5 People Tried Quitting Caffeine: Here’s What Happened

Caffeine can have health benefits, but for some people the negatives can outweigh these gains. For many, the best option is to quit caffeine completely. This can be challenging, in no small part due to the withdrawal effects that kick in the moment consumption starts to drop.

We reached out to some caffeine quitters to get their story. Note that all names have been changed to protect privacy.

Some health issues are very difficult to self-diagnose – particularly fatigue, anxiety, and gastrointestinal upset. Caffeine can be a factor that may well exacerbate these symptoms, and – in some people – could even be a cause.

Sue J, 40, Research lawyer and office worker

Why Did You Quit?
Stress, anxiety, fatigue, awareness of dependence. I tend towards anxiety and may have developed a sensitivity to caffeine over the years and by serial quitting. Its [caffeine] inconstant usefulness in getting me through the day is counterproductive to helping me live the life I want. I am not inclined to ingest caffeine in moderation.

How Did You Quit?
Cold turkey each time, otherwise I slide.

Replacement Drinks?
My caffeine comes via Coke Zero, mochas (coffee with chocolate), plain coffee on rarer occasions, and black tea. I don’t formally substitute, but I drink a lot more water, and herbal tea.

How Are You Now?
I’m on day 11 of my most recent quit, which coincided with a bad cold/flu, so I basically slept for 3 days.  Am still maybe more fatigued than usual, and having some brain fog which might just be anxiety, but feeling pretty good.  I’ve gone months at a time before, so feel confident this will go well.  The risk is about “just having one” or “just one coke Zero day” which turns into weeks, because after all, “it’s just caffeine”.  I know my triggers – the dayjob I hate or, conversely, “celebrating” free time: as my #1 healthy lifestyle factor, staying off caffeine is about maintaining a resolve to be my best self.

6 Months and Counting

Simon Wilson, 36, occupation withheld

Why Did You Quit?
I was having symptoms – feeling lightheaded / dizzy each day after having caffeine (possibly anxiety, although I’ve never thought of myself as being anxious.) I’d been drinking coffee for about 7 years fairly heavily. I thought previously caffeine / coffee was a good thing, but in retrospect, I think  other symptoms developed over the years from too much caffeine as well, including gastrointestinal issues and sleep problems.

How Did You Quit?
I first quit cold turkey and then felt as if I had the flu for a week or two. I actually misinterpreted this by thinking that my prior symptoms were due to the flu, not caffeine, so I went back to having coffee at a restricted amount (1-2 per day). I was better for a little while but then noticed the same symptoms continuing. (In retrospect, the lower dose of caffeine was probably treating the symptoms of withdrawal partially.)

Replacement Drinks?
I drink hot water or sparkling flavored water.

How Are You Now?
I’m now at almost 7 months completely off caffeine and feeling mostly better, although I experienced symptoms over most of this 6-month period including dizziness, fatigue, sleepiness, etc. Now these symptoms are mostly abating, and I think I am close to feeling my normal self again. I don’t intend to ever go back to caffeine, after having seen the severe effects withdrawal can have. A big help has been the forum comments on Caffeine Informer (Editors note: find these comments here), which has helped me realize that this is indeed due to caffeine and not another medical problem.

Green Tea Replacement

Janine, 40-something, Childcare support staff

Why Did You Quit?
My stomach chose to quit for me as I was becoming nauseous from drinking coffee (and quit gluten the week before for the same reason).

How Did You Quit?
I quit coffee cold turkey, didn’t really have a choice, and switched to green tea.

Replacement Drinks?
Went from about 32 oz coffee per day to 64 oz a day of tea and having horrible headaches, migraines and nausea. I am somewhat surprised as I had some flexibility with when I drank my coffee as long as I got it in, rarely used to have headaches. Tea is like nothing, not helping at all.

How Are You Now?
Just one week into it but again I don’t think I have a choice to go back so I have to go forward… I miss coffee lol.

Zero Tolerance


Juliana, 35, Library assistant

Why Did You Quit?
I quit because of a sudden and severe reaction that I one day developed to all stimulants. Including cocoa.

How Did You Quit?
Quitting was an immediate response due to the abrupt negative physical reaction caused from consuming the smallest amount of caffeine

Replacement Drinks?
No replacements, went cold turkey.

How Are You Now?
Over 5 years ago I had to stop consuming caffeine. I still miss the taste of coffee and the good feelings I felt drinking it. Yet, the physical reaction to it now is terrifying and dangerous.

Compounding Health Issues

Mark Senior, 49, Aerospace engineer

Why Did You Quit?
I first tried quitting 9 years ago as I was becoming very addicted and started having IBS symptoms. I was okay initially but about 2 month into it I got very loud tinnitus, stiffness in my neck, panic attacks, muscle weakness and pain.

I saw many doctors then and in spite of me asking they did not connect it with caffeine withdrawal. If your site already existed then I was not aware of it. I got desperate and started drinking coffee even more than before. I got better but never quite ok. I continued seeing doctors and was given thyroid supplements which eventually made me sicker (got hyperthyroid symptoms) and was finally told to discontinue it. I continued to feel poorly however with IBS, fatigue, moderate tinnitus, leg muscle weakness and neck stiffness and finally in 2017 decided that I would make another attempt at quitting caffeine.

How Did You Quit?
I started my withdrawal gradually in January 2017  by quitting all caffeinated soda (drank about 2 cans a day) and switching my 2 morning coffee cups, which I probably brew very strong as I was the only consumer in the house, to instant coffee. I would still have about 3 regular cups at work later. After 3 months of this I started noticing that I am not recovering easily from physical activity (such as hiking and skiing). After I cut down a bit more on coffee in March 2017 and started to feel worse. In April 2017 I stopped drinking all caffeinated beverages and started to drink a lot of water. At that point I went into a full blown withdrawal.

Replacement Drinks?
Weaned down to just water.

How Are You Now?
I was doing doing relatively fine toward the end of 2017 with some residual muscle stiffness, neck mainly, and light brain fog. Then in winter 2018 I started skiing again and realized that it is was very hard for me to tolerate strenuous physical activity. In April 2018 I had a relapse of some of the worse withdrawal symptoms with return of IBS, heavy brain fog, fatigue, muscle weakness, and pain. I am also fairly sure that I became sensitive to gluten and had to eliminate it from my diet.

I have been trying to establish since then whether this is a continuation of my caffeine withdrawal or if there is some other underlying cause. I have been seeing endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, and neurologist and other than an general IBS diagnosis (no specific cause), and sub-clinical hypothyroidism (slightly elevated TSH levels but T3 and T4 normal) they have not found anything. Compared to peak withdrawal I feel much better but I am far from perfect. I attribute my present status to heavy doses of vitamin B-12, my levels went up from 400 to 600, and gluten free diet. I am still not sure if I can resume heavier physical activity.

What is Caffeine Withdrawal and What is Not?

According the research, caffeine withdrawal symptoms last from 2 to 9 days (source). However for some people, various symptoms continue for much longer than this. It could be that caffeine is masking other underlying health issues. Some conditions – such as (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) IBS – are a diagnosis of exclusion. No one really knows the precise causes, and caffeine could be exacerbating the issue.

For most of the population, coffee consumption in moderation presents no problems (this cannot be said about energy drinks however).

If you feel you need to quit caffeine – please see more on how to do this.

Written by James Foster, last updated on December 9, 2018