Although that innocent Starbucks habit may seem as innocuous as drinking water, the surprising fact is that caffeine is a psychoactive substance—meaning it impacts brain function. The stimulant properties in coffee, energy drinks, or tea make these go-to beverages relied on to get us through our busy days when energy flags.
But what happens when you realize you have developed a habit of excessive caffeine consumption? Signs of this may creep in, such as feeling jittery, irritable, restless, or being unable to get quality sleep. When an attempt is made to rein in the caffeine intake, withdrawal symptoms kick in.
So, what symptoms are involved in caffeine withdrawal? There are several unpleasant effects one will experience when caffeine is withheld. Just as with any drug, these are the signs that tell you an addiction has developed. When planning on quitting caffeinated beverages, it is good to know what symptoms are involved in caffeine withdrawal, and how long it takes to push through these.
People often refer to caffeine as a stimulant. In reality, caffeine simply allows the brain’s chemistry to have stimulating effects. This works by the caffeine blocking off the brain’s receptors for adenosine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring molecule in the brain that will lock onto the receptors for adenosine, bringing about a feeling of fatigue. Caffeine blocks the receptors, instead generating feelings of energy and mental alertness. Caffeine is an enabler for the stimulant effect.
Over time, with continued use of caffeine, tolerance will begin to require more caffeinated beverages to achieve that same sense of energy. Eventually, the brain will produce extra adenosine receptors and decrease norepinephrine receptors, creating physical dependence. When that happens, any attempt to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages will result in withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of caffeine addiction include:
- Muscle twitching
- Flushed face
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Nervousness, jitteriness
- Sleeping problems
- Rambling thoughts and speech
What Symptoms Are Involved in Caffeine Withdrawal?
When someone who has developed a chemical dependency decides to stop consuming caffeine they will experience a rebound effect, meaning they experience the opposite of the effects of the caffeine. When wondering what symptoms are involved in caffeine withdrawal, the following 8 symptoms are the most common:
- Headache. Caffeine affects the flow of blood to the brain by constricting them. Even three cups of coffee can reduce blood flow by nearly 27%. When caffeine is withheld, the blood vessels open up, increasing blood flow to the brain, resulting in headaches. As the brain adapts to the increase in blood flow, the headaches subside.
- Nausea. Many experience nausea the first day or two of caffeine withdrawal, and some also experience vomiting. Nausea and other flue-like symptoms, including muscle pain are common as the body adjusts to the absence of caffeine.
- Blurred vision. People lean on caffeine to help them work long hours, often sitting in front of the computer into the evening hours. When caffeine is eliminated, the individual may experience blurred vision, in addition to a sense of tired eyes, and a dull pain behind the eyes.
- Fatigue. As the brain adjusts to the absence of caffeine, the rebound effect of intense fatigue ensues. This means the individual feels unusually tired and the sense of low energy is evidence of no longer using caffeine to stimulate alertness.
- Anxiety. Even though people who are sensitive to caffeine’s effects may experience anxiousness and irritability, those who quit caffeine, as well as the sugar that is often present in the beverages, also report feeling withdrawal related anxiety symptoms.
- Difficulty concentrating. Consistent caffeine ingestion can cause increased levels of adrenaline, a stress hormone, as well as boosting dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals cause someone to feel more alert. When caffeine is eliminated, individuals then experience difficulty concentrating and brain fog.
- Depressed mood. As brain chemistry attempts to normalize and stabilize after ending an extended period of caffeine intake, low mood can result. The temporary feelings of depression may include feelings of sadness, despair, and hopelessness.
- Tremors. Quitting caffeine cold turkey after a history of heavy consumption can result in hand tremors. The tremors can last anywhere from 2 to 9 days during the withdrawal period.
Tips for Quitting Caffeine
Caffeine withdrawal syndrome is a bona fide disorder included in the DSM-5. If someone has decided that they have become dependent on caffeine and find themselves using excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages, there is a strategy to quitting caffeine while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.
- Write down all the sources of caffeine ingested on a regular basis, including different types of coffee drinks (caffeine concentrations vary), sodas, energy drinks, energy bars, diet supplements, and medications. This gives you a sense of a starting point.
- Reduce the intake of caffeine by 10% a day. This gradual tapering process helps the brain adjust slowly over time to reduced caffeine levels. You can eliminate 10% of the total beverages or caffeine sources daily, or water down the beverages to achieve the reduction.
- Increase water intake, as well as decaffeinated teas or coffee as you eliminate caffeinated beverages each day. This satisfies the desire to drink something, even if it has no caffeine, while allowing the body to slowly adjust.
- Some individuals believe that initiating the reduction of caffeine while on a vacation is helpful. There is no workday stress demanding extra energy or concentration, making vacation time a good time to begin weaning off caffeine.
- Increase physical activity. Increasing cardio workouts, such as running, walking, cycling, or swimming, actually results in more energy, better sleep quality, and sharper concentration. Exercise can become a natural replacement for the caffeine.
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