7 Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal (And How to Manage Them)

Caffeinated beverages are a staple in many people’s morning routine, giving them a boost of energy to start their day. Some people even use caffeine as a pick-me-up in the afternoon or anytime they are feeling sluggish. In fact, 93% of Americans report using caffeine and one in four report using it three or more times per day.

Caffeine, which occurs naturally in plants, is the most widely taken psychoactive stimulant in the world. It works by temporarily blocking adenosine — a chemical in your body that promotes muscle fatigue and sleepiness — and leads to heightened awareness and an energy boost. It also can increase your heart rate and boost your metabolism. 

But unlike other psychoactive drugs, caffeine is legal, inexpensive, and not regulated in almost all parts of the world, despite the fact that it can be highly addictive. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to become physically, emotionally, and psychologically dependent on it. They also may experience withdrawal symptoms—especially if they abruptly quit using caffeine.

If you are considering giving up caffeine, or you are in the process of reducing your intake, it is important to understand how your body might respond. Knowing what to expect will not only help lessen the impact of your withdrawal symptoms but also can help you meet your goal of quitting caffeine. Below are seven symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

A woman reaching for a cup of coffee while in bed

Manu Vega / Getty Images

Headaches

Headaches are the most common caffeine withdrawal symptom people experience. They are believed to occur because of the change in blood vessel size and the flow of blood to the brain. For instance, when you stop using caffeine, your blood vessels open up and there is more blood flow to the brain, which can cause headaches and even migraines. However,  this is still a theory without a ton of scientific evidence behind it. 

Caffeine is also often found in medications designed to treat headaches. So if you are giving up caffeine, you want to be sure to read labels if you are planning to treat your headache with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. 

Irritability

People who give up caffeine often experience irritability in the early stages of the weaning process. This could have to do with the fact that caffeine can be a mood enhancer and when you are no longer using it, it can have the opposite effect and ultimately lead to irritability. In fact, an older study found that nearly 90% of the participants reported that even though their goal was to cut back on caffeine, they were unsuccessful primarily because of the anger and irritability they felt when not using caffeine.

Low Energy

Most people who use caffeine do so to give them a boost of energy, to counteract a lack of sleep, or because they feel sluggish in the afternoons. This is because caffeine has the ability to improve concentration and lead to increased physical and mental energy. For this reason, it is not surprising that people report experiencing decreased energy after giving up caffeine. 

Changes in Mood

Caffeine use has been shown to boost mood and overall feelings of wellbeing. In fact, research indicates that caffeine can reduce the risk of depression by nearly 25%. Consequently, it is not surprising that people experience a mood change when giving up caffeine. If you experience symptoms of depression after giving up caffeine, it is important to talk with a healthcare provider. 

On the other hand, there is some evidence to suggest that reducing or even eliminating caffeine can reduce feelings of anxiety and panic attacks. In fact, those with anxiety disorders are often encouraged not to consume caffeinated beverages as doing so exacerbates their symptoms. As a result, experiencing a reduction in anxiety can be a plus to giving up caffeine. 

Fatigue 

Most people rely on caffeine to get them going in the morning. But when this stimulant is withdrawn, they can suddenly feel more fatigued than normal. For instance, one study of habitual caffeine users found that participants reported feeling fatigued after giving up caffeine for just 16 hours. What’s more, those who consumed caffeine daily were more fatigued than those who only occasionally used caffeine.

Difficulty Concentrating

People often turn to caffeine when they are looking to increase their concentration and focus either in school or at work. This is largely because caffeine is known to increase adrenaline as well as dopamine and norepinephrine. As people adjust to the lack of caffeine, it is not uncommon to report feeling brain fog or having trouble concentrating. 

Drowsiness and Decreased Alertness

Caffeine helps to block the chemical adenosine, which helps to promote sleepiness. Naturally, when this blocker is removed, you might feel sleepier and less alert without caffeine in your system.

How Long Does Caffeine Withdrawal Lasts?

The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal usually happen pretty quickly — especially if you suddenly give it up. Typically, the onset of symptoms will begin about 12 to 24 hours after caffeine use ends. 

If no caffeine is used after the initial symptoms appear, they will usually peak around 20 to 51 hours and last for days. In fact, research indicates that withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from two to nine days.

Tips For Quitting Caffeine

Giving up caffeine slowly may be the best approach to quitting because it keeps your system from being shocked. In fact, researchers have found that people who gradually reduce their caffeine consumption over time have better success rates than those who stop suddenly. 

Plus, stopping your caffeine use suddenly will just heighten your withdrawal symptoms. Instead, limit your caffeine intake slowly by choosing lower caffeine options or reducing the number of caffeinated drinks you have in a day. Each week, gradually decrease your intake until you are no longer using caffeine. 

You should also drink plenty of water. Not only will this help you stay hydrated, but it also can help alleviate some of the headaches and constipation that may occur as a result of giving up caffeine. Water also can help flush the caffeine from your system and allow your body to adjust.

Other Ways to Boost Your Energy

You can also combat your caffeine habit by looking for other ways to boost your energy rather than reaching for a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, or an energy drink.

  • Get some physical activity: Even a brisk walk can boost your endorphin levels and give your body the energy boost it needs. In fact, exercise triggers the release of norepinephrine, which causes you to feel more energetic and alert.
  • Take stimulating breaths: Also known as “Bellows Breath,” this breathing exercise is often practiced in yoga and is designed to stimulate the body and increase alertness. In fact, research has shown that this breathing technique can even improve your reaction time. To engage in stimulating breaths, keep your mouth closed and inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose with quick, short breaths. Do this for about 10 seconds and then breathe normally. Repeat as needed.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Good nutrition has been linked to improved mood. If you are unsure where to start, try adding more vegetables to your plate each day. In fact, research indicates that eating vegetables may actually boost your happiness levels. Researchers theorize that the vitamins and phytochemicals in vegetables have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can impact your mood.
  • Go outside: While the burst of fresh air in your lungs certainly can improve your mood, research also indicates that interacting with nature reduces anxiety and stress, improves productivity, and increases academic performance.

A Quick Review 

Caffeine is the most widely-used psychoactive drug in the world and can cause withdrawal symptoms when people stop using it such as headaches, irritability, and depressed mood. Fortunately, there are ways to limit these symptoms including reducing your caffeine intake gradually and drinking plenty of water. 

There also are other, more natural, ways to increase your energy rather than relying on caffeine to give you the boost you are craving. And while these caffeine withdrawal symptoms may sound unbearable, rest assured that by going slow and being patient with yourself, you can kick the habit without too much discomfort. 

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Food Information Council. Caffeine: Consumer consumption habits and safety perceptions.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Caffeine.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Caffeine withdrawal.

  4. Nowaczewska M, Wiciński M, Kaźmierczak W. The ambiguous role of caffeine in migraine headache: From trigger to treatment. Nutrients. 2020;12(8):2259. Published 2020 Jul 28. doi:10.3390/nu12082259

  5. Juliano LM, Evatt DP, Richards BD, Griffiths RR. Characterization of individuals seeking treatment for caffeine dependence. Psychol Addict Behav. 2012 Dec;26(4):948-54. doi:10.1037/a0027246

  6. Cappelletti S, Piacentino D, Sani G, Aromatario M. Caffeine: Cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug? Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(1):71-88. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210215655

  7. Fiani B, Zhu L, Musch BL, et al. The neurophysiology of caffeine as a central nervous system stimulant and the resultant effects on cognitive function. Cureus. 2021;13(5):e15032. Published 2021 May 14. doi:10.7759/cureus.15032

  8. Grosso G, Micek A, Castellano S, Pajak A, Galvano F. Coffee, tea, caffeine and risk of depression: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2016 Jan;60(1):223-34. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201500620

  9. Jahrami H, Al-Mutarid M, Penson PE, Al-Islam Faris M, Saif Z, Hammad L. Intake of caffeine and its association with physical and mental health status among university students in Bahrain. Foods. 2020;9(4):473. Published 2020 Apr 10. doi:10.3390/foods9040473

  10. O'Neill CE, Newsom RJ, Stafford J, et al. Adolescent caffeine consumption increases adulthood anxiety-related behavior and modifies neuroendocrine signaling. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016;67:40-50. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.01.030

  11. Juliano LM, Huntley ED, Harrell PT, Westerman AT. Development of the caffeine withdrawal symptom questionnaire: caffeine withdrawal symptoms cluster into 7 factors. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012 Aug 1;124(3):229-34. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2012.01.009

  12. Rodak K, Kokot I, Kratz EM. Caffeine as a factor influencing the functioning of the human body—friend or foe? Nutrients. 2021;13(9):3088. doi:​​10.3390/nu13093088

  13. Evatt DP, Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. A brief manualized treatment for problematic caffeine use: A randomized control trial. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2016;84(2):113-121. doi:10.1037/ccp0000064

  14. Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The effects of acute exercise on mood, cognition, neurophysiology, and neurochemical pathways: A review. Brain Plast. 2017;2(2):127-152. Published 2017 Mar 28. doi:10.3233/BPL-160040

  15. De Leon A, Jahns L, Roemmich JN, Duke SE, Casperson SL. Consumption of Dietary Guidelines for Americans types and amounts of vegetables increases mean Subjective Happiness Scale scores: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published online November 2021:S2212267221014866. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.11.009

  16. Keniger LE, Gaston KJ, Irvine KN, Fuller RA. What are the benefits of interacting with nature? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10(3):913-935. Published 2013 Mar 6. doi:10.3390/ijerph10030913

Related Articles