6 Signs You’re Addicted To Caffeine
And how not to feel like walking death when you’re trying to cut back
Some days, your morning cup of coffee is the only thing pushing you out of bed, out the door, and into the ranks of productive society.
Okay, so you can’t imagine your day without that cup of coffee. But that doesn’t mean you’re addicted to it, right?
Actually, you very well may be. The phenomenon is so common today that withdrawal from it is actually considered a real, medical mental disorder. In fact, it’s included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by medical professionals as a classification and diagnostic tool.
“You can become addicted to caffeine if you’re used to drinking as little as 100 milligrams (mg) per day or the equivalent of one cup of coffee,” says Partha Nandi M.D., F.A.C.P, the creator and host of the medical lifestyle television show, “Ask Dr. Nandi.” Your body gets used to the stimulant, so you can experience a withdrawal when you don’t consume it.
Here are 6 surprising signs that your body is dependent on caffeine—and what you can do to avoid, or ease out of, a nasty withdrawal.
1. YOU GET POUNDING HEADACHES IN THE MORNING
If your head’s throbbing the minute you get out of bed, your body might be jonesing for that cup of coffee—as soon as possible.
“Headaches can attack 12 to 24 hours after your last cup of coffee, which explains why a morning cup is so enticing after the night’s abstinence,” explains Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N.
Here’s what’s going on: When your body is waiting for its caffeine fix, your blood vessels dilate. That irritates nerve endings that trigger pain centres in your brain, she explains. As a result, your head starts pounding.
Plus, the time of the day matters. Upon waking, your body is more dehydrated, since it’s spent quite some time without taking in any fluids. When you’re dehydrated, your brain tissue loses water, causing blood volume to dip. And that can cause a headache, says Dr. Nandi.
2. YOU HAVE MUSCLE SPASMS
Excessive caffeine consumption can dehydrate the body, leading to muscles spasms, particularly in the calf, hamstrings, or thighs, explains Dr. Nandi.
What’s more, you might also experience restless leg syndrome, which results in pain and discomfort in the legs, especially at night, says Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. These sensations will feel like “pins and needles,” and they get worse when at rest.
Unfortunately, cutting out your coffee won’t necessarily solve the problem. In fact, withdrawing from it can cause the muscle cramps, too, says Dr. Nandi.
3. YOU’RE IRRITABLE WITHOUT IT
If you notice you’re grumpier than usual after skipping your morning coffee, it could be a sign that you’re more dependent on it than you think.
Credit the effects of caffeine withdrawal.
Our bodies need adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine to feel happy, and when we’re low, it can lead to depressive symptoms, explains Schapiro. And, if the reduction in caffeine is messing with your sleeping patterns, the lost hours could make the feeling worse.
Plus, skimping on caffeine means less activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which is known for boosting mild euphoria and alertness, says Allen Towfigh, M.D., at New York Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medical Centre. That leads to the depressed feeling, as well as a “crash,” with low energy and fatigue.
4. YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE DROPS WHEN YOU SKIP YOUR CUP
Skimp on your coffee, and you’re skipping out on a dose of a powerful stimulant. As a result, some people feel their heart rhythm speed up or even experience palpitations, says Dr. Towfigh.
Consuming coffee can elevate your blood pressure, so taking it away can have an opposite effect, leading to a drop in it, he adds.
When your blood pressure drops, you might experience light-headedness, imbalance, weakness, or fatigue. Sound like you? It might be time to loop in your doctor, especially if you have a history of blood pressure complications in the family or are noticing extreme level changes. He or she can take your readings and see how you measure up.
5. YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE FLUCTUATES WITHOUT IT
Caffeine increases your heart rate and blood flow in the body, which can also raise your body temperature, explains Dr. Towfigh. So, removing your source of caffeine cancan lead to sudden fluctuations in temperature, as well as a few bouts of chills.
“Studies show that caffeine raises a man’s core body temperature,” Moon says. “Take a coffee habit away, and temperatures may swing the other way, leading to ups and downs in body temperatures,” she says. So you might find yourself feeling extra chilly at home, even if your thermostat remains set at the same temperature.
In more severe cases of caffeine withdrawal, cold sweats can also pop up, according to the University of Michigan. That’s because the absence of caffeine can cause constriction of blood vessels in your extremities says Isabel Smith, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
“Caffeine can decrease your neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin, making sleeping difficult,” explains Dr. Nandi.
It also blocks adenosine receptors, which are pivotal in inducing fatigue and sleep. So coffee drinkers can often feel less tired, more energetic, and more alert, which can lead to insomnia, explains Dr. Towfigh.
Decreasing the amount of coffee you drink in the morning might help you get a sounder, more restful sleep, as well as cutting yourself off from that second or third cup later in the afternoon. The National Sleep Foundation says even moderate amounts within six hours of sleep can lead to insomnia and disrupted sleep.
HOW TO CUT BACK ON COFFEE AS PAINLESSLY AS POSSIBLE
As the examples above show, a coffee habit can affect your body in a bunch of not-so-pleasant ways. So if you want to avoid becoming a slave to Starbucks, you might want to work on whittling down your habit now.
Start with slow steps, says Dr. Nandi.
“The best way to decrease these symptoms is by gradually cutting back on the number of cups or the volume of the caffeinated drink” he says. “You can decrease by 1/4 cup per day.”
But if you don’t want to cut volume, you can just reduce your caffeine. Try mixing some of your coffee to half caffeinated and half decaf, then all half/half, then gradually to all decaf,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N.
“This can definitely take weeks, so be kind to yourself and give in to the process,” she says. As these symptoms could be expected, try and keep you head up and give your body time to acclimate to the changes—you’ll get there.
Dr. Towfigh recommends tracking any patterns, to get a clearer picture as to the extremity of your intake or withdrawal symptoms.
Better yet, if you’re feeling brave, sub in a new kind of decaffeinated hot beverage to brighten your morning.
“You can try coffee substitutes like dandelion tea, Teeccino, Cafix Crystals, Ayurvedic Roast, or Art of Tea Chocolate Monkey Rooibos Fusion tea,” suggests Smith.