Neuropharmacologists call caffeine a drug that acts as a mild stimulant that blocks receptors in the brain that can dilate blood vessels causing headaches and other symptoms. It is possible to become dependent on caffeine after just a week or two of continued use. You shouldn’t be surprised if you start to feel the symptoms almost immediately after you quit. Caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones and adrenaline which give you that energy boost but, as you well know, this surge of energy doesn’t last very long and you eventually crash and seek out more caffeine afterward. Therein lies the problem as this continued dependence on caffeine wears down your adrenal glands.
Can caffeine withdrawal cause headaches?
Yes, you can get headaches from caffeine withdrawal. You might experience headaches 72 hours after your last caffeine intake. The painful sensation starts behind the eyes and moves to the front of your head and creates a very unpleasant experience.
What are the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?
Common withdrawal symptoms of caffeine addiction include:
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Concentration impairment
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Flu-like symptoms
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When you do finally decide to quit caffeine, the withdrawal symptoms can start anywhere from 12 to 20 hours after your last cup of coffee and can peak at 2 days and will probably go on for as long as a week. It is recommended that you wean yourself off caffeine gradually by reducing the quantity you consume little by little. This makes it a bit easier to cope with withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms aren’t specific or constant and they vary from person to person depending on their physiology and quantity of caffeine they’ve been consuming. However, there are common symptoms that you can expect when you try to quit caffeine. Some of them include:
Fatigue and Sleepiness
Little wonder this is a symptom of withdrawal. When your body is already dependent on caffeine and you need coffee or soda to give you that instant fix of energy it becomes difficult to be as active as you once were when you stop taking caffeine. You will experience lower energy levels physically and psychologically and this will tempt you to go back to caffeine. Typically this occurs within the first 24 to 36 hours after your last drink.
When you quit caffeine, your serotonin levels will drop and this will have an immediate impact on your mood and consequently, depression sets in. The main issue is just the lack of caffeine and this depression is not linked to any real life happenings or conditions. This symptom also manifests between 24 to 36 hours after your last caffeine intake.
The headaches will start behind your eyes and then move to the front of your head making your day to day activities ever so terrible. This symptom is experienced around 72 hours after your last caffeine intake. At this point, you no longer crave the sweetness of the caffeine-containing drink or the energy fix but your body just reacts to the sheer absence of caffeine in your system.
It is probably a good idea to prepare everyone you come in daily contact with that you might be a little grumpy and you’re probably going to overreact to the little things that you normally wouldn’t react to. This irritability is often as a result of the body reacting to the absence of caffeine and it is amplified with the headaches you are probably already experiencing. This also is manifested between 48 to 72 hours after your last drink.
Anxiety and Nervousness
It is possible to have actual physical manifestations of anxiety. Your chest starts to get a little bit tighter and your breathing might become a little more labored and difficult.
You will experience difficulty concentrating and your alertness levels will be on the decline at work and in school and this makes even the easiest tasks seem like the most difficult thing to do. This is the reason why coffee is so popular in colleges and workplaces where a high level of mental concentration is needed. Lapses in concentration show up almost immediately after caffeine intake has been interrupted.
Muscle Pain and Stiffness
Aches and pains occur during the initial stages of withdrawal. If you normally use caffeine for your workouts, you might find that it is harder for you to lift the same amount of weight, to keep your energy levels up and to keep your endurances level as high as you would normally get.
It is also common to start to experience symptoms of flu such as stuffy nose, blocked sinuses, chills, hot flashes etc.
Among the most common effects of caffeine withdrawal is insomnia. Some people cannot sleep through the process as their body is going through all these changes as a result of the absence of caffeine in the system. This is, ironically, as a result of the disruption of the sleep cycle due to the abuse of caffeine. Insomnia is a symptom that will probably be experienced late on in the withdrawal process.
It’s not a pretty affair. Caffeine stimulates the bowels and without it, your trips to the bathroom might start to get really uncomfortable.
According to research, tiredness, as measured by a visual analog scale is the most sensitive indicator of caffeine withdrawal. Headaches only become an issue after at least 24 hours of caffeine withdrawal and it was also confirmed that after longer term abstention, drowsiness and lethargy are transient caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
You probably didn’t know this but caffeine withdrawal following years of previous research has actually now been classified as an actual mental disorder and this is because caffeine is a drug and it needs to be treated as such. During the withdrawal process, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Decrease your intake gradually. Don’t go cold turkey at once.
- Hydrate yourself properly.
- Try decaffeinated alternatives.
How long does caffeine dependence take?
Caffeine dependence is developed in as short as one or two weeks of continued use. The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are felt anywhere between 12 to 20 hours after quitting and can last for up to one week.
If you persist in your bid to quit caffeine, you will eventually cross the threshold where the withdrawal symptoms begin to fade until they are no longer there. This can take anywhere between two weeks to months depending on the method used to quit and the concentration of the initial caffeine intake.