Coffee is a drink brewed from roasted seeds of the Coffea arabica plant. It contains caffeine—a compound with stimulant properties. Like other stimulants, the caffeine in coffee can lead to dependence and withdrawal when consumed regularly. Recognizing the side effects of giving up coffee can help identify and treat symptoms as they arise.
Headache is among the most common side effects of giving up coffee. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, or a substance that causes blood vessels to shrink. Quitting caffeine after long-term use triggers an expansion of blood vessels in the brain, leading to headache and other symptoms. A study by Stacey Sigmon and colleagues featured in the February 2, 2009 issue of Pharmacology states that increased blood flow to the brain is largely responsible for headache pain in people undergoing caffeine withdrawal.
Analgesics like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be useful for treating headache associated with caffeine withdrawal. Avoiding bright lights, loud noises and other sensory stimuli may help reduce the severity of headaches as well.
Fatigue and drowsiness are potential symptoms of coffee withdrawal. Because caffeine is often used to enhance energy, quitting may result in rebound fatigue in some people. As with headache, changes in blood flow to the brain are a key factor in this phenomenon.
Relaxing activities and additional bed rest may be beneficial for reducing fatigue during caffeine withdrawal. Drinking at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water each day ensures the prevention of dehydration, which can also aggravate fatigue.
Mild mood swings and irritability can occur when giving up coffee. Irritability and low mood may be triggered by circulation changes in the brain and are often made worse by other withdrawal symptoms like headache and fatigue.
Observing basic healthy-living guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly can help promote a positive mood during caffeine withdrawal.
Caffeine cravings are a troublesome symptom that can interfere with a person's ability to give up coffee successfully. Negative symptoms like fatigue and irritability may drive the coffee drinker to resume the habit. Gradually reducing your daily intake of coffee and caffeinated beverages can help ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to its effects on mood, caffeine withdrawal may negatively affect cognitive functioning in some people. According to the National Institutes of Health, caffeine withdrawal can impair thought processes while reducing subjective feelings of clear-headedness and alertness.
Additional sleep and relaxation may help ease impaired cognition caused by caffeine withdrawal. In conjunction with fatigue, slowed cognitive functioning may interfere with the ability to drive. Extra caution is warranted when performing potentially dangerous activities.
- Pharmacology: Caffeine withdrawal, acute effects, tolerance, and absence of net beneficial effects of chronic administration: cerebral blood flow velocity, quantitative EEG, and subjective effects
- National Institutes of Health: Effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on mood and cognitive performance degraded by sleep restriction.