The Causes of and Remedy for Caffeine Withdrawal

Abrupt Cessation of Caffeine Use Can Cause Symptoms, Be Eased

Getty Images

Caffeine use may be just the thing you need to get through your day, but it can also have side effects and may even contribute to withdrawal if you stop using it. What symptoms occur with overuse of caffeine and what happens when you abruptly stop using it? Learn about caffeine withdrawal, whether you might be at risk, and what you can do to get through it. 

Short-Term Consequences of Caffeine Use

Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, soda pop, energy drinks, caffeine pills, and chocolate.

It is a great way to improve your concentration and performance, especially if you are suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness. However, some individuals are susceptible to adverse effects. These effects are related to its action as a stimulant affecting the central nervous system.

Caffeine works to reduce sleepiness by blocking adenosine within the brain. Adenosine accumulates as a normal part of metabolism, and as the levels build within the brain, sleepiness increases. Caffeine works to block this signal.

Excessive caffeine use, or use among those who are especially sensitive, may have other side effects. These short-term consequences may most commonly include:

Many of these side effects are quickly reversed with discontinuation of caffeine use. It is rapidly processed by the liver, and 50% of it will be removed from the body within 5-7 hours.

Within a day or two, it is completely eliminated.

Who Wants to Stop Using Caffeine?

If you experiences any of the symptoms listed above, you may be inclined to stop using caffeine. In particular, those with insomnia may want to reduce caffeine intake in the latter part of the day. In addition, pregnant women may be motivated to stop consuming caffeine.

The March of Dimes suggests that pregnant women should consume less than 200 mg of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about 2 cups of coffee. There are limited studies that suggest higher amounts of caffeine may contribute to the risk of miscarriage.

In the setting of other medical conditions, there can also be a motivation to stop caffeine use. Cardiologists may recommend decreased intake in patients with hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and other cardiac arrhythmias. In addition, people with frequent headaches (including migraines) may benefit from reduced intake. Individual sensitivity to caffeine is an important factor, and more studies are needed to see who might benefit from caffeine cessation.

Nevertheless, if you are motivated to stop caffeine use, you may want to know what to expect. When attempting to stop caffeine consumption after prolonged use, other side effects may occur due to withdrawal.

Caffeine Addiction and Caffeine Withdrawal

Though you may consider yourself a "caffeine addict," it is not certain that individuals can abuse caffeine in the same way that may occur with addiction to alcohol and other illicit drugs.

What is clear is that you can suffer through withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly stop caffeine intake after long-term use.

Addiction implies a physical or psychological need for a substance that is harmful and begins to interfere with daily life. There may be evidence of tolerance, where more of the substance is needed to provide the same effects. Dependence on alcohol or drugs can be physical, with abrupt abstinence leading to changes in heart rate, sweating, tremors, confusion, and seizures. These changes would not occur with caffeine withdrawal.

After stopping caffeine use, some people may experience flu-like symptoms, nausea, or even muscle pain. The more common symptoms that may occur with caffeine withdrawal include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased alertness
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Some people may only experiences a few of these symptoms and others may not have any.

How to Ease the Effects of Caffeine Withdrawal with a Simple Remedy

Not everyone is at risk for caffeine withdrawal. If you consume a large amount of caffeine, your withdrawal symptoms may be significantly worse. However, even stopping a daily 1-2 cups of coffee (or as little as 100 mg of caffeine per day) may be enough to incite withdrawal.

You don’t have to be a long-term user to be at risk. Only three days of chronic caffeine use may be long enough to set you up for withdrawal, especially if you are more sensitive to its effects.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically will begin 12 to 14 hours after stopping your caffeine intake. They will typically peak after one or two days, but the symptoms may persist for up to nine days.

The fortunate thing is that only 50% of people will experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms. This seems to be dependent on genetic factors, according to studies of twins. Any of these symptoms can be rapidly reversed with the resumption of caffeine intake.

The effects of caffeine withdrawal can be softened by gradually reducing the amount of caffeine consumed. Reduce your intake over days to weeks and it will be more tolerable when you finally stop using it entirely.


Griffiths, RR. Principles of Addiction Medicine. 2003;193.

Juliano, LM et al. "A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features." Psychopharmacology. 2004;176:1.

Nehlig, A. "Are we dependent upon coffee and caffeine? A review on human and animal data." Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1999;23:563.

Ogawa, N et al. "Clinical importance of caffeine dependence and abuse." Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2007;61:263.

Satel, S. "Is caffeine addictive? A review of the literature." Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2006;32:493.

Continue Reading