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Many adults develop a habit of consuming caffeine regularly. They enjoy several cups of coffee or black tea every day. Even drinks like cola and snacks like chocolate deliver caffeine, and some over-the-counter medications contain small quantities. All of these beverages and foods contribute to an addiction some people aren't even aware they have. As such, when someone quits or reduces caffeine, they may experience caffeine withdrawal. The symptoms associated with the condition are often unpleasant and may even prompt people to resume their caffeine habits.

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How Caffeine Affects the Brain

Most people who drink or consume caffeine regularly do so because it gives them a feeling of alertness. This is because caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. Many people use caffeine in the morning or to keep going throughout the day on too little sleep. It may seem easier to rely on caffeine than to make the lifestyle changes necessary to increase energy and decrease fatigue. However, as with many substances, the body develops a tolerance to caffeine over time. Often, a person needs to increase the amount of caffeine they consume to continue experiencing the same effects.

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Why Quit Caffeine?

There are several reasons a person may wish to break their caffeine habit. Consuming too much caffeine can raise blood pressure, which can cause health problems over time. Some people find that consuming caffeine during the day stops them from sleeping well at night, increasing their fatigue. Aside from black coffee or tea, caffeine-containing foods often increase fat, sugar, and calories, so some people choose to reduce or stop their intake to lose weight or improve health.

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What is Caffeine Withdrawal?

Caffeine withdrawal occurs when a person who consumes caffeine on a very regular basis suddenly stops altogether. However, some people who quit caffeine abruptly will find they can do so without any symptoms. If a person does develop caffeine withdrawal, symptoms usually begin 12 to 24 hours after the last dose of caffeine and last a couple of days. Withdrawal occurs because the body has become dependant on caffeine. People who consume two or more servings of caffeinated beverages are more likely to experience withdrawal than those who have just one small cup of coffee a day.

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Physical Symptoms

Giving up caffeine increases the amount of blood flow to the brain, causing temporary but very painful headaches. Withdrawing from caffeine can also cause body tremors, though this usually only happens if the person was previously consuming very large amounts of caffeine. The tremors most often occur in the hands. People who experience this symptom for longer than a few days should see a medical professional to rule out any other medical cause.

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Caffeine Withdrawal and Mood

Caffeine withdrawal can cause emotional and psychological symptoms as the body adjusts to the lack of the temporary mood-boosting qualities the drug offers. If a person has become accustomed to the mood-enhancing effects of caffeine, quitting suddenly can result in anxiety, depression, and irritability. These symptoms can be further exacerbated when combined with a headache.

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Caffeine Withdrawal and Energy Levels

Caffeine offers a quick burst of energy, especially when one is already feeling fatigued. Over time, caffeine can become a crutch that lets one bypass the reasons for their malaise rather than dealing with the underlying cause. When the person quits suddenly, lethargic and sleepiness may follow, because the body has developed a dependence on caffeine. All that waylaid tiredness may suddenly collapse on the individual. Caffeinated beverages with a lot of sugar exacerbate this issue, because the body is suddenly without both caffeine and sugar.

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Prevention

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms usually occur because of the suddenness of quitting. Going cold turkey can be a shock for the body. If the person has been consuming large quantities of caffeine, the effects will likely be worse. As is the case with quitting many habits or addictions, cold turkey is often not the most sustainable option.  Instead, symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can be lessened or even avoided altogether by cutting down caffeine intake gradually and giving the body time to adjust to caffeine in lower doses.

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Treatment

If one does decide to quit caffeine altogether, the effects should only last a few days. People can treat their headaches with pain relief medications, and ensuring continued hydration with non-caffeinated fluids will also stave off the worst of the symptoms.

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Increasing Energy Without Caffeine

When people quit caffeine, they may need to find alternate ways to supply the energy they used to get from their morning coffee fix. A key strategy is to get six to eight hours of sleep a night and to stick to a sleep schedule. This can help reduce tiredness in the long-term. Eating a healthy and balanced diet and getting regular exercise can also be useful. Some people find regular sunlight increases energy levels, as well.

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Switching to Decaffeinated Coffee

One common method for quitting caffeine is to switch to decaffeinated coffee or tea. The process of decaffeinating these beverages still leaves a small amount of caffeine behind, although in much smaller quantities. If the person is only consuming one or two cups a day, drinking decaf can be a useful tool for changing this habit. However, in large quantities, the small amounts of caffeine in these beverages can add up over the course of a day.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.