Coffee addicts and caffeine abusers of the world … let it be known that I sympathize with your plight.
I’m pretty sure my coffee addiction started when I was at University. No matter how hard I worked, it seemed like there was always some project or test that was keeping me up late at night. Then I would have to be up early in the morning and at least semi-coherent for classes.
Giving up coffee wasn’t even a thought for me back then, though. At that age, my body could shrug off almost anything. And drinking copious amounts of coffee did pull me through a couple of rough patches.
As I matured and entered into my professional career, however, I began to notice the negative effects coffee, and caffeinated drinks in general. I started to see how it was affecting my overall performance in a very pronounced way.
If you are a heavy coffee drinker, you might not have considered what I’m about to tell you, but just take a moment to reflect on it and see if it rings true.
When I first began my working life, I regularly drank coffee every morning. A couple of cups with (or in lieu of) breakfast and I was on my way. After a while, however, I began losing my caffeine buzz pretty quickly and I started adding a mid-morning coffee. Soon I really needed two caffeine doses per day to keep myself energized and keep the brain fog away.
Later, I reached the point where I would crash right after lunch if I didn’t have a coffee at that point too. I was even adding a late afternoon coffee into the mix.
Everything seemed okay, but I started noticing that my quality of sleep was greatly diminished. Sometimes I would wake up at three in the morning, feeling drowsy but incapable of going back to sleep. And even when I did sleep the night through, I didn’t feel refreshed in the morning. It took me a while to figure it out, but what I realized was that vicious cycle had set in: I had to have coffee to feel awake because the endless caffeine consumption that was destroying my sleep at night.
I saw that I needed to give up coffee and reset myself back to a healthy baseline.
You might be wondering how long withdrawal from caffeine lasts? That depends on your level of addiction, but sometimes the symptoms can go on for up to a week. Most addiction professionals recommend a gradual step-down method to mitigate these effects. Either begin by substituting decaffeinated drinks into your regular routine, or work in an alternative with less caffeine than what you usually consume. For example, begin substituting tea for coffee.
However, even with dialing things back gradually, you will still experience some withdrawal symptoms when giving up coffee. Only, they will not be as severe as what you would encounter by going cold turkey. As you step down, be aware that you may experience the following and always keep in mind that they are just temporary conditions:
- Headaches: This is the most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal.
- Irritability: When you feel yourself starting to get annoyed, just relax and remind yourself that you’re just going through withdrawal.
Drowsiness: This can be the kind of sleepiness where it doesn’t seem like you can keep your eyes open.
Brain fog: Accomplishing even simple tasks will seem to take a huge effort.
Lack of focus: Your mind will tend to stray from one item to the next.
Lethargy: When you’re drowsy, irritable, dealing with brain fog and can’t focus, you usually don’t feel like doing anything active or productive.
Constipation: Caffeine is a powerful diuretic, so you might have a re-adjustment period.
Flu-like symptoms: Those going through caffeine withdrawal sometimes experience sinus problems.
Insomnia: As your body adjusts, you might experience a couple of nights of bad sleep.
Anxiety: You may feel a little nervous when cutting such a fixture out of your life
Heart Rhythm Abnormalities: Caffeine causes changes in your heart rhythm, so you might feel a little fluttery at times as you re-adjust.
In some cases, caffeine withdrawal can even lead to mild depression. Keep in mind that this is not “Depression,” as in clinical depression. It is more like a low energy state characterized by generally negative or pessimistic thoughts.
Like all of the rest of caffeine’s withdrawal symptoms, however, this cranky mood does go away in a few days. (If it doesn’t, then consult your physician). That is really the most difficult aspect of quitting caffeine that people experience. They imagine that the way they feel when they don’t have their morning coffee will continue for the rest of their lives.
That is simply not the case, however. In fact, after you get past a couple of lousy days, you will start to feel better than you have in a long time. Your adrenal glands will be able to reset, and the level of stress hormones in your system will drop. You will feel more relaxed and focused and energized than you ever did while you were a coffee drinker.“...after you get past a couple of lousy days, you will start to feel better than you have in a long… Click To Tweet
Considering these withdrawal symptoms, though, it is not advisable to just hop out of bed tomorrow morning and stop drinking coffee—thinking that any bad effects will pass in a few days. Most addiction experts recommend a gradual, but programmed step down method. In other words, decrease your coffee intake on a schedule that you stick to until finally, you don’t drink coffee at all.
For some personalities, however, this gradual weaning simply doesn’t work. These coffee drinkers know that they will never stop unless they just rip the band-aid off all at once. If you do go this route, though, do it sensibly. Don’t show up at work Monday morning freshly off the coffee train. The results could potentially be disastrous.
Instead, take a Friday off, or maybe wait for a long holiday weekend, to get started in a relatively calm environment. Remember that you are likely going to be cranky that first day without your caffeine. And you will probably wake up the second morning feeling sluggish and with a mild headache. Day three is about the same. By day four, the caffeine is out of your system and you’re feeling better. And after 10 days, you’ll be wondering why you had ever bothered with coffee in the first place.