I fell in love with caffeine in my early twenties and remained an avid coffee drinker for about a decade. It was only about a couple of years ago when I realized what serious harm the potent stimulant had done to my body and mind. After a few failed attempts, I finally managed to break my addiction last year. And giving up caffeine changed my life.
My Coffee Addiction
I was never a fan of Coca-Cola or black tea, but coffee was my fuel. After waking up, making a cup of coffee was the first thing I did, every damn morning. I was literally unable to function without caffeine in my system.
I had several cups of coffee at work. And if I didn’t I felt sleepy and got a headache in the afternoon. Just reducing caffeine intake resulted in pleasant feelings.
The solution was consuming more coffee. After lunch or dinner, a cup of coffee was a must—sometimes two or three cups in one sitting.
I knew that coffee after the evening would interfere with my sleep, but I simply couldn’t help. On many occasions, I remained awake until 5 am and then had a horrible time at work.
For years, the thought even didn’t cross my mind that something as naïve as coffee would be a cause of concern for my health. I read articles that said coffee is healthy, so I didn’t think of quitting this nice drink.
And when I got fully addicted to caffeine, I started experiencing some bad side effects. At one point, it severely impacted my sleep patterns. Nevertheless, I continued my regular caffeine intake.
How I Got Into the Habit
I didn’t develop a dependency on caffeine until I went to university. And then pretty quickly I started drinking so much coffee that my existence depended on the stuff.
Whether I went to the library, sat to study, or chatted with a friend, I needed a cup of coffee. When I felt bad, I had some coffee. When I celebrated something, I had some coffee. Oh yes, pretty soon I developed a taste for another thing: beer.
Paying attention to a task for a long time was unimaginable without a cup of coffee on my desk. When the exam approached, my caffeine intake soared. Focusing on studies is relatively easy when you gulp down coffee, but the after-effects are not sweet.
Several years after I started drinking coffee, I started to recognize that I had an issue with my emotional health. But it took me some more years to figure out the correlation between my poor mental health and my caffeine intake. By that time I was already battling a host of issues. But this horror story has a sweet ending. Giving up caffeine changed my life.
Negative Effects of Caffeine Intake
A host of studies have shown that caffeine intake is related to serious health issues such as anxiety, poor concentration, irritability, increased stress levels, rapid heart rate, sleeplessness, and stomach ache.
Caffeine can also cause dehydration and nausea, and make you feel restless. After reading some articles online, I learned that caffeine is a potent stimulant that directly affects the central nervous system.
Personally, I mostly experienced nervousness, irregular heartbeat, and sometimes migraine. I had some other serious issues. Poor concentration and increased stress levels are the two main reasons that compelled me to quit caffeine.
According to a study by the University of British Columbia, caffeine can lead to poor concentration and wreck productivity in hard workers.
Just a few minutes after drinking a cup of coffee, you might stop feeling tired. But when that effect wears off, the stimulant can negatively impact your mood, productivity, and concentration.
Increased Stress Levels
Drinking coffee can increase your stress levels. So, if you drink coffee regularly, it is likely that your job will make you more overwhelmed. Mental health experts advise people with high-stress jobs to avoid caffeine.
Consuming caffeine means adding some unnecessary stress to our already stressed and overwhelmed lives.
There are two generally accepted ways to quit caffeine: going cold turkey and tapering off. I chose the first route. No coffee, no black tea, no coke. It was hard, but giving up caffeine changed my life in many positive ways.
At first, it was hard. Just 12-15 hours after my last cup of coffee, I started to experience some withdrawal symptoms.
In the morning, I was a zombie. I had night sweats and pounding headaches. However, my energy roared back after just 5 to 6 days.
Gradually, some wonderful things happened: no stomach ache, better sleep, and less anxiety.
Understanding Caffeine Withdrawal
Caffeine works by blocking an organic compound in the brain called adenosine. By blocking this compound, caffeine provides a hyper-alert state of rushing energy. The stimulant also promotes the release of dopamine and adrenaline—known as feel-good hormones.
When you abruptly stop caffeine intake, adenosine is no longer blocked, and feel-good hormones are released at a much lower rate. And that leads to a host of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. I dealt with the symptoms, but the outcome was sweet. I will soon explain how giving up caffeine changed my life.
Is It a Good Idea to Go Cold Turkey?
For most people, the best method of quitting caffeine is to go cold turkey. It means discontinuing caffeine intake abruptly.
However, this method has a downside: you will have to deal with some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. If you are a heavy coffee drinker, you may choose to cut back on your caffeine intake slowly and gradually.
Personally, I was prepared to deal with the withdrawal symptoms, and luckily they disappeared in a few days. This method worked pretty well for me.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms usually last for 2-9 days. For me, they lasted about 6 days.
Benefits of Quitting Caffeine
Giving up caffeine changed my life for the better, in a lot of ways. Here are a few benefits I have experienced after quitting this potent stimulant:
Less Stress and Anxiety
Stopping caffeine intake significantly lowered my stress and anxiety levels. And I realized how potent caffeine’s psychological effects are.
Now I’m able to remain calm and relaxed in a stressful situation. I no longer feel overwhelmed when I have a tight deadline.
Now I have a slow and steady approach to big projects because I can focus for longer. Over the past year, I have grown accustomed to this relaxed approach to work.
After quitting caffeine, I no longer have issues with my sleep pattern. When I was still drinking coffee daily, I took a gentler route: no coffee after lunch. However, it didn’t work that much because caffeine was still in my body and interfered with my sleep.
My sleep improved about a week after I went cold turkey. Now my sleep is deeper, and when I wake up in the morning I feel fresh. I say giving up caffeine changed my life mostly because now I sleep like a baby.
Coffee contains a high level of tannins, which can stain teeth. Caffeinated drinks can also cause enamel decay. I noticed that my teeth turned whiter just in a week after quitting coffee.
Headaches are the most commonly reported caffeine withdrawal symptom. More than 50% of people experience intense headaches after stopping caffeine intake. But the symptom lasts only for a few days.
About a year after quitting caffeine, now I experience fewer episodes of headaches than I did when I was addicted to caffeine. Some studies have even shown that quitting caffeine can be an effective way to treat migraines.
For years, I had an issue with digestion, but the thought didn’t cross my mind that my caffeine intake was responsible for that. After quitting caffeine, the problem got worse during the withdrawal period. But my bowel movement slowly became regular, and now it’s a lot better than it was a few years ago.
Other Subtle Benefits
Giving up caffeine changed my life in other subtle ways.
When I was an avid coffee drinker, I forgot how to listen to my body. Now I think I’m able to pay attention to the subtle sensations of my body.
When I’m thirsty I drink water, no coffee. When I’m hungry I eat something instead of drinking coffee.
Now I know that tiredness means my body needs sleep and rest, not caffeine. With a more stable energy level, I can focus on tasks for a long time and get things done.
Giving up caffeine changed my life, and now I almost feel like living in a new body. No matter how strong your caffeine addiction is, change is possible. Remember, when it comes to quitting caffeine, withdrawal symptoms are not inevitable. By reducing your caffeine intake gradually, you can avoid most withdrawal symptoms. And if you think you can deal with some unpleasant symptoms for a few days, I encourage you to go cold turkey.