Hello. My Name is Katie DeBakey and I've been a coffee addict since I was 18 years old.
Who Doesn't Love Coffee and Why Would Anyone Want to Give It Up?
Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used psychoactive drug. My guess is that we tend to love it so much because it acts as a stimulant, increasing alertness while decreasing or, masking if you will, fatigue. What’s not to love about that?
There are actually some very common side effects of caffeine that go relatively unnoticed because those of us who drink it, drink it daily and therefore feel the effects on a constant basis. (More on some of those side effects here.) We might just think that feeling that way is normal. We may attribute our health issues to just getting older or to some other root cause.
So, what do you do when you realize that you need to ditch the good stuff due to underlying health issues or, just want to break free from addiction to it? And yes, caffeine is very addicting. Just check out some of the withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience when you do decide to give it up. You’ll quickly discover how dependent your body actually is on this morning concoction of sweet, sweet energy and feel goodness.
First of all, I suggest going slowly. I recommend weaning yourself off by reducing your intake by 25% a week until you’re down to zero. Though some of these symptoms may still occur even while weaning, you are much more likely to experience them and to a much higher, more painful degree if you decide to go cold turkey. But, everyone’s different, so going cold turkey might be what’s best for you. Do your thing.
Let’s get into those withdrawal symptoms.
The very first symptoms that most people experience are headaches. Painful, sometimes excruciating, gnawing, debilitating headaches that just won’t go away without copious amounts of ibuprofen. Some people experience worse headaches than others and some experience none at all. Most however, will have to deal with it for up to 9 days.
I think we all realize that caffeine actually masks the feeling of tiredness or sleepiness. That’s one of the main reasons we drink it! The way your body does this is by our brain creating more adenosine receptors. Adenosine is sort of a ‘’Rest’’ hormone. It tells your body that you are in need of repair and sleep and will then make you tired so that your body can get to it.
Caffeine attaches to those receptors that are looking for said adenosine and instead of calming the body and triggering sleep as adenosine would inevitably do, the caffeine tells the receptors in the nerves to speed things up and that alertness is needed. As this goes on, your brain will produce more and more receptors as it is looking for the right amount of that rest hormone for balance. Because your body is producing more and more receptors, the effects of your caffeine intake will taper over time and soon, you won’t get those energy boosting and mood heightening effects anymore. At that point, you pretty much need caffeine just to feel normal.
Once you stop drinking caffeine, then your body crashes because your brain has a ton of unneeded receptors filling up with adenosine and you will likely feel very, very fatigued, and sleepy for 1 to 4 weeks.
But don’t give up! You might think that you just don’t want to live your life in such a tired and foggy state forever. You won’t have to, I promise. After about 4 weeks, your chemistry will return to normal, and you should have more stable energy and mood throughout your days. So, no morning jitters and no mid-afternoon slumps. Just steady state energy through the day to help you to be even more productive than you were when you were drinking caffeine.
Depression and Anxiety
Caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain not unlike many other psychoactive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. Of course, the effects of caffeine are not as pronounced as the previously mention designer street drugs but, it does produce some pretty solid effects. If it didn’t, the majority of the world wouldn’t be dependent on it first thing in the morning every day and sometimes throughout the day beyond that.
Ceasing the use of caffeine can have a major effect on dopamine levels in your brain for a while, causing depression and anxiety. These feelings can last anywhere from 1 to 9 days. So, don’t give in and don’t give up if you’re going through this withdrawal symptom. Remind yourself throughout the day that this is just your body’s way of balancing out your chemistry and hormones naturally and know that you will feel much better in a short period of time.
Brain Fog and Difficulty Concentrating
Trust me when I say this. The brain fog is REAL. And unfortunately, in my experience and to the testament of many others, this symptom seems to last the longest; Usually about 4 weeks. It can be really tough to go through work, school, passion projects, or just life in general when your brain seems to be on vacation. It’s hard to concentrate, keep your thoughts straight, remember things, follow conversations, retain information, etc. However, during the fourth week, your clarity and focus should start to return. Remember, you have been feeding your brain a psychoactive drug daily for years if not decades. It’s going to take some time for it to adjust and to balance back out to normalcy.
Caffeine works to stimulate the bowels in two ways. First, it acts as a mild osmotic laxative, ushering water into the bowel which eventually triggers a movement. Second, it causes contractions in your colon and intestines, which help to move things along so to speak.
Once you give up drinking caffeine you may notice some constipation for the first week or two as your bowel now has to act on its own. Just stay hydrated and keep trying! You’ll get there.
You may start to wonder why you are even giving up caffeine in the first place. I mean, it’s supposed to be better for you to not drink it, right? And for those first few weeks, giving it up will seem to be anything but good for you.
However, if you think about it, why would something so good for you cause such severe withdrawal symptoms? It obviously causes major effects on your body’s makeup and chemistry. That can’t be healthy decades down the road. Again, check out some of the reasons to give it up (here) in case you need a reminder at this point.
Just give it 2 to 3 months and you’ll eventually look back to your overcaffeinated days and will be glad that you made the decision to be a little kinder to your brain and body.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2021 Katie DeBakey