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5 Short-Term But Significant Symptoms Of Caffeine Withdrawal

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Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

If you are trying to quit caffeine, you could go through a variety of withdrawal symptoms. From headaches to nausea and irritability, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can be tough to manage in the beginning. The symptoms last only for about 2 to 9 days. Do not go cold turkey, slowly tapering it off is the best way to kick the habit.

Energy drinks, soft drinks, coffee, tea. All popular non-alcoholic beverages across the world have one thing in common–caffeine. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that can make you alert, energetic and feel good–the reason why most caffeinated drinks are considered excellent pick-me-ups. But this pick-me-up, if left unchecked, can drag you down. Too much caffeine can make you dependent on it much like other addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco.

Though anecdotal evidence point to the fact that caffeine dependence is real, it does not feature in American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM.1 That’s because there is very little proof that caffeine ingestion has any adverse effects, a reason why it is an acceptable vice in the society.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

While 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe widely, studies show that doses of caffeine between 200 mg and 500 mg (i.e., three to six cups of brewed coffee) may give you headaches, tremors, nervousness, and irritability. As the dose goes higher, you could experience delirium and sensory disturbances as well.2 Severe anxiety associated with high consumption of caffeine, also called caffeinism, has also been reported many times.

Having said that, if you feel you are addicted to caffeine and feel the urge to shake off the dependence, you should know the withdrawal symptoms you could experience during the process.

Symptoms Of Caffeine Withdrawal

A study done to understand caffeine withdrawal symptoms has shown 10 symptoms – headache, fatigue, decreased energy or activeness, decreased alertness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and foggy or not clear headed – to be prominent among caffeine dependents. Certain flu-like symptoms like nausea or vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness are also valid symptoms.3

1. Headaches

Of all the symptoms, headache is found to be the most prominent with 50 percent cases reporting it.4 While switching to decaffeinated coffee is the best way to taper off the habit, trust a headache to constantly trouble you for two to three days after the switch.5 This is because caffeine can cause blood vessels to constrict. The opposite, which is the dilation of blood vessels, will happen when caffeine is suddenly restricted resulting in nagging headaches until the body gets used to the change.6

2. Drowsiness And Fogginess

Even if you manage to pull through a headache, drowsiness or fatigue can plague you for a while.7 You could also experience a lack of clarity in your thoughts or fogginess and difficulty concentrating.8

See, caffeine is a stimulant; it can enhance the mood and make you feel energetic. You have been dependent on it for a while. It’s natural that you feel the pinch after you dump the habit.

3. Cognition And Mood

Caffeine withdrawal is found to affect cognition for some time.9 The mornings may seem lackluster and you may find it hard to sit through that board meeting. Interestingly, studies have shown that having caffeine does not really boost alertness or cognition but quitting caffeine affects cognition. Strange, isn’t it?

4. Depressed Mood And Irritability

If you don’t get your morning dose of caffeine, it is most likely that you feel irritable. In fact, irritability was noticed in 35 percent of cases studied to understand withdrawal symptoms. You would also notice mood alterations which can vary from slight to moderate. You may feel no motivations to work or to socialize.10

5. Flu-like Symptoms

In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, some people have also reported symptoms that resemble the flu. It could happen in the form of nausea (vomiting)11 or muscle pain or stiffness or both.12

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Well, we now know that breaking off the relationship with caffeine is not going to be pleasant. There could be moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms that could prove to be a deterrent in your efforts. Persistence is key here because these withdrawal symptoms do not last long. Studies have shown that the symptoms will last for 2-9 days. It could start within 12-24 hours of abstinence and peak at 20-51 hours.13 If you can hold on to your efforts for about a week to 10 days, you can successfully kick the habit.

What Is The Best Way To Stop Caffeine Intake?

Well, that takes us to the most crucial question: How does one quit caffeine? If you are thinking of going cold turkey, that just doesn’t work in the case of caffeine. It will only increase the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that could force you to go back to the habit. What you can and must do is taper it down.14 You can either cut down on the number of times you take caffeine or you can reduce the quantity of caffeine each time you take it.

Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or the evenings so you sleep well. Additionally, regular exercise and a healthy diet can reduce your need to reach out for your favorite caffeinated drink.15

So, good luck with your efforts!

References   [ + ]

1. Strain, Eric C., and Roland R. Griffiths. “Caffeine dependence: fact or fiction?.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 88, no. 8 (1995): 437.
2. Sawyer, Deborah A., Harry L. Julia, and Alan C. Turin. “Caffeine and human behavior: arousal, anxiety, and performance effects.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 5, no. 4 (1982): 415-439.
3, 4, 10, 13. Juliano, Laura M., and Roland R. Griffiths. “A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features.” Psychopharmacology 176, no. 1 (2004): 1-29.
5. Van Dusseldorp, Marijke, and Martijn B. Katan. “Headache caused by caffeine withdrawal among moderate coffee drinkers switched from ordinary to decaffeinated coffee: a 12 week double blind trial.” BMJ: British medical journal 300, no. 6739 (1990): 1558.
6. Addicott, Merideth A., Lucie L. Yang, Ann M. Peiffer, Luke R. Burnett, Jonathan H. Burdette, Michael Y. Chen, Satoru Hayasaka, Robert A. Kraft, Joseph A. Maldjian, and Paul J. Laurienti. “The effect of daily caffeine use on cerebral blood flow: How much caffeine can we tolerate?.” Human brain mapping 30, no. 10 (2009): 3102-3114.
7. Hughes, John R., Stephen T. Higgins, Warren K. Bickel, William K. Hunt, James W. Fenwick, Suzy B. Gulliver, and Gina C. Mireault. “Caffeine self-administration, withdrawal, and adverse effects among coffee drinkers.” Archives of General Psychiatry 48, no. 7 (1991): 611-617.
8. Rogers, Peter J., Susan V. Heatherley, Robert C. Hayward, Helen E. Seers, Joanne Hill, and Marian Kane. “Effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on mood and cognitive performance degraded by sleep restriction.” Psychopharmacology 179, no. 4 (2005): 742-752.
9. Richardson, Nicola J., Peter J. Rogers, Nicola A. Elliman, and Russell J. O’Dell. “Mood and performance effects of caffeine in relation to acute and chronic caffeine deprivation.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 52, no. 2 (1995): 313-320.
11. Caffeine withdrawal recognized as a disorder. John Hopkins Medicine.
12. White, Brent C., Cynthia A. Lincoln, Nell W. Pearce, Robin Reeb, and Chris Vaida. “Anxiety and muscle tension as consequences of caffeine withdrawal.” Science 209, no. 4464 (1980): 1547-1548.
14. Hayden, Amber. “How to detox from caffeine—dependency, withdrawal and feeling good again.”
15. McGill, Natalie. “Caffeine: Don’t let your pick-me-up drag you down.” The Nation’s Health 43, no. 10 (2014): 36-36.