back on their consumption rather than going cold turkey. Using a stepped approach to weaning yourself off of caffeine is better for your body and will help you to avoid the difficult symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal.

Use the following steps to help you cut back on your caffeine intake in a way that will help you avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms:

  1. Track your consumption. Start by keeping tabs on how much caffeine you drink every day. Don’t forget to include energy drinks, pain relievers and chocolate in addition to coffee, soda and tea.
  2. Start slowly. Begin by cutting back on one-half to one whole cup of coffee per day. Don’t rush the process of cutting back as it will just cause more withdrawal symptoms. Set goals so that you stick to your schedule of cutting back gradually.
  3. Make substitutions. As you cut back, it may help you to make substitutions in your diet, such as drinking decaf coffee or caffeine-free soda and tea. You can also brew tea for less time to cut down on its caffeine content.
  4. Stick to your new routine. Once you get your caffeine consumption down to a level that you’re comfortable with, avoid slipping back into your old ways. Having an extra cup of coffee or a couple extra sodas one day could make it harder to go back to your new routine the next day.

Keep in mind, just because you may experience caffeine withdrawal without your daily fix it doesn’t mean that you need to cut back. Most healthy adults can have moderate doses of caffeine every day without harmful effects on their body. A moderate dose is considered to be 280 mg of caffeine per day, which equals out to about one or two cups of coffee or three to five bottles of soda.

Caffeine withdrawal may be uncomfortable or annoying, but it’s not damaging to your health. In fact, having large doses of caffeine every day is likely more dangerous to your health since it may cause other symptoms like insomnia, body tremors, restlessness, upset stomach or a rapid heartbeat. Talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption to find out if you need to cut back.

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