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Caffeine: What It Is, the Side Effects, and How to Break the Addiction

Updated on December 4, 2010
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What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a chemical found in some plants that acts as a natural pesticide to paralyze and kill the insects that feed on the plant. Fortunately, when consumed by humans, the effect of caffeine is different.

In humans, caffeine acts as a stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance. It is found in many products, including coffee, tea, some soft drinks, energy drinks, weight loss products, pain relievers, and even in chocolate.

The Effects of Caffeine on the Body

Caffeine rolls in and out of favor all of the time. Headlines in health sections of newspapers are always proclaiming the results of new studies regarding caffeine, leaving consumers baffled. Is it good? Is it bad? Who knows? Here are some of the pros and cons of caffeine consumption:

Pros:

  • Caffeine reduces the risk of Parkinson's disease by blocking receptors for adenosine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motor function.
  • Caffeine can help to stave off migraines by contracting blood vessels in the brain.
  • Coffee contains antioxidants, and seems to decrease the risk of ailments such as gallstones, colon cancer, liver cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Caffeine enhances athletic performance by stimulating the release of adrenaline, thus allowing muscles to work harder and longer.
  • Caffeine consumption can help improve memory and mental function.

Cons:

  • Too much caffeine can be a contributing factor for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and decreased bone density.
  • Ingestion of too much caffeine can cause symptoms such as insomnia, tremors, nausea, chest pain, and palpitations.
  • Studies have shown that pregnant women who consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day (about as much as in a small cup of drip coffee) are at increased risk of miscarriage.
  • Since caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline, overuse of caffeine may cause side effects such as anxiety.

I Don't Like the Way Coffee Makes Me Feel, But How Do I Give It Up?

As someone who has quit caffeine multiple times for various reasons, I know of only two ways to go:

  1. Wean yourself off slowly, or
  2. Cold turkey, baby.

In my experience, the weaning method merely prolongs the withdrawal symptoms, although those symptoms are less severe than when quitting all at once. I generally just prefer to get it over with.

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Whoa...Withdrawal Symptoms?

Yes, I'm sorry to say it's true. The withdrawal symptoms of giving up caffeine vary in intensity from addict to addict but, in general, be prepared for:

  • Headaches ranging from mildly annoying to migraine
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

As I said, gradually cutting back on caffeine seems to merely prolong the suffering of the above symptoms, so I prefer to go cold turkey. To that end, I present to you...

Em's Guide to Quickly Breaking Your Caffeine Addiction

** Please bear in mind that I am in no way whatsoever a healthcare professional, and my plan may not be medically sound. If you want serious advice, contact your healthcare provider before embarking on a caffeine detox. **

You will need:

  • 3 day weekend
  • Water. Lots of water.
  • Your favorite pain reliever, as long as it DOES NOT CONTAIN CAFFEINE. I strongly suggest something of the "P.M." variety.
  • Fritos (or other favorite salty snack)
  • Silence
  • Solitude

Giving up caffeine cold turkey does not take long, but it's a fairly crappy experience. I recommend warning your spouse/partner/children/pets that, while you still love them, you will be miserable for the next few days and, for their own safety, they should stay far, far away.

Start the program first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Lock yourself into an empty room, preferably with an attached bathroom. Unplug the television and phone. Take some books or magazines and snacks (nothing containing caffeine, obviously) and wait. It won't take long.

The headaches will likely start by mid-morning, especially if you usually start your day with caffeine. As you approach the afternoon, the headache will likely intensify and be accompanied by severe crankiness, and possibly nausea. This is where the "P.M." formula pain reliever comes into play. Take and sleep. Keep yourself doped up through the weekend. When you are awake, be sure to drink lots of water and, if you feel like eating, snack on the salty stuff (Fritos are my favorite - they even help heal hangovers).

By the time you have to go to work on Monday, you should be past the headaches and nausea. The crankiness and fatigue might persist for a couple of days more, but by midweek you'll feel like a brand new person.

Once You've Broken Your Addiction...

Now that you've broken your addiction to caffeine, you can do one of two things:

1. Maintain your caffeine-free status and stick to decaf, or

2. Start using again.

Either way, if you're a coffee drinker, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the Keurig single cup brewing systems. Quick, convenient, and with far less clean up than a conventional coffeemaker, the Keurig is definitely the way to go.

Check out this hub by Sunforged to learn more about the Keurig.

Who needs Starbucks?!

So, are you ready to give up your daily java jolt?

See results

Comments

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    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I love coffee. I also love the information you have provided.

    • profile image

      Paul C. Herson 

      9 years ago

      How can Caffeine Addiction cause an energy rise in your body.Caffeine is currently of the most consumed substances in the world nowadays, but many people ignore caffeine effects in the body, especially when a person suffers caffeine addiction or abuses of it somehow.In this article I would like to point out the most negative caffeine effects on your body and what caffeine energy produces on your body, as well as mentioning some special facts about caffeine addiction.Drinking various cups of coffees in a day is not good at all, especially if we drink it in the late afternoon or night, because the caffeine will stay in our bodies for up to eight hours, which affects our sleep.Caffeine also affects the levels of cortisol in the body, leading to more cravings for carbohydrates and fats and mass weight onto our stomachs; abdominal fat causes bigger health risks than other kinds of fat. However, if you drink coffee in the morning and exercise straight afterwards, it can help you to burn fat 30 percent more efficiently than without taking it, because it helps to keep blood sugar levels up, making us less hungry.Caffeine energy is understood as the energy that people usually experience when they consume caffeine. Caffeine energy usually gives our energy levels a temporary increase, but after it disappears we may suffer mild depression and start feeling lethargy, making it harder to exercise. So in other words, caffeine energy causes a quick improvement in our energy levels but it is just temporary and will cause an energy decrease afterwards making it hard for us to exercise.You can find more info at: http://yourcaffeineaddiction.com/

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Hi, RGraf! Definitely no need to feel guilty about caffeine consumption unless you're having unwanted side effects. As long as you feel good, enjoy!

      Thanks for reading!

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      I did not know about the benefits. I don't drink it that often. Now I won't feel guilty when I do.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 

      10 years ago from Free and running....

      I'm going to have to wait for an extended vacation to try. I've tried before but by the second day, I was so fatigued, I had to get back on it. Seriously, it scares me to think what its doing to my body, and I always tell myself, find balance in life, of course, got to to pay the rent first.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Hey, goldentoad. Just reading your comment was stress-inducing. :D

      Seriously, though, after a few days of being off the caffeine, my energy level picks up and is BETTER than it ever was ON caffeine. The body knows best.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 

      10 years ago from Free and running....

      Venti, Americano on the Rocks por favor, I got to run like a ferrari all day long, talking my way through constant problems at work, hustling to get here and there, kicking a** like Bruce Lee, hiiiiyaaa. I can't slow down, if I do it all crashes, this is LA and the first one to sit back down, loses. I wish i could just stop, say whoa partner, let me get a little breather, but if I do, I'll get smashed by monster trucks and get thrown in the scrapyard to get recycled or to be left to rust. I am scared that the effects are taking its toll on my body but without it, I'm a zombie and almost a normal guy. Thanks for the informative article, I was wondering what I was doing to myself.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks for stopping by, James! :)

    • motivate11 profile image

      motivate11 

      10 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi my name is James...I'm a caffeine addict. Great article thanks for this.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Ryan - Really, a couple of weeks? It honestly only takes me 2 - 3 days to get past the worst of it. Thanks for stopping by!

      Moon Daisy - thanks! :)

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Nice hub! And I love the manic picture :)

    • Ryan Hupfer profile image

      Ryan Hupfer 

      10 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      I cut out all caffeine a couple of months ago....it sucks for a while(headaches, etc.), but once you make it a couple of weeks, you're good to go.

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Good luck with your detox, livelonger! ;)

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      10 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, what a great answer to my request! I'm not seriously addicted, so I think I'll just go cold turkey and bear the misery this upcoming weekend. Thank you for the info and tips!

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      I love coffee too, but I try to stick with decaf. It just isn't the same, though.

      I've never tried sugary foods for the detox. My favorite form of sugar is chocolate, but that's got caffeine in it (tiny amounts) so I try to avoid it. Also, it seems like there's just something about crunchy, starchy, and salty that helps with nausea. Thanks for reading!

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      10 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Em -- I like your withdrawal approach. Does it work with sugary foods too or just salty? Anyway, next time I decide to detoxify myself (which won't be for a good long while -- i LOVE coffee) I will be sure to try your method!

    • Em Writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Em Writes 

      10 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks, Carlosweb!

    • Carlosweb profile image

      Carlosweb 

      10 years ago from USA

      Huy!!!, very interesting Hub. Good Job.

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