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Quitting Caffeine: A User's Guide

Updated on July 25, 2010

Coffee, a very popular drink, high in caffeine.

Caffeine is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world. About 90% of North Americans consume caffeine in some form, like coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate, during their day. Though the ingestion of caffeine is a ritual for many people, some have a love-hate relationship with the drug. Many feel that they only drink caffeine because they want to avoid the negative effects of not drinking caffeine. These users may consider quitting caffeine. But physiology and biochemistry can make this a tall order.

Because caffeine is like any other drug, regular consumption will begin a cycle of tolerance-withdrawal. As the body gets used to the amount of caffeine someone consumes in a day, the body habituates to it (gets used to it). The drinker then requires more caffeine (a larger "hit," if you will) to get the same effect. If the user attempts to try quitting caffeine, or even just try lowering their caffeine intake, they will experience signs of caffeine withdrawal: the most commonly reported symptom is a moderate to severe headache, though irritability, sleepiness, and even flu-like symptoms have also been reported. It takes nine days of abstinence to be fully weaned off of the drug.

Those who cling to the purported attentional and performance benefits of caffeine may be further discouraged by current research findings about caffeine use. Recent studies have suggested that caffeine addicts get no performance or attentional boost from their consumption of caffeine, even in the morning. Researchers at Bristol University have suggested that caffeine users require caffeine in the morning to return to normal levels of alertness - in other words, the alertness experienced in the morning by non-caffeine users. This too is a result of caffeine addiction.

Because caffeine is a regular part of many people's lives, and because of the unpleasantness of withdrawal, quitting caffeine is a challenge. If you desire to quit caffeine, here are some suggestions to make the process as painless as possible:

A caffeine molecule.

  1. Know why you are quitting caffeine. Though caffeine has few serious long-term side effects, unlike other recreational drugs like alcohol and nicotine, it can still have some effects on your body, especially with heavy consumption. Your heart, liver, digestive system, and nervous system are all affected positively and negatively by regular consumption. Dependency on caffeine, especially in the morning, can interfere with your performance at school or on the job. Whatever your particular problems with caffeine, write down why you are quitting caffeine, and what symptoms of addiction or withdrawal that you hope to conquer. This will provide you with motivation during the rough patches.
  2. Resolve to quit. Let other people know your plan to let peer pressure work in your favor. Know that this process may be challenging, depending on your level of dependency, and you'll need to commit to see this process through. Keeping a daily log of your experiences may help.
  3. Quit cold turkey. If you try to slowly reduce your caffeine intake, you may still experience the withdrawal symptoms, except over a longer period of time as you try to slowly wean yourself off the drug. Instead, it may be a good idea to totally stop your intake. Ultimately, how you go about quitting caffeine is up to you, whether a slow decline or total abstinence. Whatever your choice, drink decaf coffee, tea, or soda if you need to maintain the "ritual" of caffeine drinking; with any drug use, it is not just the drug itself that is addicting, but the entire set of behaviors (physical, emotional, and even social) around the drug use that can contribute to the addiction. Note: Some decaffeinated products may contain small amounts of caffeine.
  4. Fight through withdrawal. Your symptoms will start within 12 hours, and may last for up to two weeks. These symptoms include headaches, fatigue, problems focusing, or even flu-like symptoms in the most serious cases. If you decide to take pain relievers for your headache, make sure they do not contain caffeine, as some do. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, and drink a lot of water to counter the negative effects on your body of caffeine withdrawal.
  5. Reintroduce caffeine in moderate amounts, if desired. Obviously it may not be possible to totally eliminate caffeine from your diet, nor may it be desired. If you'd like to keep drinking caffeine, limit yourself to one cup of coffee (or its caffeine equivalent) a day. Drink it as early as possible in the day to prevent any interference with your sleep schedule.

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    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      No way am I going to quit.I love my coffee ,and love my morning routine that starts with the smell of java!BUT if I wanted to, this would be a great hub to motivate and get me started!

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