Caffeine withdrawal: Personal stories?
March 6, 2013 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Two days ago, I decided to cut down on my caffeine intake drastically. I now feel super duper out of it and fatigued, plus I have headaches (I never get headaches!). I would like to hear personal anecdotes from others regarding their experiences with caffeine withdrawal, so I know for sure that what I am feeling is not just in my head.

Two days ago, I decided to cut down on my caffeine intake drastically. Up to this point I had been having two or three (big) cups of starbucks coffee every day, with a latte thrown in here and there. I felt awesome until the nighttime, which is when I would start having a hard time falling asleep. I was also feeling quite tense and wound up.

Yesterday, I only had one Starbucks decaf - which has a little bit of caffeine in it, I know - and one cup of green tea (I asked for the lowest caffeine tea they had). Today, just one decaf. Basically I went from around 500-700 mgs of caffeine per day to 20-50-ish.

Wow, did I start feeling like poop all of a sudden! I am feeling majorly lethargic, with no energy to do the things that I usually love to do. My mind is having a hard time jumping to words while making conversation, whereas usually I am a fountain of verbosity. I am also rather irritable, and I am trying to make myself forget about said irritability by eating comfort foods.

At first I didn't connect the dots, but today thought 'hey, I haven't been having my usual coffee intake, let's have a look-see on mr. internet about coffee withdrawals!' Sure enough, going cold turkey - or pretty close to it in my case - does cause withdrawals plus pretty much all of the symptoms I am currently having: inability to concentrate, headaches, fatigue, flu-like symptoms (I am pretty sure that I'm not sick).

So - I am still a tad worried that this withdrawal is either something else or is all in my head because, hey - it's caffeine, not a hard drug for crissakes! So I'd like to hear some personal stories from people who have tried cutting down their coffee/caffeine intake, or were able to cut it out of their lives completely. Finally, for those who were able to stick to the program: Did your life improve as a result? (I need motivation!!)
posted by Kamelot123 to Health & Fitness (60 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend and I used this method which involves taking the supplement L-Phenylalanine. We suffered NO HEADACHES, which as you know, was a blessing in and of itself.

We've been off caffeine for months now, no worries. If we want a little pick me up, we take the supplement, not the coffee.

Please give it a try, and good luck out there!
posted by THAT William Mize at 3:57 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have cut cut coffee cold turkey before. Headaches for one day, then it's gone. No flu like symptoms, no inability to concentrate, and very short lived.
posted by ellF at 3:58 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

On Days 1 & 2, some headaches, nothing major, but annoyingly unpleasant. On Day 3 my lower back went nuclear. It hurt so much, with such intense stabby pains that I couldn't stand upright. I waited for the subway train hunched over squatting like a gremlin. I googled symptoms for kidney failure. It never occurred to me that this might have something to do with cutting the coffee, until I reviewed my obvious lifestyle changes. Google eventually led me to a Livestrong entry that said SOME people experience caffeine withdrawal in the form of intense sciatic pain. I felt like a junky. I guess I was one. I never had any intention to stay of the sauce, the sauce being so very pleasant in moderate quantities, but I decided it made sense to cut back. And that's the happy middle ground I occupy today!
posted by oneaday at 4:01 AM on March 6, 2013

Whenever I try to cut back drastically or quit, like when traveling, I basically get the flu for 5 days. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and others never suffer any withdrawal at all.

Naturally the higher the daily dose the worse the effects of abrupt cessation will be. I would recommend you try to halve your dose every couple of days for the best results.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 4:02 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

one data point: if I go without coffee (regularly one large coffee per day in the morning) I have headaches from ~36 hours after the last coffee for perhaps another 2 days. I also feel generally more sluggish, but I have less of an idea about how long that lasts - perhaps for 4 or 5 days after I have my last caffeine.
posted by russm at 4:04 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

At one point in college my roommate and I were up to about 10-12 cups a day each, on average. (Small cups, but still.) We decided to quit cold-turkey second semester, and honestly I thought I would die. I felt horrible. I had a constant, piercing headache. My digestive system seemed to stop functioning. I was angry all the time, probably because of the headache, but who knows? My skin hurt, which was the weirdest/most alarming symptom. (I'm serious about this: if someone lightly brushed my skin I would jump right out of it.)

But um, that was a lot of coffee. I am now back up to 2-3 cups a day, again smallish (10 oz or so), and if I skip a day I get a mild behind-the-eye kind of headache, but nothing too bad.

Look, cutting coffee out didn't improve my life. 10-12 cups a day is not a healthy habit at all, obviously, but 2-3? Eh. If you're buying all those coffees, it'll help your budget to cut them out. (I have to make deals with myself about how much coffee I can buy - if I make it at home, it doesn't count.) Otherwise, coffee is something that I enjoy, and things that I enjoy (in moderation) make life better, IMO.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:12 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This for the replies so far, peeps. To clarify: I am doing private teaching in cafes, and the students usually buy a drink for me. So I am drinking cafe coffee for free, which I thought would be awesome until I started overdoing it. It doesn't help that a lot of the lessons are in the afternoons/evenings (which many experts agree is a bad time to drink coffee). I have to drink something, but it gets to be too much if there are, say, 4 or 5 students that day. One other point - I am rather anxiety-prone, so I worry about caffeine's effects on that as well. But damn if I don't love coffee :(

And on that note - done threadsitting!
posted by Kamelot123 at 4:23 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm addicted to diet coke. If I don't get a steady trickle, between 24 and 48 hours later the headache comes on, gets worse until I vomit, and I feel a hell of a lot better (like the pressure's gone). This has happened dozens of times, very consistently. The one time that it didn't was when I was on a boat for the weekend - a completely different environment.

If I continue without the caffeine, the headaches come and go for another week, lessening in intensity. I'm also bad-tempered.
posted by Leon at 4:25 AM on March 6, 2013

goodbyewaffles had the same experience as me, though in addaition I had a complete fuzzy-brained inability to concentrate on anything for a couple of days. I'm now much better able to focus without the coffee, though.
posted by scruss at 4:30 AM on March 6, 2013

One week. One solid week of no caffeine is basically a reset button. Headaches until about day 3-4, lethargy until day 4-5, then you'll feel way, way better.

Then in a week you can start over at something reasonable like a cup every other day or so and it'll be fine.
posted by phunniemee at 4:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that is pretty much what it feels like. If you haven't killed anybody after three days, your headaches should go away.
posted by kythuen at 4:37 AM on March 6, 2013

I also felt like crap for a week or so, after spending the second day without caffeine in bed with a migraine. But after that week, oh! I felt so amazing! My sleep was so restorative! I woke so refreshed! My focus and concentration were way better than they ever were with caffeine. I guess I'm saying power through the withdrawal for a week or so and see if you feel way better (it was sudden for me, like a switch flipped). If not, you can always have a cup of coffee.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:39 AM on March 6, 2013

Switch to decaf if you love the taste. I got headaches and a general feeling of unwellness when I quit, but it went away pretty quickly. Sounds like you're not experiencing anything too unusual.

I sleep, focus, and function so much better without it.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:43 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Similar story. Slight headache for a day, less perky, much much better sleep. I also think my libido is lower without it, but I could just be imagining that. I think of it like this: I'm not lethargic now, I was just high with caffeine.
posted by Gomoryhu at 4:54 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hate the taste of decaf-- it lacks the edgy bitterness of regular.

I've stopped my coffee intake for various reasons-- pregnancies, surgery, etc.-- and had a skull busting headache for one day. Generally no other symptoms except that when I go without my cup in the mid-afternoon (3:00 or 4:00) I feel dopy and sleepy. I just need that pick me-up in the middle of the day. I don't have any trouble getting to sleep and I drink 2 large mugs of coffee in the morning and one in the afternoon.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:00 AM on March 6, 2013

First three days are the worse. Totally out of it, unable to form a thought, complete mess. Fourth day starts to feel better. About a week-and-a-half to two weeks, and you should be back to normal.

I used green tea for a bit of caffeine, and herbal tea for the act of drinking something. And a lot of water.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:02 AM on March 6, 2013

I have never tried to quit caffeine, but I've known for a long time that delaying my first dose of the day will cause headaches and general misery.

I have cut back. I used to drink 2-3 cups a day at work. I adjusted that to a first cup of regular followed by decaf. Eventually I changed to tea, which has less caffeine than coffee. That was pretty painless for me, and I stopped feeling jittery. Ideally I don't drink any caffeine at all after about 2 in the afternoon.
posted by bunderful at 5:25 AM on March 6, 2013

I just had to spend a day and a half in hospital, cold-turkeying off caffeine. The headache soon became more of an issue to me than the initial reason I had gone there. You're not imagining it.
posted by zadcat at 5:41 AM on March 6, 2013

The first few days post-caffeine just suck. Make sure that you're drinking plenty of water. And once you get through it, you'll feel great, I promise.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:51 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

When we visit my folks in Buffalo, where the coffee is just "water dressed in brown", my mom, who thinks I'm "addicted to caffeine and should get off the stuff", often switches out my morning coffee for decaf. When at 3pm on the days she does this I have a headache so bad I could throw up, and it's so bad I can feel each hair on my scalp pulling at the skin and can't even form a thought coherent enough to really curse her and can do nothing more than press my head into the corner of the sofa and think bad thoughts - I realize that even my one really strong coffee a day is a big part of who I am. I've got Juan Valdez on my back. When we travel, I try to keep a can of Coke in the car, or grab a Starbucks can of espresso, because motel coffee just doesn't do it and I can't risk that if I'm driving a distance. I've always thought my caffeine addiction wasn't so bad - but it's not so good either.

A few times this winter (like today!) when I've had a really bad virus or flu, I've kicked the coffee because the symptoms are more like an extension of being sick. Then I start sleeping well at night. And I'm productive after dinner. And I wake up in the morning ready to go - not ready for more coffee. But eventually my love for the production and enjoyment of a great cup of coffee pulls me back over to the dark roast side again.

My only advice is to try to suffer through without painkillers - because the rebound headaches from those aren't any fun either.
posted by peagood at 5:51 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't think you're experiencing anything unusual. In my experience, day 1 = headache starting about 6 hours after my normal coffee time, day 2 - 3 = feels like I've been shot by a tranq gun. Woozy, groggy, sleepy, and all kinds of other bad dwarves. But it'll clear up in a bit. For me, it usually takes 2 days, but I try to not let myself drink coffee for more than 4 consecutive days. I find that after 4 days of coffee, I can just drop it and not have withdrawl. 5+ days and I'm a junkie again. If you play around with a few days on and a few days off, you might find that you have a similar tipping point.
posted by ghostiger at 5:59 AM on March 6, 2013

You know, you don't have to quit cold turkey. You can wean yourself off it and suffer no symptoms. Start by replacing one of your cups of coffee with a decaf. Do that for a few days. Then make one of the caffeinated cups half decaf and half regular, and do that for a few days. Etc.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:11 AM on March 6, 2013

I quit coffee a few years ago, and had a grand plan: immediately switch to caffeine pills of an equivalent dose, and then slowly reduce the dose in small daily increments over two weeks until I was taking no more caffeine. Couldn't fail, right?

The first few days were fine, and breaking the oral addiction was easy. What I noticed, however, was that there was a staircase effect in how my body reacted: for a few days I would be fine, and then the next day after another very slight reduction in caffeine, I would suddenly get massive headaches. I think my strategy backfired and it actually prolonged the agony, turning what could have been one withdrawal into a series of several of them.

It did ultimately work, though. I did feel like I constantly needed a coffee foe the next few years, however. I think my expectation after drinking coffee for so long was that you should always feel energized, and once the reality of my natural daily energy cycles kicked in, it took me a while to accept that, and remember that having periods of low energy throughout the day is actually normal.
posted by SNACKeR at 6:21 AM on March 6, 2013

I am a fan of fooling myself with half-caf, as much of the addiction for me was psychological.

For full decaf, I found one amazing coffee roaster that did really good decaf if I bought an americano by the cup or bought beans & drank it within three days of roasting. Otherwise, ick.

Now I splurge on fancy tea and look forward to that in the AM. Its not as fun as I remember coffee drinking in the morning, but I don't miss the taste now at all - which is a huge surprise to me!
posted by iiniisfree at 6:34 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Caffeine has a really really strong effect on me and quitting it feels like death, but I am okay by the 5th day and after a couple of weeks don't notice it at all. The first three days are the worst. Hang in there.
posted by something something at 6:38 AM on March 6, 2013

Splitting headache for a couple of days - nothing my painkiller of choice couldn't handle though. I cannot remember any particular sluggishness in terms of physical energy levels but I do recall fogginess and I do recall that even after 2 months I still sometimes did not feel as clear and focused, mentally, as I'd have of the reasons why I started to drink coffee again...and drink a lot, let's just say you can give me a double espresso an hr before I go to bed and I'll still sleep like a I dread to think what would happen if I stopped cold turkey right now :(
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:45 AM on March 6, 2013

I drank three to six cups a day and quit cold turkey. Bad headaches for a week, nightmares every night for almost two weeks. Unpleasant.
posted by L. Ron McKenzie at 7:06 AM on March 6, 2013

Can you switch to green tea entirely? I went from a couple of cups of coffee a day to a couple of cups of green tea a day after about a decade of being completely addicted to coffee, and it was not nearly as bad as I expected. I still had the freaky dreams that L. Ron McKenzie mentions, but I guess the caffeine in the tea was enough to make the headaches not really a problem.

By the way, quitting coffee is so worth it, even if you're just replacing the high-dose caffeine addiction with a low-dose one. I decided to stop the coffee to improve stress and digestion, but in the month since I switched to green tea, my sleep schedule has completely regularized itself and I no longer need an alarm to get up in the morning.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:18 AM on March 6, 2013

Just chiming in to agree with everyone else; a couple of days of headache, then about a week of lethargy, then back to normal -- by which I mean uncaffeinated normal, which for me is not quite as sprightly and go-getting as caffeinated normal.
posted by escabeche at 7:19 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The 3 times I've quit the coffee for whatever reason, I felt terrible for about the first 3 days. Headaches, trouble sleeping/waking, and mood swings were my biggest complaints. It really doesn't take that long to get over it.
posted by tealcake at 7:23 AM on March 6, 2013

I started drinking coffee in 2nd grade at my pediatrician's suggestion. (I have asthma and caffeine is a weak bronchodilator.) When I was in 5th grade my mother decided to switch to decaf without telling anyone. Boy, did I suffer. Migraines, sleeping through most of the school day, short-tempered, mentally scattered. Once I discovered the source of my troubles I insisted on an immediate return to a fully caffeinated life.

I'm not sensitive to caffeine like some people are, so I've never seriously tried to quit. It doesn't keep me up, make me nervous or jumpy, affect my digestion in any noticeable way, etc. If I haven't had a cup within a few hours of waking I will get a pretty unpleasant headache.
posted by xyzzy at 7:27 AM on March 6, 2013

Definitely flu-like symptoms and a monster headache if I quit cold turkey. However, I'm generally a pretty heavy user, but I can cut back to 25% of the usual immediately without getting a headache. On that first day I'll be sluggish, and not super productive at work, but it's fine for a lazy Saturday.
posted by ecsh at 7:27 AM on March 6, 2013

Oh also: if you're constipated, that may be related to quitting.
posted by ecsh at 7:29 AM on March 6, 2013

10-12 cups a day is not a healthy habit at all, obviously, but 2-3? Eh.

He's been drinking Starbucks, which is much more caffeinated than regular coffee: depending on the variety, a single cup can contain over 400mg of caffeine all by itself. OP, your math is pretty far off; you've probably been consuming well over a full gram of caffeine daily. So, yeah, your withdrawal is likely to be pretty bad.

I have cut down from that level of caffeine consumption (it's easy to quit! I've done it lots of times!) Going cold turkey left me with bad headaches and constipation for 3-4 days, and it was at least a couple of weeks before I stopped feeling groggy and irritable. Tapering off slowly extends the groggy-and-irritable part, but can reduce (or eliminate) the headache period.

I'm afraid I can't really comment on the "does your life improve" part; every time I quit I wind up starting up again the first time I have a big work deadline and gradually ramping up to too-much levels. So far the main advantage of quitting or cutting down is that it becomes a much more effective drug when I start up again.
posted by ook at 7:39 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Switching to tea is a good half-step for me when I need to quit coffee. Tea does have caffeine, but the tannins in it supposedly help moderate the absorption of caffeine so there are fewer peaks and valleys in how it affects you. I'm really, really sensitive to caffeine and occasionally have to quit coffee for a while to do a reset like phunniemee suggests. I always drink tea for a few days to cut down on the headaches.
posted by misskaz at 7:45 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know my experience was unusual, but I was fatigued and had crippling migraines for a month after quitting. I had been drinking coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas every day, and cut it all out.

But after it was gone, I felt so much better. I had thought that my sleep schedule was naturally really out of whack with the natural world, and that I could function "normally" on a couple hours of sleep, but after being off of caffeine for a month, I started getting tired before midnight and sleeping restfully through the night, and I woke up more refreshed than I ever did before. I still do, actually, 6 years later. I've gotten to where I can have a cup of coffee or a caffeinated drink or two without triggering withdrawal.
posted by smoq at 8:18 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

cutting caffeine gives me screaming headaches and makes me tired, no matter how much sleep I get, until it doesn't.

Truth be told, I drink about 4 cups a day, and try to get all that in before lunch. That's too much, really. I need to quit again.

When I DO quit, I drink gallons on gallons of water and be sure to take my vitamins. Advil helps a little with the body aches, but really it's just getting through it. Avoid black tea, too.

I love coffee. So much. Love. It. But it's a harsh mistress.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2013

I tried this a few years back when I noticed caffeine was making me anxious and high strung, but I was just drinking a couple of cups of tea and a couple of sodas a day. Going cold turkey led to terrible tension headaches that painkillers didn't put a dent in, and also nausea from the headaches. I rode out the headaches for a couple days, then after that it was just general fatigue. Like others have said, 5-7 days without caffeine is a good reset period. I went back to drinking one soda or cup of tea a day and felt fine after that. Now when I want to do a reset, I just taper down instead of going cold turkey, because cold turkey is just too much misery.

If you're spending a lot of time in cafes, go with tea instead of coffee. Starbucks coffee has a really lot of caffeine in it, but their tea is the same as any other.
posted by yasaman at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2013

I've quit a couple of times. When going cold turkey, days 3 and 4 are the worst. If you can start your withdrawal on a Thursday and take Ibuprofen on Friday to deal with the minor headaches, you can pretty much sleep through the two hell days.

It takes me between one and two weeks to be back at full energy. When that happens, I actually have more energy than when I'm drinking caffeine—I don't struggle to wake up as much, I have a more consistent energy level during the day, and I can fall asleep effortlessly. I don't have quite the same peak as I do when I'm drinking caffeine, but my average energy level is much higher.
posted by philosophygeek at 8:36 AM on March 6, 2013

I've quit coffee now and then in the past when I was sick anyway. I don't like caffeine when I'm sick, and by the time I stop being sick I'm over caffeine withdrawal anyway, so I figure I may as well stick with it for a while. So yeah, it makes a lot of sense to me that you're experiencing quitting caffeine as roughly equal to a minor cold.

Since you're looking for motivation -- the reason I quit is that I like caffeine, and it works better if you don't have a huge tolerance. So it's worth spending a week resetting to baseline now and then even if you're not quitting for the long term.

Also, as you've noticed, caffeine in the afternoon can really mess with your sleep cycle. (And it can surprise you -- like a Starbucks drink might have twice the caffeine that the same drink from the same shop had last week. Or for women, caffeine might start lasting twice as long if you're on the pill.)

If I was in your situation (lots of free cafe drinks) I would accept caffeinated drinks before, say, noon or 2PM, and after that switch to decaf. If the decaf coffee tastes wrong (or sometimes isn't available at all), maybe try a decaf americano. And maybe do some research on what the likely half-life of caffeine in your body is to figure out how soon before bed you should switch over.
posted by jhc at 8:37 AM on March 6, 2013

I used to drink a gallon of coffee a day. I worked full time and went to school full time while I was a grad student, coffee was what kept me going. I knew I had to quit though, when my boyfriend at the time told me that "You're scary when you haven't had your coffee, and you're also kind of frightening when you've just had your coffee." There was no happy middle ground: I was either jonesing for caffeine or I was tweaking on it.

Anyway, I took a group of college students on an Alternative Spring Break trip in 2007 - we went to the woods in the American South and built hiking trails. When I got there I realized - to my horror - that this meant we'd be in the woods for 6 days with NO COFFEE. NNNNnnooooooooooooo.

I knew that I had headaches and fogginess (and probably irritability), but they were all eclipsed by the sheer physical pain and exhaustion my body felt from swinging axes and other trail-building equipment 10 hours a day for six days straight. It was brutal, but it was a great way for me to get out my ARRGH COFFEE fits and cravings. By the end of the week, I was done. Cured. No more coffee.

I could probably count the cups of coffee I've had since on my fingers and toes - and each time, I get all jittery and foggy. I do drink tea now, but I hold myself to one caffeinated cup a day.

Moral of the story is: go somewhere where there is no coffee for miles around, and cover the pain of withdrawal with even worse physical pain. YMMV.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:39 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got lots of headaches when I quit drinking coffee, and I never really got any in my life before that.

Maybe get your students to order you a decaf or a tea? Those don't cause me problems even if they have a nominal amount of caffeine.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:42 AM on March 6, 2013

Also, once I readjusted, quitting was a very positive experience. I don't feel any more tired now than I did in my coffee stage, which was a pleasant surprise.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2013

I'm an evangelist for quitting caffeine. I went off it because I was having panic attacks and insomnia. Quitting caffeine fixed it. I wasn't an enormous coffee drinker, but I'd have a big mug or two of coffee a day, plus caffeinated soda in ridiculous fast-food quantities.

It was hard for the first few days, like having the flu: Headaches, exhaustion, irritability. But it was only bad for a few days, and after that I felt sooo much better. I could fall asleep at night! And my anxiety and panic attacks got light-years better. I'd been thinking really hard about asking for benzos before that; but I didn't need them, I just needed to not have caffeine.

These days, I drink decaf coffee happily... I don't need caffeine, I just really like having a hot beverage in the morning. I'm also not 100% off the sauce anymore. I'll have a bottle of caffeinated soda or whatever maybe once or twice a week, and that amount seems to be just fine. But if I go over that, it's back to my heart pounding at night and freaking out excessively over any little thing.

Decaf. It's the way and the light.
posted by Andrhia at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2013

I cut back gradually and quit caffeine for a while. I felt ill, brain wasn't right (different feeling than a headache, hard to describe, a dull tense feeling), distracted, memory not working, foggy and extremely irritable and this went on for 4-7 days. Luckily, on the days I had to work I could work from home, or I would barely have been able to stop myself from snapping at colleagues. It was, honestly, extremely difficult to not get upset about petty things or annoyed by the smallest personality quirks of others, which is otherwise never an issue for me even if I'm sick, exhausted, etc. It was very hard to control that reaction. You aren't making it up, it seemed worse than the flu because I didn't like being mentally/emotionally off key in such a significant way for days, whereas the flu just makes you physically ill. I guess it may be like withdrawal symptoms for other substances but I wouldn't know.

It wore off and the benefits were better sleep, otherwise not much except once I went back to (far less) caffeine I was a lot more sensitive to it & can't consume near as much without feeling jittery or staying up half the night.
posted by citron at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2013

Caffeine is a hard drug! Withdrawal is real and normal. Mine is exactly like yours: headaches, lethargy, not feeling right.

A few years ago I stopped a daily regular coffee habit and switched to decaf (strong, espresso-grade decaf, can't tell the difference). The reason why I kicked was because I was getting all the unpleasant effects of caffeine: jittery, spacey, hard to concentrate, a bit panicky and anxious in the hours right after. Now, I have a regular espresso maybe once a week or so, and it is awesome! A really nice, mellow buzz.

You can taper off, which is what I did, less symptoms though I was a bit tired while doing it. Or you can do it cold turkey. When I have done that, it took about 2-3 days and then I started feeling better.
posted by nanook at 9:09 AM on March 6, 2013

I am about 6 weeks into being caffeine free. Previously, I would have one cup of coffee and one cup of tea per day and occasionally a soda on top of that. I came down with the stomach flu around New Year's and could not tolerate coffee or tea. I physically could not consume it and thought this was as good an opportunity as any to try and get off it. Honestly, if I hadn't been so sick I don't think I would have been able to do it. I COULD NOT drink it without getting sick.

Withdrawl was rough. The second week I would have one coke midday because I couldn't take it anymore (cold coke did not bother my stomach, but I still really missed that warm cup of coffee in the morning.) I had a headache for nearly three weeks that ibuprofen, my usual go-to, could not touch.

But, after those three weeks I was home free. I still like to have a warm drink in the morning and have substituted decaf tea with milk and sugar. I think the sugar replaces the buzz of the caffeine a little (I used to take my coffee with milk, no sugar, and the tea black.)

I think it's been worth it. I definitely sleep better and it's nice not to feel beholden to a substance. I miss coffee, to be honest, the the benefits outweigh that.
posted by fozzie_bear at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2013

I was a huge coffee drinker before getting pregnant, and it hit me bad when I had to cut back. What really helped me was drinking iced tea throughout the day. It has a small enough amount of caffeine in it that I wasn't going through withdrawal, but not enough that it was dangerous for me.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:37 AM on March 6, 2013

I am somewhat sensitive to caffeine (large amounts disrupt my already-poor sleep habits and make me edgy) so I've quit coffee many, many times, over the past decade or so. Same as the above, I get the nasty headaches and fatigue and brain-fog for a few days, and then even out to a calmer neutral state. However, I am rarely particularly energetic or motivated if I don't have at least a small amount of caffeine, so I usually end up going back to a more moderate amount, thus beginning the cycle again.

The only time I have quit caffeine long-term was during pregnancy. The very first symptom of my first pregnancy, before missing a period, before anything else, was when I drank my morning cup of coffee and almost gagged on the taste. Mind you, I LOVE coffee. The next day, same thing. On day three I literally went to the bathroom and puked up my morning Joe - and it was all downhill from there. I had a job where I left the house for work at 4 am, no coffee (and sick as a dog) and all I can say is you kind of get used to it...

Right now I have 1 big mug every morning, no sugar, sometimes two if it's been a particularly rough night with the kids, and it's just about right for me - I found that cutting the sweetened creamers allowed the energy from the caffeine to affect me in a more stable way, if that makes sense. Blood sugar spikes and drops are worse on me, so you might try limiting how much sugar is in your drinks too.
posted by celtalitha at 9:52 AM on March 6, 2013

Just taper. Seriously. Quitting coffee doesn't require self-inflected migraines.

I've found that if I drop my intake by a cup or half cup a day, then switch to black tea and finally decaf/herbal, that I am not going to cry or puke or lie on the floor staring at the ceiling while "Cold Turkey" plays on repeat. At your previous level of intake, I'd have given it at least a week or two.
posted by ziggly at 10:07 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had none for about 10 days, after a natural disaster, once. Headaches were terrible. This is a very common symptom of caffeine withdrawal, and it is definitely not you being a hypochondriac or something like that.
posted by thelonius at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2013

I wonder how much the other chemicals in a cup of coffee make a difference. I start my mornings with caffinated water, which only has caffiene in it. 60 mg/500 ml, which is enough to help get me going.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2013

I cannot just stop caffeine cold turkey. I have tried. I have medical issues (which include allergies and respiratory problems, among others) and I take zero medication for them. Instead, my food is my medication. Reducing exposure to allergens and the like has reduced how much caffeine I consume. When my consumption of coffee, soda and chocolate go up suddenly, I stop and wonder why. If I can pinpoint a problem and resolve it (often: find an exposure to an allergen and eliminate it), my consumption will come back down.

So, if you really cannot stick with it, consider the possibility that you are self medicating for allergies, respiratory problems or something else. Try to ID the problem and find a non-caffeine solution. Also, tapering off may go better than cold turkey.
posted by Michele in California at 11:05 AM on March 6, 2013

Quitting coffee is easy! I've done it dozens of times!

(Seriously, you have been ingesting a phenomenal amount of caffeine, and you might be better off tapering for a bit instead of the cold-turkey method. The consensus seems to be three days to one week of pain, but I'd count on longer...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2013

Caffeine withdrawal is a bitch. Terrible headaches, exhausted, the works. It's supposed to be better for you to taper off instead of cold turkey, but cold turkey is faster.
posted by radioamy at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2013

I recently quit a moderate caffeine habit (2-3 cups of tea a day, coffee once or twice a week) cold-turkey. It really sucked (really really bad) for two days, then improved over the next two days, then I was fine. And now I don't really feel any different than I did when I was drinking my tea every day. I switched to decaf tea, which I'm sure has small amounts, I tested it out by skipping it for a couple of days, it's not enough to keep an addiction going. Good luck. Even though it was awful (so awful), I'm glad I did it all at once, I think the tapering off process would have been harder for me to maintain, it would have been too easy for me to just slide back into full-time.
posted by upatree at 12:00 PM on March 6, 2013

This is definitely not in your head. I once had to go two weeks without caffeine because I was having some stomach problems and the doctor wanted to see if that would help. I don't know if it would have helped, because I felt so sick from withdrawal that it rendered the experiment meaningless - headache, nausea, total inability to concentrate, etc.

To this day if I feel crappy I have a cup of coffee, and 90% of the time it fixes whatever I'm feeling.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:11 PM on March 6, 2013

It's not just in your head. I've gone cold turkey on caffeine a couple of times now. Each time, I've become lethargic and irritable for about a week. Fortunately, once I get through that week my energy level is higher and more consistent than it was before. In addition, caffeine becomes an incredibly useful tool for me when my body no longer has a tolerance built up.
posted by GeekDad at 3:56 PM on March 6, 2013

Green tea might have more caffeine than you think. I have an herbal tea like chamomile when I want a comforting hot beverage without caffeine.
posted by stopgap at 6:33 AM on March 7, 2013

Went cold turkey a couple of years ago. TEN-DAY MIGRAINE. It wasn't the worst one I've ever had, but would only respond to my migraine meds (and came back the next day, for 10 days), so it was definitely a migraine triggered by withdrawal and not just withdrawal itself. At the time, I chose to stay cold-turkey and not ease myself out of it because I was doing it to check if caffeine contributed to my migraines. (Result: no, but artificial sweeteners, which I inadvertently went off at the same time, did.)

And I also discovered that my blood pressure dropped by 5 points within a couple of weeks. Between that and caffeine withdrawal migraine, I now try not to consume more than one caffeinated drink per day, so I am no longer dependent on it.
posted by telophase at 12:39 PM on March 7, 2013

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