What are the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?

Regular caffeine consumption reduces sensitivity to caffeine. When caffeine intake is reduced, the body becomes oversensitive to adenosine. In response to this oversensitiveness, blood pressure drops dramatically, causing an excess of blood in the head (though not necessarily on the brain), leading to a headache.

This headache, well known among coffee drinkers, usually lasts from one to five days, and can be alleviated with analgesics such as aspirin. It is also alleviated with caffeine intake (in fact several analgesics contain caffeine dosages).

Often, people who are reducing caffeine intake report being irritable, unable to work, nervous, restless, and feeling sleepy, as well as having a headache. In extreme cases, nausea and vomiting has also been reported.

References.

Caffeine and Health. J. E. James, Academic Press, 1991. Progress in Clinical and Biological Research Volume 158. G. A. Spiller, Ed. Alan R. Liss Inc, 1984.

Comments

Anon - 60 year habit

Hello, thanks for asking about me - it really touched me, as I'm feeling lost at the moment and stuck in the same old rut. Btw, yes, it was me who replied to Sarah. I thought you might guess it was me - but it made me laugh that you did!
If it's OK, I'd like to do a post about how I'm doing and then speak to you and Mandy in another post, later, about how you're doing etc - I've had some thoughts about both of you but my post might be long and my brain isn't working too well to do it all.
First, as you might suspect, I haven't posted because I haven't been doing very well. Some better days but a lot of bad days, especially over Christmas. I'll be honest and 'fess up - I've felt too ashamed to come back on and say how I've been really doing.
I'd been doing well with the taper - but then too much continual stress regarding 20 year plus family health/relationship matters, all sorts of pressures and my own health/coffee addiction sometimes got the better of me and I'd foolishly resort to coffee to 'relieve the stress'. I know that everyone has their problems but, if I can just say it, sometimes I just can't take all the pressure of my life and it seems that coffee is the ONLY thing that relieves it and gives me some respite. Very sad but true - and, of course, it might make me feel better for a little while but the repercussions are terrifying. I also know it's a false reality.
Anon, I remember you once said to me something like - why are you still drinking it when you know it is poison?. Part of the reason is above i.e. relieving the stress of my life (which never goes away) but there are other factors, too. I've been trying to give it up for nearly 3 years and have always wondered why I always seem to automatically slip back into the old ways (like Rob used to - and I hope he's doing well with his latest abstinence). I've talked before about habits becoming ingrained and becoming a part of us before but I don't think that I fully realised or was fully conscious of how true that really is. Christmas showed me this. I'm not sure if I've talked about this before (my memory is very poor) but I got addicted to sugar/junk food when I was very young (under 5, I'd say) and started drinking coffee when I was about 14. So, for the vast majority of my life, I was creating very strong habits. Over Christmas, it was like I was completely back 'in the habit', with over-eating, chocolate, cakes etc, coffee, even alcohol! We went out for my daughter's birthday on 2nd Jan and I completely over-indulged - and I suddenly realised, Jesus, I'm 64 years old and I'm STILL back where I was when I was really young. Same old patterns, same old failure to CHANGE those habits. I have always beaten myself up about my complete failure. I think there was an ingrained BELIEF that I COULDN'T do it, as well. But then I came across a site and it gave me hope. It's Redbird - and it talked about how repeated behaviour create a neural pathway and that is does become completely ingrained in our automatic nervous system("life-time neural habits")......and that a life-time of eating/drinking coffee etc becomes part of who you are and that it's very, very difficult to change it. It said that you have to "overwrite a new habit" or re-write the neural network with a new habit - and that it can take 18 - 224 days DEPENDING ON LENGTH OF HABIT. Eureka! No wonder my habits are so strong - 60 years of sugar, 50 years of coffee (with a few years abstinence in the middle). Reading this was like a kind of final realisation for me about the REALITY of my addiction. So I'm trying to put it into practice. I also read this somewhere and it's obviously true - with a new habit, 'you have to have MANY repetitions for it to become a part of you'. I just wanted to remind myself that I also have the habit (or used to) that if I blew my diet or went on the coffee, I'd be 'oh, I've blown it, so might as well indulge and start again tomorrow' - 50 years and that becomes a ingrained pattern of behaviour, too. So I'm trying AGAIN - I have taken a liking to fresh ginger tea which I always have in the afternoon. I do think I've beaten the Costa temptation ( I take the ginger with me and ask for hot water) and the pm coffee is mostly out of the door. BUT the am coffee is still a massive pull which I can't seem to get rid of, especially when I'm feeling depressed or stressed. I do sometimes have more than the tapering amount. If I can be honest, if I had a 'normal' life with all the usual ups and downs, I think I could do it, but the constant pressure is what steers me - sometimes, I feel like the coffee is the only thing to relieve it. A false god, I know. But then I have to face up to the reality of how my life is. I either deal with it or not. It's up to me.
Well, I truly am SORRY to have written such a long post but I don't talk to anyone about this (I can't worry my family) and it's really helped me to write it all down. I guess the only place we can start is where we are - and just try to overwrite those habits. Anon, I thought some of what I've written might ring true for you (although you probably know it all, too) but, anyway, it makes me realise how strong you were to get off the damn stuff. I hope you and everyone is doing awap and I will post to you and Mandy, either later today or tomorrow. Thanks, again, and, I'll just say, I'm not expecting you to have any solutions for me but if you do have any practical tips, I'd be grateful. TC Jackie
P.S. I've just read this through and feel genuinely upset as I've finally realised that my whole life has been driven by my eating and drinking habits. But at least I DO realise.

Jackie, I agree with Mandy,

Jackie, I agree with Mandy, you are being so dreadfully hard on yourself, and I simply don't understand why or how you can be "ashamed" of how you are dealing with this caffeine problem, I am sorry if I minimised it by saying what I did about it not being as hard to get off as benzos, and telling you about my stressful life, I wasn't thinking about you when I did that, I got carried away with my story.
I think that if you could see how many times I have failed and felt ashamed about things you might feel a little better. I try and think about failing better every time I fail. There isn;t any progress without failure, life is just one long learning process. I think perfectionism is a difficult thing to deal with, I try now to make things a little better and have given up on perfect, so please can you be a little kinder to yourself?

Regarding what you wrote, are you sure that when you say that coffee is the only thing that gives you relief from pressure I think you may be like a nicotine addict who says that cigarettes help them to relax, when in both cases, it is simply because they get relief (or "relaxation" ) from taking their substance of choice because it stops the withdrawal symptoms. So until they get off caffeine or nicotine and recover, they are caught in a vicious circle. Because caffeine is certainly not known for it's ability to help relieve pressure!!!!

60 year habit

Thanks, again, for all of you support :) So much to say and hope I can get my head around it. First, please don't apologise for talking about your issues - it sounds like you are in a similar situation to me and I really understand how you can get worn out with stress and sometimes we just need to say how we feel or we get bottled up which only makes the stress worse. I have gone on endlessly about my addiction, stress etc so please feel free to vent or talk about your problems - if I couldn't have done it here, I'd have gone mad. And, oh my word, I didn't know (or hadn't remembered due to my brain fog) just how difficult your life has been - 60 years on caffeine, 40 years of prescribed meds etc - no wonder your withdrawal has been so long and so difficult. You do well to come on here and give the support you do - and I mean that. And now, to be suffering with agoraphobia - are you getting any help for that? CBT or some sort of support? I do genuinely feel you've had a very rough ride through life but I'm so glad you're off all those meds and the dreaded caffeine now. Surely, you will continue to improve and I hope you're stressful situation at home improves. Can you get any help for that?
Thanks for your kind words, also - they did help. As I said, earlier, I read about a guy who took 13 years to get off so that made me feel a little better. I take on about about what you said about learning through your mistakes and perfectiionism etc - I've always wanted a quick fix, been an all or nothing kind of girl i.e. beat myself up when I'm drinking coffee or my diet isn't perfect BUT then go down the opposite road of over-indulgence.
And, eureka, your last paragraph sums it up exactly! In the morning, I come on the laptop and have my poison and feel 'relaxed' before the day begins ( my daughter gets up late due to her illness) .......but it IS a false reality - as I said on my top post, I felt calm and in myself, this morning but from habitual thinking that the only way I can relax is through the coffee and a kind of weird fear of life without it and just habit, I had it. But, as I described, I REALLY wish I hadn't. I feel I'm breaking through and finally seeing it all clearly. I really do feel like I've been in hell these last few years. Anyway, been there, done that - time to get out. Again, thanks so much 60 YH, your perception helps a lot. TC

P.S.

I'm perhaps getting too analytical here but I wanted to say that as my caffeine 'high' is falling away, the old thinking pattern of being unable to do it, being in a tug of war, feeling anxious, scared and uncertain etc - those feelings are all starting to creep back BUT the big difference is that there's a separate part of me that's aware of it! Wow, caffeine really does mess up your perception and brain function, does it not?! You've been right all along, 60 YH re this notion. I won't experience the clarity/reality etc until I'm off it. Makes me even more determined and want to take control. It's had this power over me for far too long - it's the time to take back my own power. I WILL do it this time. I'm 64 years old and it's time to get my life and health back.

Jackie I am so glad you are

Jackie I am so glad you are feeling encouraged, but please don't think of doing a cold turkey, slow and steady is the easiest way for us oldies I think.

BTW, I am also v interested in nutrition and found a brilliant site called truthinlabelling about hidden MSG, it is a real eyeopener, and has helped me immensely because I am EXTREMELY sensitive to MSG. Let me know what you think if you do get time to check it out

I felt the same unwillingness to drink caffeine (cold tea) when I was tapering too, but it would have been an even longer recovery period for me if I hadn't tapered I am sure. (if I could have got through the dreadful depression etc)
Keep in touch, we worry when we don't hear from you.

ah Jackie you are being very

ah Jackie you are being very hard on yourself indeed. i have realised how i feel and function now is not all about the caffeine battle, but something about the caffeine battle has brought all the other issues into sharper focus, same for you perhaps. I'll say as i have before i can only stay off caffeine because of how scared i was during something like a hypo dehydrated panic attack thing where my brain did a ten second whirl and whoosh, and believing that caffeine was a part cause got me off it; i had been trying to quit unsuccessful ly for several years.

Mandy 2

Aww, thanks for your kind words, Mandy :) I absolutely agree with what you said - the caffeine battle raises many issues, demons and negative aspects of the self. I think I asked you earlier (brain fog really is bad atm - can't remember anything) - how many years before you came off it? But to say again, you DID come off it! You did it and that's the most important thing. I've said it a million times, but I can't stress enough how important it is to eat a healthy diet. The average U,K. diet is partly responsible for all of our terrible health issues(as I'm sure you know) and I have experienced genuine health benefits from (mostly, apart from a terrible Chrsitmas) eating good food while weaning. And simply, the healing elements in food can help to combat the caffeine poison. Since tapering, I've used the properties of food to help me sleep longer and better (although it may be partly psychological) but that has improved, anyway. Anyway, let me know what you think. TC

to reply to you jackie, i

to reply to you jackie, i drank diet coke only for about 17 yrs, so there was a bit of an aspartame and caffeine overlap in the wd symptoms. ive never drank coffee so there were some wd symptoms i never had like the muscular joint pain many desctibe. i had weird head feelings, headaches, sinus problems (i researched this one and found that caffeine is mucus inhibiting) dizziness, light headed, gi problems, panic attacks, anxiety, muscle twitches, being sensitised inc sore itchy eyes, sore scalp and getting a few rashes from products id been using no problem for years, brain fog, insomnia and scary head rushes when sleeping to wake me up they were vile, some brief phobia reaction about contamination i remeber holding some chips with a serviette to avoid using my hands, and lots of flu like stuff.
i completely agree with you that food will be the best medicine but this self care and nourishment stuff is all new to me and i have a junk food habit. you sound very knowledgeable about this kind of thing, if you suggest me a starting point I'll give it ago.

and i read youre feeling stronger again, good, any caffeine reduction is a sucess isnt it.

Mandy

Mandy, it seems you've had all the classic symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and this is obviously still affecting you. But, as you say you have a junk food habit, I am wondering if some of your present symptoms are coming from this. I know from experience and it's well documented that junk food with all its additives, preservatives, artificial flavours etc etc, saturated fat, added sugar/artificial sweeteners etc etc can make us feel really ill and I genuinely think that you can feel better if you eat better. There are hundreds of sites (and books) to explain healthy eating so you could have a look at some. I don't know if you work or have a family so don't know how much time you have to research, shop and cook - but here are some pointers for now, as best as I can.
* If you are eating a lot of junk food and processed food, it must seem like a mountain to climb, so climb it slowly.
* Start by introducing more fruits, vegetable and salads - aim for 5 a day to start with and then increase as your appetite changes (it will and you will want more!).
* Change your carbs from refined to whole e.g. brown rice, not white, wholemeal bread/pasta not white, potatoes with skins on.
* Cut out (or at least cut down) on processed main meals. Have good quality protein : chicken, fish (both white fish and oily - like salmon), beans/legumes. Have some good quality red meat (beef, lamb, pork) but try not to have it more than twice a week.
* Cut right down on sugar: cakes, biscuits, pastries etc Sugar, which is just as toxic as caffeine, is addictive and plays havoc with your blood sugar. Try fresh fruit or if you need something sweet, try low sugar/ fat flapjacks. You may get other ideas from books/the net. I haven't had desert for many, many years and it becomes a habit and I don't miss it (ironic, I know, considering my coffee habit!).
* Have less salt - processed food is loaded with salt etc.
*Cut down on saturated fat - cheese, fatty red meat and, above all, processed foods like luncheon meat, salami etc.

This seems like a list of 'you can't eat this and you can't eat that' but there are many delicious and tempting foods to eat, in their whole state. When I started to change my diet about 16-18 years ago, I bought books with titles like 'healing foods' which were illustrated and the wonderful array of colourful foods inspired me and made me realise that healthy food can be enjoyable. There are a ton of these books on the market today, with recipes etc.

I realise, as I said, that it's a mountain but research and introduce some changes gradually - you will not regret it. I would say that if you can only make 1 change for now - introduce 5 fruits/veggies. Good luck and feel free to ask me any questions. I would have tried to make this more specific but brain energy is running out. TC

Hello Jackie, it so nice to

Hello Jackie,

it so nice to hear from you again, I also have been thinking a lot about you.

I also have an incredibly stressful life at the moment and it never ever lets up, I sometimes feel I won;t actually mind when I have to leave this planet, but I am not at all suicidal, just completely worn out with stress and never ever ending housework etc (caused by illness (not mine), but I am the one who has to keep things going. I wouldn't think of resorting to caffeine because I now know how ill it makes me feel, and I am wondering if you have ever lost your tolerance to caffeine so that it made you feel crap when you went back on it? That might be part of an answer to your question re how to help you.

I know that habits are extremely difficult to break because I am battling with agoraphobia (amongst other things) and I have to repeat a journey to an unfamiliar place over and over again (and I usually have to start by breaking it down into small bits, ie 1 tube stop , and building up to the complete journey. So I do know what you are talking about, but for some reason I can override my liking for sugar, caffeine etc etc. I have had to be extremely determined to get through some of the terrible life events that have been mine, but I don't feel particularly strong. I think that I never ever want to be addicted to anything again (I have mentioned my addiction to prescribed meds that took years to recover from, and the drugs that my idiot GP had me on for 40 years which are far more difficult to get off than heroin, so although caffeine is a complete pain to get off it is only an inconvenience and not the complete and utter hell that I went through getting off the prescribed stuff) (that may be why I am not as sympathetic to some posters on this site as I might be). Anyway, I am just trying to think my way around this (and not getting very far).

I think that you possibly don't really believe that getting off caffeine will really be that big a deal for you, you may not believe how "wonderful" you will feel, but I can tell you that getting off prescribed benzodiazepines was such an awful experience that I was suicidal for years, but when I finally recovered life was such bliss, that that experience has given me the confidence to realise that life can be even better without caffeine (to which I have become "allergic" to anyway). So what I am trying to say to you is that if you could see how well you will feel when you are off caffeine, nothing at all could induce you to drink it ever again.

So I hope you can find a way to believe in the healing that comes from being caffeine free. Please write back and tell me what you think, because I feel that caffeine may not be a big problem for you, in which case why give it up?

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