Quitting Coffee: Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms and How to Beat Them

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Pexels

You want to cut coffee out of your life but fear the caffeine withdrawal symptoms? Don’t worry. We’ll give you some tips for how to push through the unpleasant side effects.

Coffee not only gets us up and moving in the morning, it also happens to taste really good. It’s certainly no mystery why so many of us find ourselves depending on it. But no matter how many excuses we make about coffee helping us get through the day, the fact remains that the caffeine contained in coffee gets us addicted and puts a real strain our bodies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that quitting coffee comes with some unpleasant caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

However, the coffee withdrawal may be worth it: Inner unrest, sleeplessness, nervousness and even stomach problems can all be the result of nurturing your coffee habit. The same goes for other caffeinated beverages like soda or energy drinks. 

Why Is Quitting Coffee so Difficult?

how caffeine affects body chemistry
Caffeine keeps your body in a constant state of stress. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Leninscape)

So here’s what coffee actually does to your body – and why we feel caffeine withdrawal symptoms when we quit: In your brain, different receptors play specific roles in the feeling of well being. One particular set of receptors is for adenosine. Adenosine is a molecule which produces feelings of tiredness when it is absorbed. Structurally, the caffeine molecule is very similar to adenosine, and for this reason is able to lock onto adenosine receptors, effectively blocking them off.

In addition, this chemical state causes your body’s natural stimulants to kick into gear: the blocked adenosine receptors allows dopamine to work more effectively and the presence of the surplus adenosine in the blood causes the release of adrenaline. 

That means that when your body is trying to signal that it is time to rest, it can’t. This situation causes your brain to respond by producing even more adenosine, which will continue to be blocked by the caffeine, and your body will continue to be unable to come down. Simply put: when you drink coffee regularly, your body finds itself in a constant state of stress.

When you stop drinking coffee, your brain is still overproducing adenosine, and when the caffeine is no longer there to block reception, you get hit with a plethora of less than enjoyable effects. Coffee withdrawal occurs because your body is simply out of balance, and it will take a little time for it to right itself again. 

Symptoms of Coffee Withdrawal

coffee withdrawal
Feeling tired and lethargic are symptoms of coffee withdrawal. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Wokandpix)

The first caffeine withdrawal symptoms will usually occur 12-24 hours after the last cup of coffee you’ve had. The intensity of coffee withdrawal will depend on how much coffee you’ve been consuming on a regular basis and how fit you generally are. 

The following can be caffeine withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Exhaustion and lack of energy
  • Restlessness and sleeplessness
  • Dizziness and nausea 
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability and lack of focus

How long these symptoms last is different for everyone. Your body is doing everything it can to bring itself back into equilibrium. A complete recovery from all symptoms could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. 

How to Beat Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

exercising to beat coffee withdrawal symptoms
Exercise can help keep your mind off of craving caffeine. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Stevepb)

Deciding once and for all against coffee and caffeine is an accomplishment in itself, but it’s afterwards that the real work begins. Now you have a choice: go cold turkey and remove all caffeine from your life in one go, or you can slow wean yourself off of it. A slow coffee withdrawal is likely to be the less physically and mentally uncomfortable option, but is also likely to be considerably more difficult to stick to. Cold turkey is unpleasant, but this option allows you to face any caffeine withdrawal symptoms head on and get through them in one shot. 

Here are some tips for successfully quitting caffeine:

  1. Drinking coffee is often part of a routine. To help yourself get through coffee withdrawal, try changing up your routine. Do you usually go looking for coffee first thing in the morning? It might sound ambitious, but try exchanging your morning coffee for an early morning workout. Exercise will wake your body up and give it lasting energy, instead of just a cheap chemical boost. 
  2. Stay busy. Do something active to keep your mind off of caffeine withdrawal symptoms: find a healthy way to distract yourself and keep temptation at bay. 
  3. Be conscious of why you drink coffee. Think about what it is that draws you to it. Is it the taste? Try chicory coffee, made from the roasted root of the chicory plant. Is is because you are always tired and are looking for an energy boost? This is a bigger problem and requires more attention: start by trying out different ways to fall asleep, some mindfulness based stress reduction techniques or making more time for exercise.
  4. Find an alternative drink. Drinking coffee is often part of a ritual: it might be drinking coffee with your partner in the morning before you both head off to work, or having a cup with your co-workers in the afternoon. Cutting caffeine out of your life does not mean that you have to sacrifice sharing these moment of connection. Find a non-caffeinated beverage that you enjoy, like an herbal tea, homemade hot cocoa, apple cider or chicory coffee. You could also try an infusion, like ginger water, or hot water and lemon. 

Tip: If you are looking for a refreshing warm drink, try growing your own mint in your kitchen. That way, you will always have fresh mint to make tea with. 

This text has been translated from German to English by Christie Sacco. You can find the original here: Koffeinentzug: Symptome, Dauer und Auswirkungen auf den Körper

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