With a Starbucks on every other street corner and the growing popularity of energy drinks, it’s really no surprise that caffeine is extremely common in the average American diet.
Caffeine is a plant-based compound that is most notably naturally present in coffee and tea. This ingredient known for giving energy and mental clarity. Approximately half of Americans drink coffee at least once daily and roughly 80% of adults consume some type of caffeine drink every day. Coffee, energy drinks and other caffeinated drinks are often thought of as a traditional morning beverage.
Unfortunately caffeine can have significant side effects and is very addictive in nature.
Common Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawals
Caffeine addiction is no joke. It is a recognized addiction and in the DSM-5 manual. This manual is approved by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is an acronym for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition).
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person but generally the following are signs you have an addiction.
- Headaches: Headaches are easily the most common symptom you are experiencing withdrawals. These headaches can vary from mild to severe and typically feel like they are behind the eyes. Some people begin to experience headaches from lack of caffeine if they go just a few hours without a cup of coffee.
- Insomnia: Insomnia is a common complaint. As your body struggles with the lack of caffeine you may have difficulty sleeping or staying asleep. This in itself is frustrating and can lead to the third withdrawal symptom.
- Lethargy and Drowsiness: If your body has been relying on caffeine as a source of energy you can feel very tired and sleepy when you stop drinking it. These symptoms are physical as well as psychological. This will pass, but it may take up to a few weeks.
- Sensitivity and Irritability: Another common symptom of those going through withdrawals are mood swings. Typically people will feel irritable and may be emotionally sensitive, meaning they may get upset or annoyed easily.
- Depression: Depression can happen for those going through severe withdrawals. You may feel sad and not interested in doing anything. This symptom often happens in those who are also experiencing lethargy. This is very common when detoxing for substances you have a true addiction to.
- Cold and Flu Symptoms: This symptom is characterized by having a stuffy nose, muscles aches and stiffness, nausea and feeling like your head is “fuzzy”.
- Difficulty Concentrating: Feeling fuzzy can also cause you to have problems concentrating at work, in school and just around the house. If you have severe withdrawals with this symptom you should probably take a day or two off to just relax. Start cutting back on a Friday so that the symptoms come on during the weekend when you have time to deal with them.
You may experience only one or two symptoms or all of these. Generally withdrawals will begin within 12 to 24 hours of not having caffeine. Typically they will last anywhere from a week to a couple months before they totally diminish.
Tips for Fighting Caffeine Withdrawals
If you have a caffeine addiction there really is no way to completely avoid having them. There are however some steps you can take to diminish them and help you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
- Weaning Yourself from Caffeine vs. Going Cold Turkey
If you suspect you’re going to have strong withdrawals you should consider weaning yourself off of caffeine slowly rather than just stopping at once. To do this simply drink less and less every day until you are no longer consuming any of it. A one week weaning period is much easier on the body.
- Increase Your Water Consumption
Caffeinated drinks are dehydrating so if you are a big consumer of them you are probably dehydrated at some level. It is especially important during withdrawals that you drink plenty of water. Aim for 8 cups of water spaced out throughout the day. Try adding some lemon or frozen fruit to infuse flavor into your water if you find it difficult to drink.
- Avoid Overly Sugary, Salty and Fatty Foods
It is really tempting to turn to junk food to help you feel better while you are detoxing from caffeine. Be very careful of using sugary foods or those high in fats and salts as a way of distracting yourself. Loading up on junk food is just going to make you feel worse during this period of time and leave you with another bad habit to break.
- Get Some Exercise
Exercise is often the last thing you want to do when you feel crummy but it will make you feel better in the long run. There are 2 ways exercise will make your withdrawals easier: 1) it will distract you, and 2) it will give you a boost of energy. Lack of energy is a common symptom and just going for a quick walk will refresh you.
- Replace Caffeine with a New (Healthy) Habit
Similarly to how chewing gum can help a smoker, adding a healthy beverage to your diet that replaces the caffeinated beverage can be helpful. De-caffeinated tea, a cup of sugar-free orange juice, a smoothie or fruit-infused water are all good options. You may also try sparkling water if it’s the carbonation in energy drinks that you miss.
Coffee, soda, energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages can be a treat rather than a daily beverage, although this is a personal decision. If you feel like you aren’t as healthy as you should be or experience headaches, jitteriness or anxiety, you should consider stopping your caffeine habit.