The Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal and What to Do About Them


For someone who typically drinks coffee or tea in the morning, if you go a day without it, you may find that you experience withdrawal symptoms. This is extremely common, and many people experience it every day. Coffee contains caffeine, which is an addictive substance. When you go without it if your body is used to it, it can make you feel a bit off-center and strange compared to the way you do on an average day.

Those who drink larger amounts of caffeine often have more substantial symptoms, which can also be a problem. If you’re someone who sips on a Frappuccino all day long and one day it isn’t available, you might find yourself with a splitting headache, anxiety, fatigue, or low energy levels. This can make it hard just to make it through the day at work or school. But don’t worry, all hope is not lost. There are ways to handle these symptoms and we will share them with you today.

First, we’ll be looking at exactly what caffeine withdrawal is and then we’ll look at the symptoms before moving on to solutions and more.

Understanding What Caffeine Withdrawal Is

As we mentioned above, caffeine can be chemically addictive. It is a stimulant and you can become dependent on it, although it does not have the same potential for endangering your health as other drugs might. When you quit consuming caffeine abruptly after drinking two or more cups of coffee a day for an extended time, you may experience emotional, physical, and psychological symptoms.

Even those who only have a cup of coffee or a couple of cans of soda a day can also experience withdrawal symptoms, but these will likely be less severe. On top of that, there is a genetic component to withdrawal from caffeine. If you know your parents or grandparents experience severe withdrawal, it’s possible that the same will be the case for you.

Even so, only around half of the people who drink coffee ever experience symptoms of withdrawal. So, you may never end up with the need for information about withdrawal symptoms and ways to handle them. But to be safe, this article is out there for everyone who enjoys a bit of caffeine to start their day.

The Science Behind Caffeine Withdrawal

To get into the nitty gritty behind caffeine withdrawal, you have to dig a bit deeper. The reality is that caffeine is addictive. The molecule of caffeine fits nearly exactly into the adenosine receptors in a human brain. The adenosine is what lets your body know that it’s time to sleep or take a break to rest. When caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, your dopamine begins to work in a more efficient manner. The extra adenosine tells the adrenal glands in your body that more adrenaline is needed. This is what provides the feeling of extreme alertness after drinking coffee or tea.

As someone drinks caffeine on a regular basis, the brain adds more adenosine receptors in order to compensate for the large levels of caffeine. This means the body builds up a tolerance to the caffeine that you take in each day. At the point where you forget to drink your coffee one more, there is a huge amount of adenosine in your brain. This leads to a reduction in the dopamine levels, which makes your brain out of balance. All of these things together lead to the withdrawal symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal.

Safe Amounts of Caffeine to Consume

Many studies show that consuming coffee will improve certain aspects of your health and can even boost your productivity. However, there are limits to the amount of boost it can give you. Most experts recommend that you drink only four cups of coffee a day or up to 400 mg of caffeine. This is based on the average healthy adult and may vary between different individuals.

If you are pregnant, have a fast or irregular heart rate, or suffer from panic attacks or anxiety, you may need to consume less coffee than the average person. The reason for that is because studies show too much caffeine may lead to increase in blood pressure, higher risk for heart disease, and increased cholesterol.

The Most Common Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

There are numerous symptoms that a person might experience when going from using large amounts of caffeine, but some are decidedly more common than others. In most cases, you will experience these symptoms about 12 to 24 hours after you last consume caffeine. Strangely enough, caffeine withdrawal is actually classified as a medical diagnosis and it can happen to anyone who consumes coffee regularly. We’ll look at the symptoms you might experience below.

A Simple Headache

If you experience withdrawal from caffeine, the most likely symptom you will have is a headache. There’s a reason for that, though. When you drink beverages that contain caffeine, the blood vessels in your brain start to constrict which leads to slowed blood flow. There was a study done that shows that drinking less than three cups of coffee can reduce the amount of blood flow in the brain by over 25%.

Now, when that same person stops drinking coffee for some amount of time, the blood vessels will open up again and lead to increased blood flow in the brain. Having this change to blood flow happen quickly is what causes the painful headaches that can be associated with caffeine withdrawal. Sometimes the headaches may be mild and go away quickly, but in some cases, they can be extremely severe and lasting.

However, regardless of the severity, after some time passes the headaches will begin to go away. This happens when the brain begins to adapt to the increased blood flow. So, it isn’t something that will last forever, even if you continue to avoid caffeine in the future.

What’s strange is that while caffeine withdrawals can cause headaches, caffeine itself can be used to treat specific types of headaches, including migraines. Caffeine is also helpful for enhancing how well headache medication works, so it can be a great solution for those with chronic headaches of some types.

Increased Fatigue

Since caffeine is a stimulant, when you aren’t drinking it as you used to be, your body will need to adapt. That means you may begin to feel more drowsy and tired than you typically are. This can be difficult to deal with for those who use caffeine to get an energy boost every day. The caffeine helps reduce fatigue while increasing alertness. It does this by blocking your body’s receptors for adenosine. This is a neurotransmitter that is tasked with making you tired.

This is the same reason that caffeine has been proven to help improve energy, reduce chronic fatigue, and enhance athletic performance. When you stop taking in caffeine, the opposite often occurs. You’ll feel more tired and fatigued and may have lowered performance when performing physical tasks.

Plus, the effects of caffeine only last around four to six hours, which can lead to many people drinking several sodas, coffees, or energy drinks during the day to keep alertness at a maximum level. This leads to a higher dependence on caffeine which in turn makes withdrawal symptoms more severe.

One study from a few years ago showed that people who stopped drinking caffeine for only 16 hours experienced more feeling of fatigue. In addition, the same study showed those who drank coffee every single day had more withdrawal symptoms of a severe level than the people who only drank caffeinated beverages a few times through the week.

Higher Levels of Anxiety

Since caffeine is a stimulant, it’s no surprise that it can increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol. This can cause anxiety in people who are sensitive to caffeine. In the worst cases, a single soda or cup of coffee can result in these feelings.  However, people who cut down the amount of caffeine they drink can also experience anxiety.

Many people who stop drinking caffeine or take a break for whatever reason report that they experience an increased level of anxiety. You might wonder why this is, when caffeine can also lead to anxiety when consumed. The truth is that when you drink caffeine on a regular basis, your body begins to get used to the effects it offers. If those go away all of a sudden, your body can become confused which leads to anxiety.

In addition to that, many people get their caffeine from sugary coffee and soft drinks. When no longer consuming those things, you are removing both caffeine and a large amount of sugar from the body. Both of those things can lead to withdrawal symptoms and the combination can ramp up the intensity more than if you were to stop eating sugar or caffeine on its own.

Increased Trouble Concentrating

Another of the reasons that people choose to consume caffeine in various forms is because it can offer a boost to your concentration levels. This explains why coffee, tea, and soda are often consumed before someone has an exam, presentation, or a sports match. In addition to that, caffeine can increase your levels of adrenaline. This is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands when your body is experiencing stress. Caffeine is also capable of boosting dopamine and norepinephrine, which are two excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain.

When you put together all of these things that caffeine effects, you can expect to have increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a higher level of focus and increased alertness. Going from consuming caffeine on a regular basis to abstaining from it will cause a decrease in your concentration level and you may find yourself struggling to do typical tasks that are simple after a cup or two of coffee.

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Depressed State of Mood

One of the things that caffeine is known to do is elevate people’s mood. This is because caffeine blocks adenosine which increases your alertness and also helps give you a better mood. In fact, there was a study that showed individuals who regularly consumed caffeine of a specific amount based on body weight had a better mood than those who consumed only a placebo. Another study showed a potential link between consuming caffeine regularly and having a lower risk of experiencing depression.

One study followed 50,000 women and found that those who drank four or more cups of coffee each day were 20% less likely to have depression than those who drank less or no coffee at all. The stimulant effect of coffee with caffeine can give you better feelings of well-being on top of a higher level of energy. However, once caffeine is no longer taken in, your mood can drop again. This is why a depressed mood can be common when you do not consume caffeine.

Increased Level of Irritability

If you’re a frequent coffee drinker, you probably know the feeling of being a little cranky when you wake up but before you have your first cup of coffee. What can cause this irritability may be the caffeine found in your favorite morning beverage. As we previously mentioned, coffee only sticks around in the body for up to six hours. That means that while you are asleep, the beginning withdrawal symptoms of caffeine can get a start.

Those who regularly drink coffee are used to the effects of caffeine, including the mood boost, which means that not taking in caffeine can lead to more irritability. Many coffee drinkers have trouble cutting down on their intake because of this. Nobody wants to deal with a negative mood. One study on this topic found that nearly 90% of adults who were caffeine dependent but wished to cut back had serious problems with it and were unsuccessful because of symptoms like anger and irritability.

Potential for Tremors

To be fair, this side effect of caffeine withdrawal is a bit less common than the ones we have talked about so far. However, some individuals with a major dependency on caffeine may find that withdrawing from the substance can lead to tremors. With caffeine being a stimulant to the nervous system, you may know that drinking a lot of it can lead to being anxious, jittery, or even having shaky hands. This is one of the reasons that some individuals with anxiety disorders are asked not to consume caffeine as it can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

However, when someone drinks a large amount of caffeine every day, stopping its use is a potential cause of tremors. In most cases, if you are going to experience this, it will occur in your hands. It will also typically last no more than about a week. If you have this symptom and it is still causing problems after a week and a half, this is a situation where you should see a physician. This will allow them to determine if there is another cause for your tremors.

Lack of Energy

The largest reason that most people begin to consume beverages that contain caffeine is because they offer assistance when you have a low energy level. There are many reasons someone might feel a bit run down whether thatis lack of sleep, an unhealthy diet, or a demanding job. Once that happens, many people grab a coffee or energy drink to get some of that energy back. In addition, those who don’t get enough sleep often turn to caffeinated beverages for an extra boost and to feel less tired through the day.

When you drink a coffee or other caffeinated beverage, you get a boost to your concentration, feelings of extra mental and physical energy, and an increase to your blood sugar and heart rate. Those can all be good things when you feel like you’re barely making it through the day. This can lead to drinking more and more caffeine, which results in more severe withdrawal symptoms if you choose to stop. This explains why low energy is often mentioned as a symptom when someone stops drinking as much coffee.

What to Do to Stop the Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

The easiest and likely most convenient option for getting rid of your withdrawal symptoms from lack of caffeine is to drink a beverage or consume a food item that does have caffeine. Caffeine will begin to move throughout your body in minutes and this will start to help your symptoms ease up. If you have no intention of stopping your coffee habit, this is probably the best option you have available. Putting your body back into the state it is used to will prevent the symptoms from sticking around or becoming more severe.

If you go with this option, you should know that as soon as you take in the coffee or soda, it will begin to be absorbed and will enter your bloodstream through the throat, mouth, and stomach. You can expect that within 30 to 45 minutes, nearly all of the caffeine will be absorbed and present in your body. At that point, the caffeine will stick around for four to six hours before you can expect any additional symptoms. That said, this can vary to some degree due to age, drug interaction, and medical conditions.

However, this may not always be possible for various reasons. In that cases, there are a few things that you can do to alleviate or eliminate the symptoms you are experiencing. We’ll go through some of your options, so you can make a decision about which choices are right for you and your lifestyle. First, let’s look at the possibility of tapering your caffeine usage down if you know you will need to stop drinking it for a certain amount of time.

Tapering Down Your Caffeine Consumption Over Time

When you gradually reduce the amount of caffeine that you take in, this often will prevent you from having severe withdrawal symptoms. The most modern research available shows that even tapering down by about 25% every couple of weeks shows the best chance of avoiding any major symptoms when you stop consuming caffeine altogether for whatever reason.

One expert notes that even taking in a small amount of caffeine one or two times a day will help with a lot of the symptoms. While you may not get all the same effects as you would drinking your normal amount, you also will have fewer withdrawal symptoms which can make getting through the day much easier than the alternative. So, if possible, only drop down your caffeine levels over time for the best results and least stress to your mind and body.


Take Time for Rest as Much as Possible

Most people who experience withdrawal will have headaches, since it is the most common problem. The second most common symptom that can be expected is fatigue. Since your body is still getting used to having a lack of caffeine available, you may find yourself much more tired than you would normally be. If you have the ability to spend more time resting, that is an excellent option.

This is especially important in the beginning stages of stopping use of caffeine or even dropping the amount that you use. Any extra relaxation and sleep that you can get will make the process less difficult.

Don’t Forget Over the Counter Pain Relievers

Since you may have a headache when you aren’t able to take in caffeine, you can relieve some of the pain with Tylenol, aspirin, or Advil. In most cases, you can take these medications about once every four to six hours. Make sure to read the bottle instructions and take the appropriate dose. It will depend upon which pain killer you use and at what strength the pill is.

Some pain killers actually include caffeine as an ingredient, which can be another way to get a small amount of the substance into your system. What makes these pain relievers so great is that the caffeine actually pushes the other ingredients to be more effective. This may not be the answer if you are not allowed any caffeine, but for many people, the small amount is worthwhile when contained in a pain reliever.

Stimulate Your Body’s Pressure Points

All around your body are pressure points, also called acupoints, which are believed to have an effect on your health. When you press on specific pressure points, it can actually help relieve headaches or other pain. This is done in part by helping to ease muscle tension in your body. One study from 2010 shows that this is true as participants who receive acupressure treatments found that it caused more relief than taking a muscle relaxant.

You don’t have to leave the home to try this option for pain relief. One of the easiest points to stimulate for headaches is located just between your index finger and the base of your thumb. If you have a headache, whether related to caffeine withdrawal or not, find that location on your hand and press down on it for a few minutes. After you’re done, do the same for the opposite hand and see what results you get. It’s worth a try!

Apply an Ice Pack When Needed

For your headaches from withdrawal to caffeine, applying an ice pack is another solution. It is something that is often suggested to individuals who suffer from migraines. By placing an ice pack on your head, the blood flow will be altered and the area can be partially numbed. This can help to reduce the amount of pain from your head.

If that doesn’t work, you can also try placing the ice pack on the back of your neck instead. One small study showed that those with migraine pain who did so experienced a reduction in pain when the pack was located over the carotid artery of the neck. It’s worth a try if your head is throbbing and you have an ice pack handy.

Keep Yourself Hydrated All Day Long

Another option for helping alleviate your symptoms with caffeine withdrawal, keeping yourself hydrated is an excellent start. It can help keep your body in its best shape while also fighting any potential headaches that may be coming. When you drink a lot of caffeine, it can lead to urinating more often which also means that you are losing more fluids.

When you do not have a sufficient amount of fluid in your body, this can actually lead to shrinking the volume of your brain. As the shrinking occurs, the brain pulls back from the skull. This then leads the pain receptors in the brain to start going off, which can lead to a higher chance of having a headache. You should make sure to stay hydrated to avoid this problem. While every person has a different amount of fluid that works best for them on a daily basis, eight glasses of water a day is the rule of thumb you can go by.

Consider Using Topical Peppermint Oil

One of the things that has been suggested to help soothe headaches is topical menthol. This is the active ingredient found in peppermint oil and is known to help relax tight muscles and reduce inflammation in the body. A study from 2016 shows that applying this oil can relieve tension headaches just as well as taking acetaminophen.

If this is something you want to try, all you need to do is apply two or three drops of the oil into your temples or forehead. You’ll then want to massage it into the appropriate area. There’s no need to dilute the oil, but you may do so if you prefer to use a carrier oil. It’s all a matter of preference and may offer some relief either way you do.

Get Out and Do Some Exercising

You may not feel much like exercising when you have caffeine withdrawal, but if you can motivate yourself to do so, it can actually help quite a lot. When you choose to exercise, this results in your brain releasing additional dopamine. As you may have small amounts of this when you aren’t taking in caffeine, any extra will make you feel more like yourself. So, if you are looking for a way to feel a bit better mentally, first you need to find time to get physical and start moving your body. It may not be a lot of fun to get going, but once you are done, you’ll often feel a lot better. Plus, you’re getting healthy in the process so it’s a win-win scenario for all your withdrawal woes.

Eating Healthy Foods

When you improve the quality of your diet, this can also be helpful for your symptoms. Ingesting substantial amounts of fruits and vegetables will ensure you get all the nutrients that your body needs. When you eat a diet that is healthy, that will give you a natural source of energy and a better frame of mine, as well. It may not be a magic pill that will stop all your symptoms immediately but in conjunction with other remedies, it can provide benefits that may surprise you.

Alternative Beverages While You Are Without Caffeine

If you are required to give up caffeine for a medical reason or are cutting down due to pregnancy or other reasons, you may be wondering what other beverages can take the edge off when you want something other than plain old water. While you may be craving coffee, you can get new textures and flavors from other beverages. We’ll share a few of your options so you have an easier time getting through the day for the time you need to cut your caffeine intake.

Decaf Coffee

If you love the taste of coffee but can’t handle the caffeine, decaf coffee is the next best thing. While you might think that decaf would have no caffeine at all, that isn’t entirely true. However, compared to caffeinated coffee, it is a very minimal amount. It may be enough to stave off the withdrawal symptoms, though. It will also give you that java taste that you might be missing when you can’t drink your favorite morning beverage.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice has absolutely no caffeine, but it has a million different tastes and textures to choose from. You may want to check the label first to be sure you aren’t just drinking a giant glass of sugar water. However, fruit juice can taste great and leave you satisfied. It also has many of the important nutrients that your body needs, which makes it a fantastic alternative to caffeinated beverages.

Decaf Sodas

Another easy option to substitute is the decaf soda. You can find all sorts of popular brands without caffeine in both traditional and diet forms. In fact, there are a large number of sodas that are decaffeinated to begin with and it could be an excellent time to try a new one out. If you enjoy the taste and bubbles of soda, going decaf may be the easiest solution for you.

Vegetable Juice

Just like fruit juices, there are many vegetable juices out on the market. Even if you aren’t a fan of the taste of vegetable juice, there are tons of options out there nowadays. Some of them have both fruits and vegetables and the taste is similar to any fruit juice. This can be an easy way to get in your vegetable servings for the day to ensure your body is at its best. Plus, there is no caffeine to worry about with vegetable juice. You’ll be consuming healthier options and you may even find that you enjoy it.

Homemade Smoothies

Another nutrition packed beverage is the smoothie. This is a great option that you can make right at home with just a few simple ingredients. You can toss in yogurt, fruit, vegetables, nut butter, milk, oats, and all sorts of other things to fit your personal tastes. Not only do these taste great, but in many cases, they are extremely healthy. They also are filling and can fuel you through the morning if you don’t feel like a serious breakfast. Sure, it’s not coffee, but it can be just as delicious and fulfilling.

These are a few of the best options when you need to cut back on caffeine, but there are other options. Apple cider, herbal tea, and water with lemon are also excellent options. Make sure that no matter what other beverages you incorporate into your day that you drink plenty of old-fashioned regular water. Whether it’s tap, filtered, or out of a bottle, it’s what will keep you hydrated and ensure you stay healthy. The other options are great to complement your diet with, but don’t forget water.

The Wrap Up

There are often situations where someone may need to avoid caffeine for a period of time or cut down on the amount that is consumed every day. If you find yourself in that situation, there are a few things that are important to know. We’ve shared what caffeine withdrawal can feel like and what you can expect if it happens to you. In addition, we’ve provided you with alternative drinks to try, remedies for the symptoms you may have been drinking less caffeinated coffee, and how to make it through to the finish line when coffee is available again.

It can be a struggle to make it through, but by using some of our tips, it can be a bit less challenging. If you are in this situation, take time to rest, be kind to yourself, and good luck!

Bonus Questions:

1. What foods are high in caffeine?

There are many foods that contain caffeine, but some incorporate a large amount than others. Some of the foods you may not know have large amounts of caffeine include soda (even non-colas), chocolate bars, and even protein bars.

2. Can water flush out caffeine?

If you drink a large amount of water, it will help to remove the caffeine quickly while rehydrating your body. To do this, drink about one glass of water for each can of soda or cup of coffee that you consume.

3. What drinks contain caffeine?

In addition to coffee, soft drinks and tea also have caffeine. Even decaf coffee contains a small amount of caffeine. Some ice cream and candies also have caffeine.

4. How much caffeine is dangerous?

Drinking up to 400 mg of caffeine in a day is considered to be healthy for most adults. This is about the amount that can be found in 10 colas, two energy drinks, or four cups of coffee.

5. How long does caffeine overdose last?

If you overdose on caffeine, you can expect for the major effects to be present for four to six hours. These include sweating, jitters, nausea, increased heartbeat, vomiting, and dizziness.

6. Do you crash after coffee?

Some people experience a crash in energy after drinking coffee. This is most common with people who drink a large amount in the morning. When the caffeine wears off, it can lead to extreme tiredness.

7. Does M&M have caffeine?

Regular M&Ms do have a small amount of caffeine, as do all candies that contain chocolate. Some of the coffee flavored M&Ms may contain a larger amount than the traditional type.

8. What drug category is caffeine?

Caffeine is classified as a stimulant of the central nervous system and qualifies as the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug. Unlike most other psychoactive substances, caffeine is legal and used around the globe.

9. What’s the strongest energy drink?

Currently, the strongest energy shot on the market is 10 Hour Energy Shot. As far as energy drinks go, the strongest is called Hyde Power Potion.

10. Does blue Powerade have caffeine?

Powerade, no matter the flavor, currently does not contain caffeine. The same is true for Gatorade, another commonly consumed hydration beverage.

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