What Is Caffeine Withdrawal? How to Stop Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms


What is Caffeine Withdrawal?

Caffeine withdrawal is a temporary reaction when a regular user of caffeine abruptly stops. Withdrawal symptoms can be reduced by tapering off gradually.

Caffeine is a stimulant and it can be chemically addictive. Although it doesn’t necessarily jeopardize health the same way other drugs do, it is possible to develop a dependence. Quitting caffeine abruptly, especially if you’ve been consuming two or more cups of coffee a day, can cause physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms. In fact, when it interferes with daily activities, caffeine intoxication and caffeine withdrawal are classified as mental disorders in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Withdrawal can occur with abstinence from daily doses as low as 100 mg a day.  However, the likelihood and severity of symptoms increases with higher amounts. There is even a genetic propensity toward caffeine withdrawal.  If someone in your family has experienced the effects, you might need to take extra precautions when cutting back.

Is Caffeine Addictive?

caffeine-withdrawal-symptomsCaffeine is considered to be addictive, although its use does not carry the disruptive consequences of more serious drug abuse.  Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system.  Regular use of caffeine does cause mild physical dependence. But caffeine doesn’t threaten your physical, social, or economic health the way addictive drugs do. If you stop taking caffeine abruptly, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.  These usually last for a few days.  They can last longer, especially if you consume two or more cups of coffee a day. Symptoms of withdrawal from caffeine include: Fatigue, Anxiety, Irritability, Depressed mood, Difficulty concentrating, Drowsiness, Brain fog, Flu-like symptoms with muscle aches.   Symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

No doubt, caffeine withdrawal can make for a few bad days. However, caffeine does not cause the severity of withdrawal or harmful drug-seeking behaviors as street drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts don’t consider caffeine dependence a serious addiction.

How Much Caffeine Does It Take to Get Addicted?

How much caffeine do you need to consume to become addicted?  Not as much as you might think.

The average daily consumption of caffeine is approximately 280 mg per day.  Studies show only 100 mg per day is enough to lead to physical dependence and significant withdrawal symptoms.  A Johns Hopkins Medicine review of over 170 years of caffeine withdrawal research concluded that you can become addicted to caffeine from as little as one daily cup of coffee.  It is important to understand that coffee is not the only food or beverage that contains caffeine.  Other foods include energy drinks, soda pop, chocolate, ice cream, breakfast cereals, PMS medications and headache remedies to name a few.  All of these sources must be considered to understand your total daily consumption.  For an accurate assessment of your daily caffeine intake, check out the caffeine content of hundreds of foods and drinks in this caffeine database.

How Long Does Caffeine Last in your System?

caffeine-and-withdrawalYour body quickly absorbs caffeine. But it also gets rid of it quickly. Processed mainly through the liver, caffeine has a relatively short half-life. This means it takes about five to seven hours, on average, to eliminate half of it from your body. After eight to 10 hours, 75% of the caffeine is gone. For most people, a cup of coffee or two in the morning won’t interfere with sleep at night.

Consuming caffeine later in the day, however, can interfere with sleep. If you’re like most people, your sleep won’t be affected if you don’t consume caffeine at least six hours before going to bed. Your sensitivity may vary, though, depending on your metabolism and the amount of caffeine you regularly consume. People who are more sensitive may not only experience insomnia but also have caffeine side effects like jittery nerves,  nervousness and stomach upset.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

High doses of caffeine may have unpleasant and possibly dangerous side effects.  However, there is no accurate way to quantify how much is “too much”.  Research has shown that your genes have a major influence on your tolerance to most things including caffeine. Some can consume much more than others without experiencing negative effects. Individuals who aren’t used to caffeine may experience symptoms after consuming what is typically considered a moderate dose

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day to avoid unwanted side effects. This is equivalent to around four 8-ounce cups of coffee.  A 2015 study examined trends in caffeine intake among 24,808 adults between 2001 and 2010. On average, adult participants consumed 122–226mg of caffeine per day, which is well within the official recommendations.  However, findings from the study revealed that 14 percent of those who regularly consumed caffeine exceeded 400 mg per day.

Here are 6 side effects to watch for when you consume high doses of caffeine or more than your usual intake: 

  1. long does caffeine last your systemJittery Nerves – Low-to-moderate doses of caffeine can increase alertness, but larger amounts may lead to anxiety or jitters. Monitor your own response in order to determine how much you can tolerate.
  2. Insomnia – Caffeine can help you stay awake during the day, but it may negatively impact your sleep quality and quantity. Cut off your caffeine consumption by late morning or early afternoon to avoid sleeping problems.
  3. Digestive Issues – Many people find that a morning cup of coffee helps get their bowels moving.  But, large doses of caffeine may lead to loose stools or even diarrhea in some people.
  4. Raised Blood Pressure – Overall, caffeine doesn’t seem to increase the risk of heart disease or stroke in most people. Caffeine seems to raise blood pressure when consumed in high doses or prior to exercise, as well as in people who rarely consume it.  Although temporary, caffeine is known to raise energy levels due to its effects on the central nervous system.  Therefore, expect blood pressure to temporarily increase as well.
  5. Increased Heart Rate – With increased energy and increase blood pressure, you can expect an increased heart rate. This effect doesn’t seem to occur in everyone. Even people with heart problems may be able to tolerate large amounts of caffeine without any adverse effects.  Just be aware that large doses of caffeine may increase heart rate in some people. These effects appear to vary greatly from person to person.
  6. Frequent & Urgent Urination – Increased urination is a common side effect of high caffeine intake.  It turns out caffeine stimulates the central nervous system as well as the bladder.  High caffeine intake has been linked to increased urinary frequency and urgency in several studies.

Caffeine and Withdrawal

Caffeine is a stimulant that works to improve alertness, wakefulness, and mood. People who regularly consume caffeine may experience withdrawal symptoms after they suddenly stop drinking it.

Caffeine can alter the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as adenosine and dopamine. Changes to these neurotransmitters can affect alertness, concentration, and mood.  People who regularly consume caffeine can build up a tolerance to its effects. Some people may even develop a slight physical or behavioral dependence on caffeine.

Those who abruptly quit caffeine after regularly consuming it may experience unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches and irritability. Doctors call this caffeine withdrawal syndrome.  The severity and duration of caffeine withdrawal syndrome can vary from person to person. Symptoms typically appear within 12–24 hours of quitting caffeine and can last up to 9 days.

Caffeine Withdrawal Cold Turkey – or Gradual?

turkeyThere are two schools of thought about the best way to beat a caffeine addiction — quit suddenly or quit gradually.

The key to deciding is knowing yourself and how you normally respond to these kinds of challenges.  From a neuroscience perspective, taking small steps gives you time to actually rewire your brain to create new, healthier habits.  However, some people are excited by big goals — like quitting cold turkey.

Setting bold goals provides a nice boost of the neurotransmitter dopamine, known as the “motivation molecule.” Johns Hopkins University researchers, who have studied caffeine withdrawal in depth, endorse a gradual approach to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

What are Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?


The hallmark caffeine withdrawal symptom is a severe headache, which bears many similarities to a migraine headache. Like migraines, it is accompanied by widening of the blood vessels in the head and neck.  Also like migraines, it may not cause pain everywhere.  These types of headache can affect only one side of the head at a time.  Many of the other caffeine withdrawal symptoms are similar to those experienced during a migraine.  Studies show that the easiest way to relieve a caffeine withdrawal headache is by taking more caffeine. This can be risky, so be careful with how much. Check out the amount of caffeine in common foods and drinks.  Make sure you don’t increase your caffeine intake beyond the amount you were using before.  This will only make matters worse and will build up your tolerance.  Instead of withdrawing, you will be potentially feeding your caffeine addiction instead.


Many people consume caffeine in the morning to boost their alertness levels. Caffeine prevents fatigue and increases alertness by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain.  Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that slows the central nervous system when the body prepares to sleep.  However, when a person suddenly stops or reduces their caffeine intake, it can briefly have the opposite effect and make a person feel more tired during the day.  People can avoid feeling overly tired during the day by getting enough sleep during the night.


The body can become both physically and psychologically dependent on caffeine. This can lead to feelings of anxiety when withdrawing from it.

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.  In people who are sensitive to caffeine, just one cup of coffee can cause them to feel jittery and anxious. While consuming caffeine can cause feelings of anxiousness, cutting it out can cause this side effect as well.  Anxiety is a commonly reported symptom in people who withdraw from regular caffeine consumption.  The body can become mentally and physiologically dependent on it, causing feelings of anxiety.  Plus, if you consume the majority of your caffeine in the form of soda or sugar-sweetened coffee, the sudden reduction in sugar may make caffeine withdrawal-induced anxiety even worse.  Animal studies suggest that suddenly removing sugar from the diet after a long period of sugar consumption can cause symptoms of anxiety.


Everyone and everything is going to get on your last nerve. It’s best just to lock yourself in your room during this stage. It’s common for regular coffee drinkers to be cranky before their first morning cup of coffee.  The caffeine in coffee may be the culprit for this feeling of irritability.  Because coffee only lasts in the system for four to six hours, withdrawal-like symptoms like irritability can occur every morning after 7-8 hours of sleep.  This symptom is quickly relieved after the first cup each morning.

Coffee drinkers are used to the mood-enhancing effects of caffeine, as well as the shot of energy they receive.  For some, weaning off caffeinated beverages like coffee causes them to become irritable and moody.  In fact, it may be difficult for heavy caffeine users to cut back on the amount they are accustomed to without negatively impacting their mood.  A study was conducted using 94 caffeine-dependent adults trying to cut back on caffeine.  Almost 90% reported that they were unsuccessful in cutting back due to withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and anger.  People who are physically or psychologically dependent on caffeine may experience irritability or anger when trying to abstain from this stimulant.

Depressed Mood

Caffeine withdrawal can have serious consequences for mood swings. Everyone has a down day every so often, but if you already struggle with depression this could be a big issue.  Often technically referred to as dysphoria, caffeine withdrawal causes a variety of negative mood states, ranging from feeling depressed to feeling anxious or irritable. Just remember, these feelings should pass once the withdrawal is over.  The worst is usually over in less than a week.  But, be prepared for a pretty rocky week.


Caffeine stimulates contractions in the colon and intestines. These contractions help move food and waste material through the gastrointestinal tract.  People who regularly consume caffeine may experience mild constipation after reducing their caffeine intake.  People can prevent constipation by eating fiber-rich foods and staying hydrated.

Difficulty Concentrating

This is described in various ways, but they all add up to the same thing.  Your brain doesn’t work as efficiently when you are withdrawing from caffeine.  Lab tests show that this is more than just a feeling and measured performance actually is poorer on mental tasks.  Remember this is a rebound effect from the stimulating and performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. Drinking more caffeine will simply perpetuate the cycle. But you don’t have to quit cold turkey—you can “taper off” caffeine.


The sense of being light-headed or dizzy is a common withdrawal symptom of caffeine. Cutting down gradually rather than abruptly will help, but don’t push yourself. Try to take things a little easier while you are cutting back on caffeine.  Sit down or lie down if you feel the need. While fainting is uncommon, pushing yourself while you are feeling lightheaded or dizzy increases the risk.

No doubt, caffeine withdrawal can make for a few bad days. However, caffeine does not cause the severity of withdrawal or harmful drug-seeking behaviors as street drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts don’t consider caffeine dependence a serious addiction.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline



What does caffeine withdrawal feel like?  Once you’ve had your last dose of caffeine, here’s a timeline of what you can expect:

  • Withdrawal symptoms normally start within 12 to 24 hours, but can take up to 36 hours to kick in.
  • These symptoms usually peak between 20 and 51 hours.
  • The worst side effects are generally over within 2 to 9 days, although sometimes it can take up to 12 days.
  • Symptoms include: Headache, Fatigue, Anxiety, Difficulty Concentrating, Depressed Mood, Irritability, Tremors, Low Energy, Drowsiness, Constipation, Muscle Pain, Stiffness, Cramping, Sleepiness, Brain fog, Flu-like symptoms with muscle aches, Nausea and Vomiting.

How Long Does Caffeine Withdrawal Last?

Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal should only last between two and nine days, with peak intensity of symptoms occurring 24–51 hours after caffeine is cut out.  While these symptoms are usually short-lived, they can be uncomfortable and make life difficult.  If you are a heavy coffee drinker, it could take weeks or even months until you feel as good as new.  Nevertheless, studies consistently show the worst is usually over after the first week.

If you are seriously addicted, it can take several months to feel “as good as new.”  During this adjustment period you might continue to experience brain fog and lethargy.  Fortunately, there are many things you can do to get through the process faster to feel more like your usual self sooner.

Can You Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the chances of experiencing these unpleasant side effects.  Try the following tips to reduce or completely avoid symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

  1. Cut back slowly – Quitting cold turkey can shock the body and make withdrawal symptoms worse. Gradually weaning off caffeine can reduce the chances of experiencing unpleasant side effects.
  2. Reduce caffeinated beverages – If you’re used to drinking full-strength coffee, start drinking half-decaf, half-regular coffee to slowly reduce your dependence. Even better, swap one of your coffees for a decaf herbal tea. Decaffeinated coffee has been found to actually reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms including cravings, fatigue, lack of alertness and flu-like feelings.  Decaf helps people going through caffeine withdrawal by tricking their brains.  Their brain tells them they are drinking caffeinated coffee, so the symptoms are over-ridden. This is known as the placebo effect.
  3. Stay hydrated – Drinking enough water is crucial when cutting out caffeine. Dehydration can worsen symptoms of withdrawal, such as headache and fatigue.
  4. Get enough sleep – To combat fatigue, try getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
  5. Boost energy naturally – If your energy levels have taken a hit after giving up caffeine, try incorporating natural sources of energy like exercise, nutrient-dense foods and stress reduction techniques into your routine.

How to Stop Drinking Caffeine – The Easy Way…

Slowly cutting back on caffeine, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and finding alternative sources of energy are ways to decrease caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

A simple plan to quit drinking caffeine in your coffee is to gradually reduce 25% regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee each week for one month.  You can adapt this method to any other caffeinated beverage by replacing is slowly with a decaffeinated option.  An advantage of this gradual reduction is that you don’t need to make any other behavioral changes to succeed.  Studies show slowly switching decaf for coffee has a placebo effect reducing withdrawal symptoms – sometimes completely.  Drinking decaf tricks the mind and body into accepting that everything is normal so caffeine withdrawal side effects are minimal to non-existent!

Stop Drinking Caffeine The 25% Approach.  Assume you drink 4 cups of coffee per day:

  • First Week: Drink 75% regular, 25% decaf – 3 cups regular coffee, 1 cup decaf
  • Second Week: Drink 50% regular, 50% decaf – 2 cups regular coffee, 2 cups decaf
  • Third Week: Drink 25% regular, 75% decaf – 1 cup regular coffee, 3 cups decaf
  • Fourth Week: Drink 100% decaf – 4 cups decaf

If you really want to take it slow, you can reduce your caffeine by 10% each week instead of 25%.  The 10% method takes a little over two months to complete.  An added benefit of the 10% approach is the body can slowly adapt to the withdrawal of caffeine while slowly establishing the new habit of drinking decaf.  New habits are more likely to remain the longer they are ingrained through repetition.

The Bottom Line

Caffeine withdrawal is a temporary reaction when a regular user of caffeine abruptly stops. Withdrawal symptoms are reduced by tapering off gradually.

Caffeine is a widely consumed stimulant, but it can cause withdrawal-like symptoms when cut off.  Withdrawal can occur in anyone who regularly consumes caffeine and then abruptly discontinues its use.  Common symptoms include headache, fatigue, low energy, irritability, anxiety, poor concentration, depressed mood and tremors, which can last anywhere from two to nine days.  Thankfully, there are ways to reduce these symptoms, including cutting back on caffeine gradually, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep and finding ways to naturally boost your energy.  Although caffeine withdrawal may seem unbearable at first, this temporary reaction is just a bump in the road to limiting your dependence.  The worst is usually over the first week.

Related Questions

Does Caffeine cause Dehydration? – Caffeine can make you need to urinate. However, the fluid you consume in caffeinated beverages tends to offset the effects of fluid loss when you urinate. The bottom line is that although caffeine does act as a mild diuretic, studies show drinking caffeinated drinks in moderation doesn’t actually cause dehydration.

Does Caffeine Cause Insomnia? –  Your body quickly absorbs caffeine. But it also gets rid of it quickly. Processed mainly through the liver, caffeine has a relatively short half-life. This means it takes about five to seven hours, on average, to eliminate half of it from your body. After eight to 10 hours, 75% of the caffeine is gone. If you have trouble sleeping, try not to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages after eleven am.  For most people, a cup of coffee or two in the morning before eleven am won’t interfere with sleep at night.  Consuming caffeine later in the day, however, can interfere with sleep. If you’re like most people, your sleep won’t be affected if you don’t consume caffeine at least six hours before going to bed. Your sensitivity may vary, though, depending on your metabolism and the amount of caffeine you regularly consume.

Does caffeine make coffee taste bitter? Caffeine makes bitterness in coffee unavoidable – caffeine is bitter! Bitterness in coffee is considered by some to be a negative, but it helps to balance out acidity.  You must understand that Mother Nature PUT bitter compounds in coffee beans.  To learn more check out: ==>Why Coffee Tastes Bitter – 7 Proven Ways to Make Coffee Less Bitter <==


Health.gov Dietary Guidelines





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