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?

Get Help Quitting Caffeine

Reduce your caffeine intake without pain and discomfort.

See our new 10-step plan
  • Kat

    I have never been a coffee drinker. I occasionally drink tea but even that I haven’t been doing much of lately. I’m starting a beginning workout schedule I want to have coffee on the M W F around 2 pm (hoping to still feel energized after work at 5:30 when i do my workouts) these are the days I do my HITs. Will I develop a tolerance or is this a sustainable way to use coffee? I’m very nervous about coffee because I don’t want to forge a dependence.

  • Ted

    Not having it everyday should combat tolerance formation. You may want to stick to a small coffee as more than 150 mg of caffeine at that time of the day, may interfere with your sleep, especially since you have no built up tolerance to it. Let us know how it goes.

  • Kat

    Thanks for the thought! I will let you know how it goes! My schedule has already been messed up this week though UGH. When I drink the coffee it’s like a teaspoon or less of instant coffee in a coffee cup with milk. I don’t know how it translate in mg… lol but does that sound like a small amount?

  • Chase Blakeley

    “If you use low caffeine amount, tolerance doesn’t start”
    Does this mean drinking 1 cup of green tea does not impact tolerance?

    For reference, this is my caffeine schedule (coffee is home brewed, 10 oz.):
    Mon – none
    Tues – coffee in the AM, bulletproof green tea around 3 pm
    Wed – coffee in the AM, bulletproof green tea around 3 pm
    Thurs – none
    Fri – coffee in the AM
    Sat – coffee in the AM
    Sun – none

    I’m wondering if I could drink green tea on my “off” days without increasing my tolerance. I use the coffee kick for working out.

    Also, what is a “reverse tolerance”?

  • Chase Blakeley

    Wait, so if I limit myself to cup of coffee a day, I won’t develop a tolerance to caffeine?

  • Ted

    No, a cup of coffee a day will lead to tolerance, but a cup every other day or every three days will likely not.

  • Chase Blakeley

    What about a cup of green tea everyday? (similar to my other question below)

  • Ted

    It could work, but green tea varies greatly in caffeine. some brands have as much as black tea so be aware of that. See the chart here. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/green-tea

  • priscillaxoxoxox

    I’m on day 7 of my detox. I feel like I’m dying still. Headaches, muscle twitches, vomiting.
    It’s terrible people. Cold Turkey is some
    Serious business.

  • OK C

    I can’t believe you compared caffeine and smoking addictions. Speaking as someone who smokes and used to drink an average of 5 cups coffee per day, I don’t even classify the latter as an addiction.

  • Mhm. Hate to break it to people, but yes, caffeine is a drug. Just like nicotine, cocaine, or heroin. Just because it’s legal or not as severe of a drug doesn’t mean you won’t get withdraw, addiction, etc. It’s a reason I rarely consume caffeine.

  • Joe

    I am on day 2. So are you out of it yet?

  • priscillaxoxoxox

    My migraines are gone, but it’s been a good 16 days since I’ve had a cup of coffee or a soda. Honestly it took about the whole two weeks to recover. I’m still light headed that is leading to headaches still. But they are much smaller. Just one small asprine can take it away sometimes. But I did have a chocolate so I think that’s why my headache came back. My body really wants caffeine.

  • priscillaxoxoxox

    So it’s been three LONG weeks since I stopped caffeine. And my headaches are GONE. Ugh. Whoever said you need two or three days to recover, no, sorry to say, but I would tell someone they need about a month to recover. I’m now facing random sleepiness throughout the day, but I don’t mind a nap. Anyway, I love this.

  • franky

    So, I have been consuming a steadied amount of caffeine for nearly four years, almost every day. I thought I was addicted, but I’m not having withdrawals, or maybe my sinuses acting up are just hiding them. I’m on my second day, and it feels odd to not be drinking soda with caffeine. What’s going on? Does depression dampen the affects of caffeine? And because of my extended “use” of caffeine, how long would it take before it’s completely flushed out of my system?

  • Ted

    It seems like your lack of withdrawal has to do with your caffeine sensitivity level. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours but you probably process it much faster.
    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-sensitivity
    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/the-half-life-of-caffeine

  • Joe

    My headaches were gone after the second day. It is amazing that I spent 10 years drinking 5 liters of soda a day, and all it needed was 2 days. I spent the next month just wanting it, thinking about it. But now I guess I am fully out of it, 40 days later.

  • Chase Blakeley

    How much caffeine in mg is needed to further compound tolerance?

    For example, if you consumed 200mg of caffeine one day and only 25mg of caffeine the next day, would the 25mg be enough to notice reduced effects on the third day of consumption?

    I realize there are multiple factors to consider, but I’m specifically curious about the impact of consuming low levels of caffeine on tolerance. (I want to enjoy green tea on “off” days without reducing caffeine effects for heavier consumption days)

  • Ted

    You could try this strategy and see. Usually the threshold for effect is 30-40 mg in most people. Let us know how it works.

  • Mitch

    Just last night I had 2 espresso shots, and within an hour I was feeling tired. Just before I had a regularly sized coffee too. My tolerance might be too high…
    I have 1-3 cups of coffee a day depending on the situation, if it’s offered I take it.

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