Overview

When you think of morning, what do you picture?

Most likely, it’s something like getting ready for the day, fixing yourself some breakfast, and, of course, pouring your morning cup of coffee.

For many people, a morning cup of coffee is a comforting ritual that signifies the start of a new day and gives them energy to start that new day.

About 75 to 80 percent of people in the world drink caffeinated beverages regularly. In the United States, the amount of caffeine intake increases by age, peaking in the 50 to 64 age group. Coffee is the main source of caffeine, followed by carbonated soft drinks and teas.

All of that caffeine can lead to caffeine dependency.

Although it’s hard to pinpoint an exact number of how many people have caffeine dependency, studies indicate that more than a quarter of people who use caffeine met the criteria listed on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) Substance Dependence list.

If you drink coffee or beverages that contain caffeine every day, you may suffer from caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Read on to learn about the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and what options exist for limiting your dependence.

Caffeine’s effect on the body

Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. It produces the same “happy” effects in the brain as stimulations like energy, alertness, and a sense of well-being.

Some individuals are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, too. Their brains may become more dependent on caffeine than other people. Becoming dependent on caffeine can be caused by many factors, and it also appears to be influenced by genetics.

Read more about caffeine’s effects on the body »

Caffeine is associated with many side effects, including:

  • sleep disturbances
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stomachaches
  • acid reflux
  • muscle twitching
  • cardiovascular problems
  • bodily pain
  • social difficulties
  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • thought disturbances

Caffeine is especially dangerous in adolescents and children.

Just like any other drug, your body can get used to caffeine and require more of it to produce the effects that it did in the beginning. One study review found that regular, high doses of caffeine — like between 750 to 1,200 mg a day — can lead to tolerance.

The caffeine content of coffee can vary depending on the brand and type of coffee, but a typical cup of filter coffee contains around 95 mg of caffeine per cup.

The symptoms of withdrawal

One of the most telltale signs of caffeine dependency is an inability to perform daily activities of life without caffeine. So, if you’re unable to function without your daily cup of coffee in the morning and you “have to have it,” you may be dependent on caffeine.

You may also notice you have a dependence on caffeine if you’ve tried to stop consuming it and are unable to stop.

There are also physical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. According to some research, by far the most common symptom is headache, but other symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • fatigue
  • low energy and activeness
  • decreased alertness
  • drowsiness
  • overall “bad mood” and discontent
  • depressed mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • feeling foggy

The physical effects of caffeine withdrawal can also include flu-like symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain or stiffness.

The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal usually start about 12 to 24 hours after not having caffeine. The peak time for symptoms occurs at 20 to 51 hours after forgoing caffeine. Withdrawal can last from 2 to 9 days.

How to lower your dependence on caffeine

A review of the studies on caffeine consumption have found that people who are severely dependent on caffeine haven’t found a lot of treatment options available to them professionally. The first step is to speak with your doctor about reducing your caffeine dependence.

You can also try these steps to lower your dependence on caffeine:

  • Increase your water intake.
  • Replace one caffeine drink a day with a caffeine-free option. For example, if you normally drink three cups of coffee in the morning, try swapping one of those for an herbal tea or hot water with lemon.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It’s a natural stimulant for your body and central nervous system.

Takeaway

If you suspect that you may have caffeine dependency, don’t worry — you’re definitely not alone. Many people are too dependent on caffeine. Being aware of it is the first step if you want to change your habits.

There are many lifestyle changes you can make, like switching out just one caffeine drink for a caffeine-free option. Try water or herbal tea, for example, or cut back on your intake every other day.