Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms: Top Fifteen
Caffeine withdrawal is no laughing matter and can be very debilitating for those who are suddenly without caffeine.
If you are or have been an avid coffee, tea, or energy drink consumer then you are aware of how addictive caffeinated beverages can be.
Just a few hours after missing your scheduled dose the caffeine withdrawal symptoms start to set in.
Here are the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms. You’ll be comforted to know that you aren’t really dying but just detoxing from the caffeine.
Even if you aren’t normally a habitual caffeine drinker, you may experience negative symptoms when quitting caffeine even if you only consumed it for a few days in a row.
Top 15 Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
A caffeine headache usually starts behind the eyes and then moves up the front of the head.
This just isn’t your normal tiredness, this is sitting up straight but still can’t keep your eyes open tiredness.
Everyone and everything gets on your last nerve. It’s best just to lock yourself in your room during this stage.
Forget about productivity at this stage because you’ll be unmotivated to do anything from the sudden drop in your dopamine levels.
Caffeine stimulates the bowel, so without it, the colon gets a little cranky too.
Caffeine withdrawal can take away all hope for living. Temporary blues are one thing, but if you already struggle with depression this could be a big issue.
- Muscle Pain, Stiffness, Cramping
Since caffeine has pain-relieving qualities, muscle pain will become very noticeable.
- Lack of Concentration
Forget school, studying, brain surgery, or jet engine repair during this stage of withdrawal.
- Flu-like symptoms
A stuffy nose, blocked sinuses, and sinus pressure have all been reported by people withdrawing from caffeine.
Some people actually can’t sleep when going through caffeine withdrawal even though physically they feel super tired.
- Nausea and Vomiting
Some people can’t even think about food the first few days of withdrawal which compounds the feeling of lethargy.
In some people, caffeine actually causes anxiety, but in others, withdrawing from the drug can cause feelings of anxiety and panic attacks have even been reported by some.
- Brain Fog
Withdrawal can cause some people to experience brain fog which is described as the difficulty of having coherent thoughts, difficulty thinking, and the difficulty of doing common tasks.
Caffeine withdrawal can cause some people to lose their sense of equilibrium and experience vertigo.
- Heart Rhythm Abnormalities
Since caffeine also stimulates the heart muscle, some people experience changes in their heart rhythm during withdrawal. Both low blood pressure and even palpitations have been reported.
Detoxing is No Laughing Matter
Caffeine withdrawal is a very unpleasant experience, to say the least.
The symptoms of withdrawal usually last a few days to two weeks for light caffeine consumers but can last 2 months or more for those that had been consuming around 1,000 mg or more daily. However, even for the most addicted, the worst symptoms subside after about a week’s time.
Even after the withdrawal period is over, many still feel never quite as good as they did when they were drinking caffeine all of the time. Some believe that caffeine permanently alters one’s brain chemistry. This is most likely due to the changes that occur with dopamine levels in the brain because of the daily caffeine use.
Caffeine CAN be Addictive
How addicted to caffeine are you?
You can take our Caffeine Addiction Diagnosis Quiz to see where you rank. This may explain why your caffeine withdrawal has been so rough.
Human beings can be addicted to anything – including caffeine. Whether dependency or addiction, the reality is that for many, stopping caffeine consumption is very difficult.
Whether you should quit or not depends on how your caffeine habit is affecting your health, your relationships, and the people around you.
For some people, their regular coffee/caffeine habit may not affect any of those things and quitting need not be necessary.
The Science of Withdrawal
- Caffeine is addictive because the molecule itself fits so perfectly into our brain’s adenosine receptors.
- Adenosine is responsible for telling the brain when it is time to rest or sleep.
- Since these receptors are blocked with caffeine molecules, dopamine (the feel-good chemical) works more efficiently. The excess adenosine signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which further perpetuates the feeling of alertness.
- Over time, the brain adds more adenosine receptors to compensate for the caffeine, which causes a “tolerance” to build-up to the caffeine molecule.
- When a person misses or decides to quit their usual caffeine dosage, the brain is then flooded with adenosine, and dopamine levels drop drastically causing the brain’s chemistry to be out of balance.
- The increased adenosine plus a drop in adrenaline and dopamine levels lead to many of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms listed above.
Easing The Symptoms
For those that are going through caffeine withdrawal, there are a few things that can be done to ease the symptoms and allow for more productivity.
- Gradually ease back
If you are consciously giving up caffeine, then gradually wean yourself off of caffeine as opposed to going cold turkey. We recommend Wean Caffeine as a systematic and precise way to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption to zero over a 30 day period (Disclosure: Wean Caffeine is something we helped get to market).
- Take pain relievers
Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol can help ease headaches and muscle pain symptoms associated with withdrawal.
- Drink plenty of water
Staying well hydrated is key during the withdrawal process and will help you feel better.
- Get plenty of rest
It’s helpful to plan for your withdrawal during a weekend or a time when productivity isn’t a necessity. Sleeping a lot the first day or two is pretty common.
Most people won’t feel like exercising, but it will actually make you feel better. Exercise causes the release of dopamine, which is now in short supply in the absence of caffeine. You’ll need all the dopamine you can get, so get moving.
- Eating healthily
Improving your diet will help. Eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit will provide your body with the nutrition it needs thus delivering natural energy and promoting a more positive frame of mind.
In any event, just remember that withdrawing from caffeine is hard and takes time.
Soon you’ll be caffeine-free and will be able to experience life without the daily influence of caffeine.
Real Stories of Withdrawal
We interviewed people trying to give up caffeine – read the full interviews here.
Here’s a few quotes from others. Remember you are not alone in your experience.
NOTE: It can be very difficult to attribute caffeine as the reason for many symptoms, it certainly is in the mix in some way.
Low energy and irritability
I gave up caffeine one week ago after my anxiety symptoms started having too much of an impact on my everyday life, panic attacks, insomnia, dizziness and the like, and I thought that giving up caffeine may be a good thing to do to help with these unpleasant symptoms. So far I have been completely exhausted, (even after choosing to start on a week when I’m off work) I feel “low” have absolutely no energy, irritable, over worrying about everything. Although I feel sad that you’re all going through similar things, it makes me feel better to know that it’s not just me.
The long haul
A ‘cold-turkey’ withdrawal after many years of caffeine consumption.
The first 2- 2 1/2 weeks I could not focus for the life of me. At work and for an exam I was studying for. Spoiler alert: I failed it. I would read things over again and they wouldn’t sink in. My brain was in a constant dreamlike fog. It was terrible. But those severe (as I call them) symptoms have mostly gone away. I think I’m still riding the tail end of this so-called caffeine withdraw. I’m about 3-4 weeks now (?) could be five. Everyone will have different experiences and times that it will last. I’m 30 and I’ve been drinking sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc. most of my life. About 7 months ago I quit sodas and would only drink coffee, water, and tea. After quitting coffee cold turkey, that’s when all hell broke loose.
[Some months later…] I just wanted to say I’m back to normal! I’ve been caffeine free since. I just want people to know that it is going to be ok and they will get through it even though the road is long and the dream like feeling, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, all will go away over time. I wish you all luck!
Out of it, disconnected, and dreamlike
Every person’s experience is different. These are anecdotal stories, and symptoms may or may not be directly caused by caffeine withdrawal. If in doubt, go see your doctor.
I stopped drinking coffee, then one morning I felt completely out of it, disconnected, dreamlike. I had trouble retaining information, focusing, it was like my conscious mind was constantly clouded or like I was looking at life through a veil. There were days where I had anxiety attacks and I felt the fight or flight kick in. Another day I had a breakdown. It was like I was detoxing from a severe drug. I never felt like this before. After about two weeks it got much less severe. I’m almost to 2 1/2 weeks and I feel like I’m getting better but not 100% relief. But, I definitely can function basically normally, but for that first week and part of the 2nd week, it was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. It was so jarring that I went to see a doctor.
- Juliano, L. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (2004). A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychopharmacology, 176(1), 1-29. Study
- Silverman, K., Evans, S. M., Strain, E. C., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Withdrawal syndrome after the double-blind cessation of caffeine consumption. New England Journal of Medicine, 327(16), 1109-1114. Study pdf
- Rogers, P. J., Heatherley, S. V., Mullings, E. L., & Smith, J. E. (2013). Faster but not smarter: effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on alertness and performance. Psychopharmacology, 226(2), 229-240. Study
- Budney, A. J., Brown, P. C., Griffiths, R. R., Hughes, J. R., & Juliano, L. M. (2013). Caffeine withdrawal and dependence: a convenience survey among addiction professionals. Journal of caffeine research, 3(2), 67-71. Study
- Lack, L., & Johannson, K. (2013). Caffeine withdrawal: Cost or benefit?. Sleep Medicine, 14, e53. Study