Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Side Effects of Eliminating or Cutting Down on Caffeine

Cups of coffee
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In some circumstances, eliminating or even reducing caffeine in the diet can trigger Caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Many are mild -- being irritable after missing morning coffee, for example -- but some caffeine withdrawal symptoms are serious, and caffeine withdrawal has been recognized as a disorder. Learn what to expect from caffeine withdrawal (including when it occurs and which symptoms are common), as well as how to reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

When Do Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Occur?

Around 50 percent of people experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms when they cut back on or eliminate caffeine, and experimental studies have shown that around 13 percent of people experience withdrawal symptoms severe enough to make them unable to work.

Typically, the more caffeine you consume, the higher your chance of experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and the higher the chances of your caffeine symptoms being severe. As little as three consecutive days of caffeine consumption can be enough to cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms when caffeine use is discontinued. 

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms often begin around 12 to 14 hours after stopping caffeine intake. They are typically at their worst after 24 to 48 hours, and can last for up to nine days.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms vary in type and severity from person to person.

These caffeine withdrawal symptoms are common:

  • Chills and/or hot spells
  • Decreased alertness
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Digestive issues (usually constipation, but sometimes also nausea and / or vomiting)
  • Fatigue, lethargy and / or sleepiness
  • Headaches, ranging from moderate to severe, and usually starting behind the eyes before spreading
  • Irritability (moderate to extreme) and restlessness
  • Insomnia (Although it seems counterintuitive, this can be an issue for some people!)
  • Muscle stiffness and / or pain
  • Sinus issues (usually blocked sinuses or cold-like symptoms)

How to Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

The easiest way to reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to drink more caffeine. If you reduced or eliminated caffeine for no particular reason, or for an easily changeable reason ("I ran out of coffee and won't have time to buy more until tomorrow," for example), then drinking more caffeine is the obvious solution. However, if you are intentionally reducing or eliminating caffeine in your diet, you can avoid some withdrawal symptoms by cutting back slowly.

Although many people prefer to quit their bad habits suddenly (the "cold turkey" method of quitting), it is not recommended for caffeine elimination, as quitting caffeine "cold turkey" tends to worsen caffeine withdrawal symptoms substantially. Instead, try cutting back gradually. If coffee is your caffeine vice, cutting back by half a cup per day is a good approach, as is drinking a blend of regular and decaf coffee or gradually switching to decaf. If you drink tea, reduce your intake slowly, try teas with lower caffeine levels or opt for decaf teas.

If you drink colas, try getting smaller sizes or slowly scaling back your daily intake.

For more on cutting down on caffeine, read about how to reduce caffeine intake and check out readers' caffeine reduction tips.