But what if you want to eliminate caffeine from your diet? What is the general caffeine withdrawal timeline? What are the caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and how long do they last?
In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and provide a general caffeine withdrawal timeline to help set your expectations for how long caffeine withdrawal symptoms last.
We will discuss the following:
- Is Caffeine Addictive?
- Why Am I Experiencing Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?
- What Are the Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?
- Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline: How Long Do Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
Let’s get started!
Is Caffeine Addictive?
Before we discuss the typical caffeine withdrawal symptoms timeline, let’s cover why people experience symptoms when they quit caffeine.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant.
This natural, psychoactive drug is found in sources such as green tea, yerba mate, coffee, black tea, energy drinks, cola-type sodas, dark chocolate, and performance-enhancement products that use synthetic caffeine or coffee bean or green tea extracts.
Survey-based research studies have estimated that about 80 to 90% of adults in North America use caffeine regularly.
The caffeine consumption in some other Western countries may be similar, and although the daily caffeine intake of adults in Eastern countries tends to be lower, the majority of adults in these countries also may consume caffeine on a regular or semi-regular basis.
The average daily caffeine consumption in the United States is approximately 280 mg, which works out to about 1 to 2 cups of coffee or cans of energy drink, depending on the type, or 3 to 5 cola-type sodas.
There is a very wide range of the caffeine content of beverages and caffeine-containing products, ranging from 5 to 10 mg in decaffeinated coffee or tea to upwards of 800 mg in a cup of the most heavily-caffeinated coffee in the world, Death Wish Coffee.
The general recommendations are that daily caffeine intake should not exceed 400 mg for adults.
Why Am I Experiencing Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?
Multiple studies have found that regular caffeine consumption causes physiological and psychological dependence.
This means that the brain, body, and mind get accustomed to the habitual hit of caffeine in whatever form you ingest the drug. Furthermore, studies have found that you can develop a tolerance to caffeine.
Therefore, suddenly quitting caffeine can cause a host of withdrawal symptoms, some of which are physiological and some of which are emotional, mental, or psychological.
In order to understand the pathophysiology of caffeine withdrawal symptoms and how the caffeine withdrawal timeline plays out, it is helpful to understand how caffeine works in the body.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that acts as a competitive adenosine receptor antagonist.
Basically, this means that your body naturally produces a compound called adenosine, and when you drink caffeine, the caffeine binds to the same receptors that the endogenous adenosine would, thereby blocking the actions of natural adenosine.
Adenosine is a compound that causes drowsiness or fatigue.
Therefore, the reason that caffeine acts as a stimulant and helps you feel more energized, alert, and potentially even jittery is that the caffeine that you consume blocks the adenosine from interacting with your brain cells.
This means that you are being spared of the otherwise drowsy-inducing actions of adenosine when you drink caffeine.
Plus, they become more sensitive to the normal physiological effects of endogenous adenosine, which basically means that your brain is trying to make extra “spaces“ for adenosine to bind to and increasing your sensitivity to whatever limited adenosine does make it to these receptors.
Remember, caffeine is a competitive blocker for adenosine, so it is fighting for binding space on these receptors.
Because the body likes to maintain homeostasis, the central nervous system adapts by developing more receptors and heightening your response to the natural actions of adenosine.
When you stop caffeine, you have more adenosine receptors, so you may feel especially tired.
Many addictive drugs like cocaine and even sugar trigger a dopamine response in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.
Because dopamine increases feelings of pleasure, this dopaminergic response makes us compelled to use the substance again to replicate these feel-good feelings, which is why dependency and addiction can occur.
The same has not been found with caffeine.
However, even though caffeine does not directly cause an increase in dopamine production in the nucleus accumbens, caffeine has been found to stimulate the release of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
Like these other addictive drugs, the dopamine response from caffeine further reinforces the addictive nature of the drug.
Another physiological effect of caffeine on the human body is that it increases the utilization of glucose in a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus.
This part of the brain plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and mediating various motor activities.
This is why caffeine consumption can make you feel more alert and awake, and consuming caffeine too close to bedtime can affect your sleep.
Furthermore, excessive caffeine can induce jitteriness though moderate caffeine intake may improve reaction time and motor performance.
After ingesting caffeine, it is rapidly metabolized and absorbed into the bloodstream. The peak blood levels of caffeine are usually reached about 30 to 45 minutes (but up to 120 minutes) after ingestion.
Because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, consuming too much caffeine can cause side effects such as nervousness, jitteriness, anxiety, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, irritability, tension, and even exacerbated panic attacks.
For instance, evidence suggests that energy drinks may increase blood pressure and heart rate, and over-consuming energy drinks have been linked to serious medical issues, including liver damage, heart arrhythmias, seizures, coma, and even death.
Caffeine tolerance is thought to develop over time, which may mean that you will need to consume more caffeine to experience the same magnitude of the stimulating effects.
What Are the Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?
There are various factors that can affect the specific symptoms of caffeine withdrawal you experience, including your own unique biochemistry, how much caffeine you have been consuming, whether you quit cold turkey or slowly taper your caffeine consumption, how much of a tolerance to caffeine you have developed, and your general sensitivity to caffeine.
That said, some of the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, decreased energy, headache, drowsiness, decreased productivity, moodiness or a depressed mood, irritability, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating.
Some of these symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are more common than others.
For example, it is reported that about 50% of people experience headaches as a caffeine withdrawal symptom, whereas mood disturbances may be either less frequent or less frequently reported/studied.
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can mimic symptoms of other psychological conditions such as depression, insomnia, and mood disorders.
Some of the common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal also affect vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate.
Given the overlap in caffeine withdrawal symptoms with other clinical conditions and abnormal vital signs, properly identifying and diagnosing caffeine withdrawal vs. differential diagnoses can pose a challenge to physicians and emergency medical providers who encounter a patient experiencing significant caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
Overall, most research suggests that the overall functional impairment attributable to caffeine withdrawal symptoms is estimated to be about 13% for the average adult who has been consuming the average amount of caffeine.
Those who have a higher caffeine consumption may be more significantly impaired when quitting caffeine.
Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline: How Long Do Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
In terms of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms timeline, most experts say that caffeine withdrawal symptoms first begin to appear about 12 to 24 hours after quitting caffeine and may last up to nine days.
The peak of the severity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms seems to be around 20 to 51 hours after beginning caffeine abstinence.
In terms of specific symptoms in the quitting caffeine timeline, headache, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and drowsiness are usually the first symptoms of caffeine withdrawal to appear.
With severe caffeine withdrawal syndrome, nausea and/or vomiting may begin 20 to 48 hours after quitting caffeine.
Changes in blood pressure, rapid heart rate, brain fog, and clumsiness also tend to appear at this stage in the caffeine withdrawal timeline.
For most people, the toughest point in the quitting caffeine timeline occurs in that 1-3-day range after stopping caffeine, but symptoms may linger up to nine days. The symptoms should begin to taper off in severity, and the headache usually ceases after 3 to 4 days.
The caffeine withdrawal symptoms that tend to linger the longest are low energy, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog.
If you have concerns about the severity of your caffeine withdrawal symptoms or if your caffeine withdrawal symptoms timeline seems to be extending significantly beyond a week or so, you should speak with your healthcare provider.
If you are experiencing dangerous symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, such as a significant drop in blood pressure (hypotension) that leads to lightheadedness, dizziness, and difficulty walking or balancing, you should seek emergency help.
The same guidelines apply to abnormalities with your heart rate or respiration rate.
The best way to decrease the severity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to taper off caffeine slowly rather than quit caffeine cold turkey.
Make sure to drink plenty of water and try to get extra sleep
If you want to quit caffeine but are worried about the dip in energy, check out our guide for how to increase your energy naturally here.