Caffeine Tolerance: Causes, Prevention, and Reset

caffeine tolerance
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 to caffeine sensitivity. Tolerance is acquired over time, while caffeine sensitivity refers to one’s genetic predisposition to processing the caffeine molecule.

Caffeine Tolerance

A first-time caffeine user or one that has abstained use for an extended period has a zero tolerance to caffeine. Caffeine is a foreign substance according to the body.

This is when caffeine works the best, often described as producing the following effects:

  1. Feelings of euphoria.
  2. Extreme alertness.
  3. Positive feelings.
  4. Increased motivation.
  5. 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 amount of caffeine produces only a sense of “normal” rather than all of the effects initially experienced.

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.

Resetting Tolerance

Fortunately, caffeine tolerance can be reset or prevented.

  1. 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.  Wean Caffeine is a systematic way to reset your caffeine tolerance without the horrible withdrawal from going cold turkey. 
  2. 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 dose of about 100-200mg will produce the effects described above once again. The key is to avoid habitual caffeine consumption.

This is extremely difficult for some people in the same sense 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.

Then you can decide if caffeine will play any part of your life in the future based on your ability to control how much you consume.

Can you describe your level of caffeine tolerance or have a question about it?

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  • Dat Guy

    Not sure if it would work for you, since my experience was with coffee, but here is some amateur, from-experience advice: substitute your intake of the caffeinated beverage with a minimally- or non-caffeinated beverage of similar flavor.

    In my case, I was drinking two pots (yes, POTS) of strong coffee a day and decided to completely stop, replacing my intake with a lesser volume of decaf. I had no adverse effects except a little sleepiness. Continuing to consume coffee, even decaf, satisfied part of my brain that craved the flavor.

    In the case of Mt Dew, the distinctive flavor is from orange juice concentrate, so you might try mixing club soda and orange juice?

    Best of luck.

  • Jim

    Did you try it?

  • Christian Thomassen

    Well, the situation is that after 1 week without caffeine, i’m very low on energy. The problem is that i have been ill for over 10 years and that has made me very inactive. After 10 years of being inactive i’m like always exhausted and no motivation what so ever to do anything. I will have to stop this experiment and go back to drink coffee again, besides, i don’t drink that much coffee to begin with, so i don’t have any needs for quitting coffee.

    Sorry if that was not what you expected, but that is the truth.

  • GreatInca

    You are saving yourself from diabetes for quitting soda too, if you don’t have it already, if you have it already you are saving yourself from blindness, rotting limb extremities, and kidney failure.

  • Angela Morales

    I started drinking caffeine because studies showed that it was good for your brain. So, I started drinking double expressos (which by the way has less caffeine than drinking two standard cups of coffee). I have always liked the taste of coffee but did not drink it. Well. I started to have symptoms. They were: head shaking, hand shaking irritability. I went to the doctor to ask about the head shaking and she said it was intention tremors, but I was not convinced since I did not have all the symptoms of the tremors, eg. no family history and other things. I did not realize that it was the caffeine. I soon developed floaters in my eyes. Although I am not sure the floaters were caused by the caffeine, I am mentioning it just in case someone has had a similar experience. Caffeine is a poison for me. I have weaned myself off the expressos and think twice before I have a cup of expresso/coffee.

    By the way, coffee had a wonderful side effect of helping me lose weight, in addition to thinking and talking faster. I lost about 10 hard to lose pounds and would have lost more if I had continued to drink it. Caffeine definitely has appetite depressing properties. I combined the drinking of caffeine with exercise and I couldn’t believe how fast the weight came off. I am 120 lbs now whereas I weighed about 130 for the longest time.

  • Ghandi

    I’m probably “hypo sensitive” per that article, but I do believe that is just one of many spectrums, as the article also suggests. Coffee ice cream was my favorite flavor as a child. I drank my Mom’s coffee and was hanging out at coffee shops by 14 years and drinking coffee.

    I too have been inactive for about 10 years, and just this year have been able to get a bit more active.. do more regular activities and not be horribly fatigued after. It’s a process, I’m working my way back up. I think in part it’s because my body became so acidic from how much coffee I drank for most of my life. I also believe I had major deficiencies in vitamin D, K, magnesium, and based on my leg cramps possibly potassium and other minerals as well.

    I’ve cut down on coffee the past few years and I believe this has aided my energy recovery. I may have been using caffeine as a way to cope with mild but persistent depression. Unfortunately after about ten years, I don’t believe coffee was effective as boosting my mood/ euphoria, and I have only been foggy if I don’t drink it.

    Day three No Coffee has passed. Day 2 was the worst physically. Day 3 the worst (so far) emotionally. Coffee has been very comforting for me, the smell, the taste, the warmth. I am drinking a lot of black bean soup to try to compensate for some of the properties of coffee and it even alievated my headache day 1 and much of day 2.

    Good luck whatever you decided to do. And do what works for you. (but you did come to a caffeine quit site, so feel free to consider other options that might work better at some point in your life 🙂 All the Best to You!

  • Ghandi

    Very interesting observations! Thank you for sharing. I have posted more of my story in response to others (see above or below 🙂 But thanks for mentioning the floaters thing. I have terrible floaters and have since I was a teenager. I am also nearsighted, which I hear is ‘a thing.’ But I will consider how my floaters may change (if that’s possible) now that I quit coffee (3 days ago). I too drank doppio italianos (espresso with just a splash of hot water to “keep” the shots more flavorful) and after a previous “quit” have only one doppio a day, compared to in the past I drank much much more. I feel that the coffee has been harder and harder on my body, even though it’s the one thing that gets me going in the AM.

    I’ve never had tremors of any kind, but scary to hear about. You may be more constitutionally sensitive to caffeine.

    Might I suggest keeping with the gym routine (if it makes you feel good) but eat a nice treat like frozen blueberries or a peach before you go!

  • Ghandi

    How are you doing now Cindy? I see this was a month ago, so my advice is prolly moot. But I’d stay at 6-7 cans for a couple weeks at least before dropping more. I get fever when I quit coffee, along with headaches, joint aches, nausea, fogggggg, listlessness, can’t think, don’t know how to start anything.. I have vomited when I quit another time cold turkey, back then I drank 8 double espressos to get through my AM coffee shift.
    Mountain dew has serious amounts of caffeine. I’m so glad you are quitting, but hope you are okay. 🙂 Tell us how you are.

  • Ghandi

    Oh man, sorry to hear it lasted that long! How far along were you when your headaches subsided? Yea, after the physical addiction is breaking up, then emotional addiction comes out to mess with you. Stay strong. You will find better happiness without soda addiction, don’t let it sweet talk you, it’s not a good “relationship.” 😉

  • Ghandi

    Thanks Ted, this site was a beam of light in my darkness. It also made me feel that it was okay to sip a small amount of green tea on day 2 of my cold turkey quit. I felt like I was hit by a truck and had a fever of 102 degrees, if I hadn’t read your site about the blood vessels enlarging, I probably wouldn’t have allowed myself the green tea and would have suffered more than was necessary/ healthy-even while quitting. I would also recommend to people drinking other hot drinks, the warmth is comforting if you are used to coffee. Specifically I have been drinking black bean soup, something about beans and warmth, which helped tremendously. I used Dr. McDougalls brand, the spices also were nice substitute to coffee, you just add water and nuke for 2 minutes. I know Nile spice makes a similar product. I have quit coffee a number of times out of necessity, but I hope to not re-addict this time.

  • Jeff Jeske

    Still haven’t given in… took a full 60 days for the headaches to go away. However I still crave soda every day. It’s brutal.

  • Guest

    Yes but can you go for week without drinking it without symptoms?

  • RandPaul

    You are one of a few…I read what you wrote and chuckled…So if all of this has “NO” affect..then why waste the time and money? I only drink coffee for the result of everything listed in this article, and then I end up needing so much…it is ridiculous. This is the umpteenth time I have tried to quit. Day 4 now. Lots of pain.

  • RandPaul

    I really want to thank the creators of this site…..AWESOME.

  • Ted

    You’re welcome! Glad you find our site useful.

  • blindanddumb

    this very clear and simple description of the addiction dynamic can be applied to all drugs you can smoke crack or use heroin with out any adverse affects as long as you never use habitually, this means never increasing the effective dose. but of course if you do fall into habitual use it can destroy your life so im not recommending it. also as was stated in the article it is very difficult to return to normal relations with a substance that you have used habitually in the past.

  • Rick Coll

    I hadn’t noticed, until reading about caffeine tolerance, that actually I was getting more and more tolerant to it. My morning doses of coffee were progressively enlarging and yet that feeling of dysphoria that appears when I wake up didn’t seem to go away anymore so efficiently as before. Then, I decided to go cold turkey, and sporadic mild headaches started. Let’s see what’s going to happen after a few days; I just hope tolerance decreases and coffee gets me euphoric again.

  • Sadegh Tarkibi

    This site is very informative and I’ve learned a lot about the Caffeine
    awesome man, keep it up

  • Ted

    So glad we could help!

  • Livid

    This site saves life.

Last Modified: November 16, 2017

References

  • 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