Beating caffeine addiction isn’t easy. It may not be as tough as battling an illicit drug addiction, but getting off of caffeine is no simple task. Like any drug, caffeine works in your brain and affects the chemicals and pathways there.
Over time you get used to having the substance in your body and brain, and when you try to quit you experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. If you wake up in the morning feeling fuzzy until after your first cup of coffee, you already know what withdrawal feels like. The good news is you can put yourself through a version of caffeine rehab and learn to live without it.
How caffeine affects your brain
Everybody is familiar with how caffeine affects the brain, at least initially. You drink coffee, energy drinks, sodas and other caffeinated beverages to give you a boost of energy and to wake you up. This is the immediate effect of caffeine in the brain: it acts like a stimulant. That alertness you get from your cup of coffee only lasts a few hours, though.
When you drink coffee every day, your brain actually changes. Receptors for chemicals impacted by caffeine become more plentiful, and as a result you build up a tolerance to the drug. Your brain changes to a state that requires caffeine to function normally, so you feel bad and experience caffeine withdrawal if you try to stop.
Symptoms of caffeine addiction
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the book used for diagnosing psychological conditions, finally recognized caffeine addiction and withdrawal as real conditions. Of course, coffeeholics knew it all along.
Symptoms of being hooked on caffeine include:
- Feeling restless
- Feeling nervous and excited
- A flushed face
- Stomach upset
- Muscle twitching
- Frequent urination
- Cardiac arrhythmia.
How to break caffeine addiction
The good news about being addicted to caffeine is that quitting is much easier than giving up other drugs, like heroin or nicotine.
Initially after stopping you will feel withdrawal symptoms like:
- Trouble concentrating
Eventually, with time, these symptoms will pass and you won’t experience the intense cravings that people struggling with other kinds of addictions face.
Going cold turkey off any drug is difficult. A good treatment for caffeine addiction is to be weaned slowly from it. This can reduce the severity of withdrawal and make it more likely that you will stick to your choice to give up the habit. Reduce intake by a cup a day for several days. Once the mild discomfort of giving up that one cup has passed, give up another cup. Keep doing this until you have either eliminated all caffeine or reduced intake to a reasonable amount. If you still can’t give up caffeine, a therapist or addiction counselor can help.