When asked what the most commonly used, legal addictive substances, you’re likely to think either cigarettes or alcohol. Those are, in all fairness, very good guesses, as they are highly addictive substances used by a large cross-section of the population. But, there’s one that’s so common that even a great many otherwise well-adjusted children are even addicted to it – caffeine.
For most people, the presence of caffeine isn’t something that they even worry about. However, there are many people for whom caffeine is a harmful substance, something that they would be healthier if they eliminated. It’s not fantastic for people with heart conditions, nerve disorders, gastrointestinal issues, or who are naturally high strung, to begin with.
Still, others just prefer not to be addicted to any kind of substance, and that’s absolutely fair. But, what kind of withdrawal symptoms might you be facing if you decide to kick the coffee habit? Will there be withdrawal? Are there ways to make it less agonizing? Today we’re going to learn a little bit about how caffeine addiction works, some ways to make kicking it easier, and the benefits of eliminating it from your diet.
Am I Really Addicted?
People use the term “addicted” very loosely in casual conversation, referring to something that they’re very fond of, but not something that they’re necessarily physically dependent on.
Many people who enjoy coffee, soda or tea can and do go without the substances for prolonged periods of time, and suffer no ill side effects from it. That does not mean that caffeine addiction doesn’t exist.
We’ve all known at least one or two people in our lives that literally cannot function without a morning cup of coffee or the occasional can of caffeinated soda. Like all stimulants, they do alter our neurochemistry, and anything they can artificially do this has the potential to produce addiction.
If you noticed fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms will discuss shortly, due to your inability to get your usual cup of coffee or can of soda, then you might in fact actually be somewhat addicted to caffeine.
Caffeine is far from the hardest substance to give up. Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are far harder habits to kick, and the withdrawal symptoms from the substances are far more severe as well. However, while caffeine addiction is less severe in every conceivable way, you may still experience some mild withdrawal symptoms. Both the severity and diversity of these symptoms will vary considerably from one individual to the next, of course.
The most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal overall are headaches. These are mostly caused by dehydration and heightened stress levels, but both of these are direct results of the caffeine withdrawal themselves. Headaches brought on by caffeine withdrawal usually feel like tension or stress headaches. They’re generally mild, compared to sinus headaches, or the piercing, sharp pain of a migraine. However, these headaches can become worse you are consciously aware of their presence.
Take heart, as most would describe this as the worst symptom to experience, but it’s also the most short-lived – the headaches usually stopped within a day or two.
Another common symptom is fatigue, and the inability to focus or concentrate on what you’re doing. While not painful, this can be frustrating and very unpleasant and is probably the second most common symptom cited, especially among those who aren’t morning people. Basically, that groggy, tired feeling most of us wake up to, persists far longer than it should due to the lack of caffeine.
Irritability is probably the most infamous outwardly visible symptom of someone experiencing caffeine withdrawal. Aren’t we all grumpy when we haven’t had our coffee yet? Other common psychological symptoms that tend to come with this irritability are anxiety and depression, though these aren’t as outwardly visible, and people have a tendency to unhealthily keep them to themselves.
Finally, there’s the unpleasantness of constipation. This is something that many people would expect to be a symptom of any kind of withdrawal, to be honest, but it’s fairly unique to caffeine. Caffeine is, in fact, a mild laxative. Frequent use of laxatives and diuretics can result in your digestive system actually becoming somewhat “lazy” due to chemicals taking on part of their workload. The sudden absence of these laxatives and diuretics can result in mild to moderate constipation. Severe, painful constipation is rare, though.
Symptoms of Caffeine Addiction
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle twitching
- Rambling flow of thoughts and speech
- Flushed face
- Increased heart rate
- Stomach upset
- Increased urination
Fortunately, given that caffeine withdrawal symptoms are considerably milder than with any other addiction, combating the withdrawal symptoms is also a good bit easier. There’s nothing you can really do to make the symptoms entirely go away, but you can severely reduce their impact by taking it slow, and altering your diet ever so slightly.
Given that caffeine addiction isn’t as severe nor dangerous as most other addictions, quitting cold turkey is not only unnecessary, it’s unwise. It’s best to gradually cut caffeine out of your diet a little bit at a time, weakening your coffee as time goes by, and reducing the number of cups you drink. Likewise, substituting some of your caffeinated soft drinks with non-caffeinated ones, until you gradually eliminate the caffeinated ones altogether, can greatly reduce the onset of symptoms.
To combat the fatigue and the inability to focus, it’s best to eat hearty, healthy meals that provide you with an ongoing supply of energy to keep you going. Well-balanced, well portion meals can give you far more energy, and a much more positive outlook than even the strongest cup of coffee can provide.
Healthy meals also help reduce the headaches, but you can go one step further and combating these by staying hydrated. Drink lots of water, or if you just don’t like water, electrolyte supplements such as Gatorade also work well to keep you hydrated.
Benefits of Eliminating Caffeine
So, you may be wondering if there’s really even a point to eliminating caffeine, given it’s not really that dangerous of the substance, and quitting any addiction is unpleasant. However, you find that many of your mild, daily ailments also disappear along with your caffeine habit.
For one, you will sleep a lot better. Not only will it be easier for you to fall asleep when you’re ready, but your sleep will be much more restful, meaning that every hour of sleep you get will have increased value. If you’re someone who has to function on six hours or less of sleep a day, this can be a real godsend.
If you’re prone to anxiety, you may find the symptoms reducing considerably after eliminating caffeine. Jitters are a common side effect of too much caffeine, but an overall anxious feeling can be a side effect of caffeine in general. You may find yourself more relaxed, more able to go with the flow, and we could all afford to be a little more relaxed in this hectic society.
People who suffer from frequent mild headaches may find these headaches disappearing over time, after eliminating caffeine. While headaches are the most common symptom of withdrawal, they can also be a side effect of excessive caffeine consumption. You would be hard-pressed to meet a coffee drinker who can’t vouch for getting a mild headache after having a little too much coffee a little too quickly.
Finally, if you suffer from frequent heartburn, you may see the symptoms reducing significantly as well, as caffeine (especially form of coffee) in the can cause heartburn, acid reflux and severe indigestion. Again, any heavy coffee drinker can vouch for this one.
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