How caffeine withdrawal affects your mood and mental health

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Medically reviewed by
Julie Dodson
Updated February 28, 2024
by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Caffeine is a commonly used stimulant found in various beverages and foods that is widely consumed around the world for its energizing effects. As caffeine is generally cheap, legal, and readily available, studies suggest that, on average, Americans over 18 consume nearly 200mg of caffeine per day.
Though caffeine may be a wildly popular substance found in natural ingredients, regular caffeine consumption can lead to physical and psychological dependence. When individuals abruptly reduce or cease their caffeine intake, they may experience a range of symptoms known as caffeine withdrawal. In this article, we’ll explore the effects of consuming too much caffeine, as well as how caffeine withdrawal can impact our mood and mental health.
How much caffeine is considered too much?
In general, 400 mg of caffeine daily is considered safe for most adults, which equates to about four cups of coffee, ten cans of soda, or two energy drinks. You can locate the amount of caffeine in a beverage on the back of its container on the nutrition facts label to see how much you’re consuming.
While everyone has varying tolerance levels, there are several signs that you may be consuming too much caffeine. If you believe (delete – ‘feel’) that you rely heavily on caffeine to wake you up and keep you energized throughout the day, you might be dependent on caffeine.
Physical symptoms like headaches, rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors, or frequent urination may also indicate that you’re consuming too much caffeine. Increased irritability or nervousness could also be a side effect of too much caffeine consumption.
Finally, one of the most common signs of caffeine overconsumption may be insomnia. Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, meaning if you consume 100 mg of caffeine at noon, there may still be 50 mg coursing through your bloodstream at 5 PM. Your body may not get a break from caffeination if you have several caffeinated beverages throughout the day and evening.
Many people who exercise may drink a caffeinated beverage, like an energy drink, before a workout.
A common myth related to caffeine consumption is that exercise can speed up the metabolism of caffeine. On the contrary, exercise can increase the heart rate, and athletes who consume caffeine before exercising may be at risk for heart palpitations or heart attacks depending on the intensity of the workout, pre-existing conditions, and the amount of caffeine present in their bodies.
What are the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?
Caffeine withdrawal refers to symptoms when regular caffeine consumers abruptly reduce or cease their caffeine intake. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), caffeine withdrawal is recognized as a specific syndrome, with the severity of symptoms varying from person to person.
The latest research demonstrates that when people don’t get their usual dose of caffeine, they can experience a range of withdrawal symptoms. While the intensity of symptoms varies among individuals, caffeine withdrawal can affect both physical and mental well-being.
Headaches: Due to caffeine’s ability to cause blood vessels to narrow, it’s believed that the sudden elimination of caffeine consumption can increase blood flow to the brain, leading to headaches in certain individuals.
Fatigue: Due to its stimulating effects, abstaining from or weaning off caffeine can make some people feel tired, drowsy, and fatigued.
Anxiety: For many, overconsumption of caffeine leads to both physical and psychological dependence, contributing to feelings of anxiety when withdrawing from the substance.
Decreased mood: Caffeine consumption often results in heightened awareness and can enhance general mood. By eliminating caffeine from one’s daily routine, habitual users may face a downturn in mood.
Irritability: Similar to the experience of a lower mood, people who are physically or psychologically dependent on caffeine may notice increased irritability or anger when trying to abstain.
Tremors: While less prevalent than other symptoms, individuals with a significant reliance on caffeine may encounter hand tremors during episodes of caffeine withdrawal.
In general, the onset of caffeine withdrawal occurs between 12 and 24 hours after abrupt cessation of caffeine consumption. Peak intensity of the symptoms tends to occur between one and two days after stopping and may last anywhere from two to nine days.
While there are several side effects linked with caffeine withdrawal, people experiencing persistent symptoms, such as those listed above, may want to consult a doctor or medical professional.
How to cope with caffeine withdrawal
Reducing caffeine consumption and managing caffeine withdrawal can be a gradual and individualized process. While some people may feel compelled to go “cold turkey” and stop all caffeine consumption at once, research indicates that doing so may result in more severe withdrawal symptoms. In turn, the discomfort of such symptoms may lead them to continue relying on it. Some strategies to cope with caffeine withdrawal symptoms include:
Gradual reduction: Gradually reducing caffeine consumption over time can help minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Tapering off caffeine by slowly replacing caffeinated beverages with decaffeinated alternatives allows the body to adjust more smoothly.
Hydration and nutrition: Staying adequately hydrated and maintaining a balanced diet can support the body during withdrawal. Ensuring proper hydration helps mitigate symptoms like headaches and fatigue.
Self-Care and rest: Engaging in self-care activities, such as practicing relaxation techniques, getting enough sleep, and managing stress, can help alleviate the psychological symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal.
Medical or professional intervention: Due to the physical symptoms associated with the withdrawal process, such as headaches, over-the-counter medications may be helpful for some. In severe cases or for individuals struggling with caffeine dependence, consulting a healthcare professional or addiction specialist can offer tailored guidance and support.
Break free from caffeine dependence
Plan a staggered withdrawal in online therapy
Can online therapy help with caffeine withdrawal?
There are many reasons why people turn to caffeine consumption. They may desire to boost their mood, sharpen their focus, or use caffeine as a substitute for dependencies on other substances. Due to the psychological effects of both caffeine dependence and withdrawal, online therapy may serve as a helpful resource for those coping with symptoms such as decreased moods and irritability.
In addition to flexibility and cost-effectiveness, research has demonstrated that online therapy delivers a quality of care equal to in-person therapy. With the ability to video call, call on the phone, or text a dedicated online therapist at convenient times, people may be better able to receive in-the-moment help for coping with withdrawal symptoms.
Online therapy has also effectively supported those attempting to reduce their substance dependence. In one study, researchers noted that online therapy improved the abstinence rate among participants with a substance use disorder. The online therapy approach helped participants overcome common treatment barriers, such as high costs, limited availability to providers, and the perceived social stigma around mental health care.
Takeaway
Caffeine withdrawal can significantly impact mood and mental health, causing a range of symptoms that may affect daily functioning. By understanding the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and implementing coping strategies, individuals can navigate this process more effectively.
It’s helpful to remember that each person’s experience with caffeine withdrawal may be unique, but there’s professional help for those struggling with severe symptoms or caffeine dependence. Your online counselor can work with you nonjudgmentally to devise a plan that increases the likeliness of successful caffeine cessation. To get started, reach out to a knowledgeable online therapist at BetterHelp.**


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