Caffeine Tolerance: Causes, Prevention, and Reset
Caffeine tolerance is a common term associated with caffeine use and it determines greatly how a person responds to a dose of caffeine.
Caffeine tolerance is different from caffeine sensitivity. Tolerance is acquired over time, while caffeine sensitivity refers to one’s genetic predisposition to processing the caffeine molecule.
A first-time caffeine user or one that has abstained use for an extended period of time has a zero-tolerance to caffeine. Caffeine is a foreign substance to the body since it isn’t produced naturally by the body or is an essential nutrient.
Having zero tolerance is when caffeine works the best, often described as producing the following effects:
- Feelings of euphoria.
- Extreme alertness.
- Positive feelings.
- Increased motivation.
- Increased energy.
Consuming the same amount of caffeine the next day will result in a lesser degree of those effects.
As a person continues to consume the same dose habitually, those effects can reduce pretty rapidly.
Soon that same initial amount of caffeine produces only a sense of “normal” rather than all of the effects initially experienced. This is known as drug tolerance.
By “normal” we mean that without the daily dose of caffeine a person feels extremely tired and fatigued way beyond the point they felt tired or fatigued before that initial dose of caffeine.
At this point, caffeine seems to bring the user to “normality”, instead of producing the “superhuman” effects it once did.
How Fast Does Caffeine Tolerance Happen?
One study1 found that complete caffeine tolerance occurred after just 1-4 days among their study participants. They measured this by noting the increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and plasma epinephrine levels. After 1-4 days these levels were back to their baseline.
Another study2 showed caffeine tolerance occurs in part because the brain quickly develops more adenosine receptors to compensate for those blocked by the caffeine molecule.
You can expect the initial euphoric feelings to flee pretty quickly unless…
The daily dose is increased every couple of days to compensate for the increased adenosine receptors and other physiological changes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to be in danger of consuming dangerous daily amounts of caffeine in order to achieve the desired effects.
Many people know that an entire pot of coffee might be too much and will just settle for that “normal” feeling. However, others continue to chase caffeine’s fleeting euphoria with ever-increasing doses, which can be destructive or even deadly.
Fortunately, caffeine tolerance can be reset or prevented.
- Caffeine Tolerance Reset
Those habitually addicted to caffeine should conduct a caffeine detox to eliminate caffeine from their system. This allows a return to normal non-caffeine functioning. This can take 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the daily amount of caffeine consumed.
- Occasional Caffeine Consumption
A person can avoid caffeine tolerance by never allowing it to develop in the first place. By consuming caffeine only occasionally, the desired effects will be experienced every time. By only consuming caffeine when it is really needed is probably the healthiest way to use caffeine. This means to only consume caffeine once or twice a week with several days between each dose. Just be warned that consuming caffeine too late in the day has a greater chance of resulting in sleeplessness that night with a zero-tolerance.
By resetting or preventing caffeine tolerance, a smaller dose of about 100-200 mg will produce the effects described above once again instead of larger more dangerous amounts. The key is to avoid habitual caffeine consumption.
This is extremely difficult for some people in the same sense that it would be difficult for most smokers to have 3 cigarettes just every 3 days. Caffeine has an addictive nature and some just can’t seem to use it moderately, but only on an all or nothing basis.
If you have built up a tolerance to caffeine it may be time for a reset. From that point, you can decide if caffeine will play any part of your life in the future by understanding your ability to control how much you consume.
- 1. Robertson, D. A. V. I. D., Wade, D. A. W. N., Workman, R. O. B. E. R. T., Woosley, R. L., & Oates, J. A. (1981). Tolerance to the humoral and hemodynamic effects of caffeine in man. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 67(4), 1111.
- 2. Chou, D. T., Khan, S., Forde, J., & Hirsh, K. R. (1985). Caffeine tolerance: behavioral, electrophysiological and neurochemical evidence. Life sciences, 36(24), 2347-2358.
- 3. Evans, S. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Caffeine tolerance and choice in humans. Psychopharmacology, 108(1-2), 51-59. Study link