Current Update: About 1 year caffeine free (April 2019)

I began drinking coffee about 7 years before I quit, at a time when I had a major exam to study for.  Being happy with the effects of it, I continued drinking increasing amounts over the years, to the point where I almost never had less than 5-6 cups a day. (In reality, I was not keeping track of the amount very well, so it could have been more.) Toward the end of my caffeine addiction, I was buying pre-made cold brew coffee, so I could drink some right away in the morning without having to wait. I would not be surprised if my intake was close to 1000 mg/day, although I thought there was no downside and therefore did not keep track. 

Symptoms that pushed me to quit:

At the end of my time of caffeine addiction, I started to experience dizziness / lightheadedness during the day that seemed to really correspond to the time after I started consuming caffeine until I stopped for the day (10 am to 4 pm). At the time, this reminded me of being sick with a cold or flu, but without the other symptoms. I also would get sort of "flushed" in the face / hot in certain social situations. In retrospect, this was probably anxiety, but I did not recognize it because I never thought of myself as anxious at all. 

Symptoms I didn't realize I had until after I quit:

In retrospect, I also look back on my years of caffeine use and realize several things were happening that were probably caffeine related, but I refused to admit them at the time. I started to have issues with sleep: Earlier in my life, I could be woken up multiple times per night and still go right back to sleep, but toward the end of my caffeine addiction I would be extremely grumpy if woken up and struggle to get back to sleep for an hour or two. I was also more irritable during the day, even after I consuming my usual amount coffee. I started to have more and more headaches, and I always kept ibuprofen / acetaminophen handy (at work, in the car, when traveling). In fact, I distinctly remember a day when I drank my usual weekend dose of coffee (6 tablespoons brewed with 6-8 cups water) and then went to the gym to exercise and my headache wouldn't go away, so I had even more coffee. SPOILER : I can't remember the last time I took medicine for a headache now that I'm caffeine free! (after the first few months of withdrawal, that is)

 

As another example of my crazy behavior to stay caffeinated at all times, I went on an international trip and had to go to the airport very early. I knew I might not have time to drink my coffee, so I brought instant coffee packets and dissolved them in cold water from my water bottle to have on the airplane!

Weight gain: I had lost a significant amount of weight with diet and exercise right around the time I began drinking coffee. Over the 7-8 years I was using caffeine, I slowly gained back about a third of the weight. I don't know if this was directly related to the caffeine, since other things happened in my life as well, but after about 6 months caffeine-free, I started to pay closer attention to my diet again and am close to my lowest weight again. 

Current Status:

At the time of the latest update to this page, I am about 1 year caffeine free. My journey was complicated, because it took me a while to realize my symptoms were from caffeine and subsequent quitting. I hope this page will help others to realize that caffeine is a real drug and can cause problems, at least for some people. I am feeling mostly fully recovered, but I really believe some of my symptoms are still improving! See our links to others' stories who report only being fully recovered at 18 months or more! This is not meant to scare you - I was able to function well and I don't think anyone else would have known I was not feeling myself, even after the first month or two caffeine-free. But you are not alone or crazy if you experience similar symptoms! There are several other forums which are also listed in our links, and a sizable number of the posts are from people asking whether their symptoms really could be from caffeine. My answer: YES! 

 

(Of course, this is not a substitute for consulting a doctor - I did see two different doctors, had lab tests and even a CT scan, and they found nothing to account for my symptoms.)

How I quit:

One day after realizing the issues I was having were likely from caffeine, I quit cold turkey. I actually felt OK for the first 2-3 days, maybe even felt good, and some of the issues I noticed went away. However, somewhere around a week or two after quitting, I suddenly felt extremely sick, thinking that I had the flu. I normally exercise as much as 5 days per week, but I actually quit for 2-3 weeks at this point. This experience actually pushed me back to coffee again at a lower amount. I figured I was mistakenly blaming caffeine, when I must have just been sick all along. In retrospect, I think this "flu" was actually acute withdrawal, and everything else was post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). More on that here. Over the next several weeks, I became really confused, because most articles state that caffeine withdrawal should only last 2-9 days. We firmly believe this is not true, at least for a subset of people. See also our Scientific Research page. In fact, I used internet symptom checkers multiple times, and the number one hit was always "drug reaction". At the time I skipped over this one, thinking "I don't take any drugs." In retrospect, this was probably exactly right! Over the next few weeks, I continued to have symptoms (possibly still being withdrawal, since I substantially reduced my dosage), and I didn't find that the smaller amount of caffeine I was using (1-2 coffees, down to 1-2 decaf coffees) was curing the symptoms, so I decided to go to zero. 

Symptoms I had from withdrawal:

Dizziness / lightheadedness: 

This was probably the major one for me. The exact sensation was hard to describe. This is likely not true dizziness or vertigo, as there was no specific spinning sensation (i.e. clockwise or counterclockwise). This was most noticeable after sitting still for a while, followed by getting up and walking. It would also get worse when going into a crowded place, like a grocery store. For that reason, I wonder if this is related to anxiety, even though I've never considered myself anxious. Despite this being rather disturbing, it only interfered with what I was doing on a few rare occasions in the first few months. 

 

Currently:  Still experiencing it a little bit (1 year caffeine free) but it is bearable. (I think this is one of the last remaining symptoms and still improving!)

Flu-like symptoms: 

When: First 2 weeks.

I felt like I had the actual flu and missed 1-2 days of work. Maybe I did have the flu, but this came fairly quickly after quitting cold turkey, and no one else in my family developed the flu.

Currently: Resolved since week 2-3. 

Insomnia:

When: First few months after quitting.

In the first few months after quitting, I had various sleep problems, including 1) waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, 2) not being able to fall asleep, or 3) being very anxious / agitated if woken up. This is somewhat surprising, as you would think that quitting caffeine would help you sleep better (and it does, once you are through the withdrawal!), but similar problems have been reported by others after quitting caffeine. This happened less and less and does not really happen anymore. 

Currently: Resolved since approximately month 5-6. Now, I almost always fall asleep within 30 minutes and often wake up a little before my alarm time feeling ready to get up. If I do wake up for some reason, even if I am worried about something, I am usually back asleep again in 30 minutes or less. 

Sleeping more:

When: First few months after quitting.

This sounds like the opposite of the insomnia in the last paragraph, but I had both! In the first few months I felt tired every afternoon, as if I wanted to take a nap (but I didn't). At night I felt I needed to increase the length of time I slept from 6-7 hours (when I was on caffeine) to 8-9 hours (after quitting). 

Currently: Resolved since approximately month 5-6. Now sleeping about 7.5 hours per night without difficulty. REM sleep percentage as measured by Fitbit seems to be improving, which was sometimes lower in earlier months. Unfortunately, I didn't have a sleep tracker until I was already 7-8 months caffeine-free, so I can't compare to the early months. 

 

Ringing ears (tinnitus):

When: Most of my time off caffeine.

This is very mild and only noticeable when in a very quiet room, especially at bedtime. It may have gone away for a little while, but currently is still there. I'm not sure if I always had this and just noticed, or if it is a withdrawal symptom, but others have mentioned it going away, so I've included it here with the hopes that in future updates it may be completely gone. This article discusses tinnitus as a symptom of quitting other drugs. 

Currently: Still present (1 year caffeine-free)

Eyelid twitching:

When: When on caffeine and several months after quitting

If you ever encounter eyelid twitching, you might find from an internet search that too much caffeine is one cause of this. That is probably true, but it is likely also a symptom of caffeine withdrawal, since I had it for several months caffeine-free also. This was very annoying and in the early months was almost constant. It slowly decreased and became less and less. Currently have not had any twitches recently and can't remember the last time it happened! 

Currently: Resolved, since an unknown time (maybe 6-8 months?)

Low energy:

When: In the first few months after quitting

I am normally a highly motivated person and achieve quite a bit at my job. I never really failed to complete any tasks or quit anything, except for missing 1-2 days of work with the acute withdrawal, but sometimes it was a struggle to continue to pursue "extra" projects that I would normally be excited about. 

Currently: Mostly resolved. Some days I am more tired than others and don't want to do extra work at nighttime before bed, but other days I do. This may be still improving. (Or I guess it is normal to not want to work every night!)

Anxiety:

This is a big one for a number of people who post on other forums, such as Reddit decaf, and others. I have never considered myself anxious and in fact continued to do things that would normally be anxiety-provoking during this process, such as public speaking, without much difficulty. However, sometimes when sitting still or having a conversation, I would have slight anxiety. It is possible that many of these symptoms listed elsewhere are just physical manifestations of anxiety. 

Currently: Minimal but still improving

Vivid dreams / memories:

When: Early months, perhaps 2-3

In the early months off caffeine, I noticed I was having more dreams and remembering things from the remote past. A number of others have mentioned this, such as on Reddit decaf, and other sites. I do have more dreams now, and according to my Fitbit tracker, my REM might be improving, but this seems more or less normal now. 

Currently: Resolved / normal, since perhaps month 3

Sensitive to light

When: About month 2

Currently: Resolved, since about the same time (did not last long)

Improvements from quitting caffeine
  • Sleep - seem to be much closer to my normal self, being able to stay asleep for the whole night and get back to sleep easily if woken

  • Weight loss - might not be caffeine-related per se, but have been able to be more intentional about diet habits and lost about 25 pounds. During my time on caffeine, I did notice that I was much more particular about not getting hungry / needing caffeine. That is, if I started to not feel great or get a headache, I would feel I needed to eat / have caffeine immediately. Now I am much more flexible and can wait longer for lunch time if I have to

  • Eyelid twitching - gone

  • Dependence on the drug - This is a big one! In retrospect it was really crazy how I would have to plan for the event that I would not have access to coffee

  • Headaches - I don't remember the last time I needed to take medicine for a headache since the first few months of withdrawal. During my time on caffeine, I was sure to have ibuprofen / acetaminophen handy at all times

  • Energy - I am slowly getting my old energy back. Toward the end of my caffeine addiction, I would often feel like I had no energy for things at night, just needed to watch TV and go to bed. Now, I am starting to have energy to do chores or work projects even at night

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