April 07, 2023

How to Manage Caffeine Withdrawal

caffeine withdrawal headache

American adults consume an average of 200 mg of caffeine daily (the equivalent of two five-ounce cups of coffee), and many people can tolerate twice that amount with no ill effects. 


If you enjoy beverages containing caffeine, you know it’s effective in increasing alertness and reducing fatigue. That’s because it’s a central nervous system stimulant that affects nerve activity in the brain. 


If you consume caffeine regularly, you probably also understand that your body has become used to it. And you know that if you cut back on your intake, you’ll experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms. 


This article identifies those symptoms and provides recommendations for coping as your body adjusts.  


9 Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Cutting your caffeine intake rapidly can affect your body in several ways. Nine of the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms are:


  1. Headache. This is often the first symptom people notice when reducing their caffeine consumption. Caffeine causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, slowing blood flow. Experts believe that if you stop consuming it, your blood vessels expand, blood flow accelerates, and the added pressure gives you a caffeine withdrawal headache. 
  2. Anxiety. People who abruptly stop consuming caffeine may experience anxiety. It’s thought there are physiological and psychological reasons for this reaction. Anxiety can be particularly intense if your caffeine is accompanied by sugar (as an addition to coffee, in soda, etc.).
  3. Sleepiness. Caffeine provides an energy boost by blocking receptors for a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which makes you drowsy. If you stop consuming caffeine, those receptors are no longer blocked, and you feel the effects of adenosine. 
  4. Irritability. Caffeine has a positive impact on energy levels and mood. You may feel grumpy if you cut back or even delay your first cup of the day. 
  5. Nausea. Some people experience an upset stomach when they reduce their caffeine consumption.
  6. Tremors. Consuming caffeine can cause tremors in people who aren’t used to it or get more than usual. But it can have the same effect in people who enjoy coffee, soda, or energy drinks regularly and then curtail or stop their consumption. 
  7. Trouble concentrating. Caffeine increases excitatory brain chemicals like adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine, and dopamine. Cutting back can make it difficult to focus. 
  8. Depressed mood. Caffeine decreases drowsiness and increases alertness and feelings of well-being. Abstaining has the opposite effect, which can leave you sad or depressed.
  9. Low energy. If you rely on caffeine to boost your energy, the lack of it in your system can cause you to feel lethargic. 

Tips for Reducing or Avoiding Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

People considering reducing their caffeine intake often wonder, “How long does caffeine withdrawal last?” Every person’s experience is unique, but symptoms generally begin between 12 and 24 hours after the reduction and can last up to nine days. 


Consequently, it’s helpful to know how to lessen or prevent them. These actions can help:


  • Reduce your intake slowly. Allowing your body to adapt to a gradual change can minimize the intensity of your symptoms. For example, some coffee drinkers will start by mixing caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. 
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause headaches and fatigue, so it’s essential to drink plenty of water as you cut back on caffeine.
  • Bump up your energy level in other ways. You can combat low energy by eating nutrient-dense foods and getting regular exercise. 
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques. Reducing your caffeine intake can be stressful. Deep breathing, prayer, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can counteract stress.
  • Get adequate sleep. Being well-rested in the morning increases your energy level and decreases daytime drowsiness. 
  • Take pain relievers as directed. Using over-the-counter medication can help reduce headache pain.

Get Help with Caffeine Withdrawal from Baptist Health

If you’re concerned about caffeine withdrawal, your Baptist Health doctor is an excellent source of information on how to address it. They can provide advice and may also encourage you to talk with a nutritionist. 


If you don’t have a Baptist Health physician, you can find one using our online provider search tool.

Learn More.