Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline

When taken in moderation, caffeine can enhance learning and memory and reduce the risk of depression, heart attack, diabetes, and many other diseases. A daily dose of caffeine helps gain focus and improves mood and concentration.

But what happens when you suddenly stop your caffeine intake? 

If you decide to give up the coffee-drinking habit, you can expect to experience a series of caffeine withdrawal symptoms. 

What is Caffeine Withdrawal?

Caffeine withdrawal occurs when the usual caffeine consumption is abruptly discontinued. Many people decide to cut their caffeine consumption for medical reasons or as a part of lifestyle change. Caffeine withdrawal is typical for individuals who consume too much caffeine. 

How Much Caffeine Should You Consume? 

According to health experts, this means consuming more than 600 mg daily, equivalent to four to six cups of coffee. The average American adult drinks two 5-ounce cups of coffee or around 200 mg of caffeine per day.

If you normally drink a cup or two of coffee every day, then you will probably not feel a significant difference when you miss a day of coffee drinking. But people who regularly consume 500 mg of caffeine or more over a long period of time will feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as they try to cut their intake.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

The body’s response to caffeine and caffeine tolerance vary from person to person. In people who are sensitive to caffeine, even moderate amounts can lead to insomnia, rapid heart rate, anxiety, and feelings of restlessness. 

Similarly, the side effects of breaking the caffeine habit largely depend on our physiology and sensitivity. While some people will feel only a slight malaise, others can become physically ill after quitting coffee or other caffeinated drinks. 

The length and severity of withdrawal symptoms depend on the quantity of caffeine the person is used to having. As can be expected, people who consume the most caffeine will usually suffer the worst side effects. 

Headache

The most commonly reported caffeine withdrawal symptom is a headache. It affects approximately half of those who quit caffeine. Even a small decrease in caffeine consumption increases blood flow to the brain and is enough to trigger a caffeine withdrawal headache.

Anxiety and depression

The body can easily become physically and psychologically dependent on caffeine. This dependence will lead to a feeling of anxiety when withdrawing from it. Anxiety and depression are particularly common in people who are used to consuming high doses of caffeine and who suddenly cut back on their intake.

Difficulties concentrating

Caffeine boosts the brain’s production of a neurochemical known as dopamine, which controls the ability to maintain concentration. Cutting back may cause difficulty in focusing on specific tasks.

Fatigue and sleepiness

Caffeine acts as a stimulant in the body and weaning off of it can make you feel tired and drowsy.

Other symptoms

Other common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, ranging from physical to mental and emotional ones, include: 

  • Brain fog, difficulty in following conversations and thinking clearly
  • Digestive symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Flu symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches
  • Irritability and nervousness
  • Reduced motivation
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Mood swings
  • Hot and cold spells
  • Impaired general cognition
  • Impaired motor skills

It is worth remembering that although caffeine withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, they are, for the most part, not dangerous. As soon as you go back to drinking coffee, the withdrawal symptoms will quickly dissipate. 

What Does Caffeine Withdrawal Feel Like?

Reddit user imover9000_ made a post while experiencing caffeine withdrawal. He said:

“Recently I’ve decided to cut out artificial juices and sodas from my diet and now I only drink bottles of water with my meals, My main problem is the sugar withdrawal I’m having, I get tons of headaches my body trembles I feel irritable and I’m extremely tempted to just chug a bottle of sprite out of desperation.” 

Many people chimed in to offer him their suggestions on the needadvice Subreddit.

The Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline and What to Expect

In the majority of cases, symptoms of caffeine withdrawal start within 12 to 24 hours after you have taken your last cup of coffee. In some cases, symptoms can take up to 36 hours to kick in. 

The withdrawal symptoms often peak and become the most intense after 2 days and can continue for up to 9 days.

If you have developed caffeine dependence, the adjustment period can be as long as several months. During this time you might continuously experience some of the typical caffeine withdrawal symptoms like brain fog and lethargy.

Just like caffeine tolerance, caffeine withdrawal timeline is individual and to a large extent influenced by the body’s ability to metabolize caffeine. It is determined by many factors like general health, age, weight, gender, nutrition, whether you smoke or drink, the medications you take, and even your genes. 

In addition, the caffeine withdrawal timeline greatly depends on whether you quit abruptly or gradually. Quitting caffeine cautiously will extend the withdrawal duration, but the symptoms will be less severe.

How To Go Through Caffeine Withdrawal

We have seen that caffeine withdrawal can be accompanied by many unpleasant symptoms and take a long time to overcome. 

Many people who want to cut down on caffeine often make the mistake of stopping abruptly. When they experience withdrawal symptoms, they go back to drinking caffeinated drinks or taking a headache medication containing caffeine to make the symptoms disappear. This inevitably creates a new dependency cycle. Avoiding withdrawal symptoms is, in fact, one of the most common reasons people continue their caffeine habit.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can get through the process faster and feel like your usual self again.

How to Wean Off Caffeine

One of the easiest ways to minimize or avoid the withdrawal symptoms altogether is by slowly cutting back on caffeine. You can start by swapping out 25% of regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee or caffeine replacements like chicory, carob, and mate. You can even stretch your cutback over the course of several weeks in order to avoid feeling the full withdrawal effects. 

Weaning yourself off caffeine by reducing the quantity consumed little by little will make it easier to cope with withdrawal. From a neuroscience perspective, taking small steps will give you enough time to rewire your brain to create new, healthier habits.

Here are a few other things that may help:

  • Drinking plenty of water because dehydration can make withdrawal symptoms worse.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers will help with any withdrawal headaches.
  • Getting enough sleep is essential for decreasing fatigue that you will usually feel when you stop consuming caffeine.

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Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.