Musings on the complicated business of thinking

What Caffeine Really Does to Your Brain

Is that morning cup of Joe really the delicious stimulant you think it is, or are most of us in the dark about how caffeine really affects our brains? Read More

Caffeine free for 3 years

I gave up after a trip to the States. My husband and I were so used to our homemade, morning capuccino. American coffee makers do not make very nice coffee, so finding a decent coffee was a mission every day, and we were grumpy until we got that fix. We ended up scouring shops trying to find a moka pot and handheld milk frother. This seemed rather desperate.

Then back in England, I had an awful anxiety attack on a coach. I suspected that an early morning coffee on top of an empty stomach had took is toll.

I was stuck with caffeine - or so I thought. If I didn't have enough (2 cups of good coffee a day) then I would get pounding, unbearable headaches. If I had just half a cup too much I would get jittery and nervous, and risk having an anxiety attack.

I read a paragraph in the book "Abnormal Psychology" explaining how hardcore caffeine is and this was enough to force my decision to give it up. Fortunately, my husband offered to do it too, which really helped.

We cut down over 3 weeks, to attempt to avoid the horrendous headache (which no painkiller would shift!). It worked. We made a coffee daily for the first 2 weeks and each time made it slightly weaker, using decaffeinated in the mix. On the last week we had one cup of tea per day then by week 4 we were clear. The headaches were there intermittently, but manageable. We needed a lot more sleep though.

By the end of the month, we were waking up feeling much more alert and that is the main reason why I wouldn't go back to caffeine. Especially in the Winter, as I have SAD, I just don't need that "groggy until the caffeine hit" feeling. I do not have anxiety attacks either.

Sadly, my husband went back to caffeine when he started working in an office where they drink tea and coffee all day. At the weekend, if he doesn't get his fix, he is grumpy and agitated. But he doesn't see it. He thinks he is fine. The tetchiness seems to ease off when he gets his coffee.

Good for you!

People might also want to consider this in the equation: The following abstract from the New England Journal of Medicine found, in the largest study to date, that coffee drinking was inversely associated with mortality. For those who don't read statisticalize, this means coffee drinkers were less likely to die/lived longer, other factors eliminated as best as possible.

Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality

Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., Yikyung Park, Sc.D., Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., Albert R. Hollenbeck, Ph.D., and Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.

N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1891-1904May 17, 2012

Background: Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages, but the association between coffee consumption and the risk of death remains unclear.

Methods: We examined the association of coffee drinking with subsequent total and cause-specific mortality among 229,119 men and 173,141 women in the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study who were 50 to 71 years of age at baseline. Participants with cancer, heart disease, and stroke were excluded. Coffee consumption was assessed once at baseline.

Results: During 5,148,760 person-years of follow-up between 1995 and 2008, a total of 33,731 men and 18,784 women died. In age-adjusted models, the risk of death was increased among coffee drinkers. However, coffee drinkers were also more likely to smoke, and, after adjustment for tobacco-smoking status and other potential confounders, there was a significant inverse association between coffee consumption and mortality. . . .

Conclusions: In this large prospective study, coffee consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality. Whether this was a causal or associational finding cannot be determined from our data. (Funded by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.)

I've seen that study and...

It includes decaff!

I had the impression that you -- and blogger --

had given up coffee altogether. Which is some sacrifice:

The risk of dying during the 14-year study period was about 10 percent lower for men and about 15 percent lower for women who drank anywhere from two cups to six or more cups of coffee a day.

Not sure how you got that

Not sure how you got that impression. Regardless, the study shows preliminary evidence that there may be a correlation between coffee drinking and longevity of life. There's a whole lot more to the research than taking a little snippet as you have done. Maybe you are an ardent caffeine consumer who's so hooked that you only see the parts that support your habit. I know I'm going to die and I know that looking up research about my various habits is probably futile in affecting that. I gave up caffeine because it was only making me feel better because I was addicted, and because it ended up bringing on anxiety attacks. I hardly think that's 'some sacrifice'! I feel great because of it!

Coffee - yum

I think I will go for my cup of adenosene blocker right now!

vive la caffeine!

I quit caffeine for six or nine months -- I can't remember, exactly -- mainly because I became too lazy to make it in the morning. I never got any headaches, but I'm not a headache person in general. I don't know if I was cranky or not. Since I work alone from home, you'd have to ask my dog. I guess I felt a little groggier than usual, but not enough to do anything about it. I'd heard others say that they actually felt more alert in the mornings after weaning off of coffee, but this miraculous outcome eluded me.

When I visited my parents months later and participated in my dad's daily coffee habit for a few days, I realized that I'd forgotten what it did for me (or maybe I had previously become too dependent on its chemistry, as you say, and the effects declined to unnoticeable levels). Regardless, I reexperienced the lovely kick it can give me that makes emerging from bed and sitting down to work seem not an impossible proposition. I now think that quitting it was the silliest thing I've ever done.

Plus, you know, Science has proven that coffee drinkers will outlive all you abstainers :)

so, it is a delicious stimulant after all :))))))

So, basically, except the title, you just seconded all the "usual beliefs" about the caffeine. It has an effect of making sleepiness away in the first moment, and you feel better (because of the dopamine effect) :))))))))).... That is all the world has been thinking also. And of course, every smart person got the "tolerance" part by himself.
By the way, this is not the critic, I love the article, it described in very simple way the real effect, just I am reacting on - it is not what you think, and than describing the exact thing that people do think :))))
But good work, keep going!

I quit

So glad to read this, as I also found myself wondering about exactly what caffeine does to the brain after my own experience with quitting. I was looking for more though; I'd love to find some research on caffeine and mental illness correlation.

I quit a 2 year, 2 cup a day habit (I'm highly sensitive, didn't take much to mess with me) after my PMS symptoms started bordering on psychotic. After quitting, my next cycle snuck up on me with absolutely no symptoms whatsoever and I felt much better all around. I had eliminated all caffeine, save for about 1/4 tsp chocolate syrup in milk occasionally. I began toying with decaf coffee, tea, chocolate and discovered that anything more than a very minimal amount, and only once in awhile, would bring back my symptoms of anxiety and irritablility, and a general mental fogginess.

I've since discovered an iron deficiency, which I believe to be related in some way to the caffeine - whether the caffeine depleted my iron or my low iron exacerbated the effect of the caffeine I don't know.

I have not encountered a study yet that will convince me to take it up again. I'll gladly trade a few years for the sanity and calm that I experience now.

Caffeine and mental health

Hi Kathryn, research refs on caffeine and mental health here;

I must be heading...

... for ill health then.

I drink insane amounts of pop like a 12 case every day/2 days. And I am not overweight either.

You don't need to worry about

You don't need to worry about caffine nearly as much as you should worry about HFCS or Aspertame.

Go make some coffee and get off the soda!!!!

I quite caffeine due to TMJ and found a great alternative

Hi fellow readers.

I was forced by my TMJ specialist's threats of chronic forever pain and the inability to eat to give up coffee many years ago. The peak impetus happened when my jaw locked up.

After weeks of headaches and withdrawal, finally I was ok but even a whiff of coffee had my jaw tightening again, and the headaches begin to return.

I found a nutrition line called Biometics - liquid, highly bioavailable - and with neurotransmitters that allow the body to process energy throughout the day without that crash - and WHOAH! After 7 years - no headaches, no lockjaw, great energy throughout the day - great sleep at night AND I am the energizer bunny - productive every day. The best thing is my two ADHD kids are calm and focused at school on this stuff. I highly recommend it. Check it out if you like at - I won't go a day without it.



caffeine free!

I gave up caffiene more than 12 years ago. It happened because I took a week off of work and cut back on my coffee intake. I was drinking five to six cups a day.

I had always been prone to acne and during this week I found that it had cleared up quite a bit. Years before my doctor had advised me to cut back on coffee because my breasts were cystic. I made a connection and realized that some of my acne may have been caused by the caffeine. At that point I could have used medication to clear up my acne but thought that if these cysts are visible on my face, then what cysts exist within my body that are not visible.

It was a big enough revelation to just give up the caffeine.

I suffered for about a week with headaches and feeling very lethargic, but once the week was over I felt great. In fact better than ever because I was sleeping better and longer. For the first time since I was a kid, I was getting tired at a normal time, rather than at 1:00am. I also found that my thought process was clearer and more sound and had slowed down a bit. When I was consuming caffeine, my mind was going a mile a minute, trying to get ten things done or resolved at once and getting very little accomplished. Once I was caffeine free, I was able to resolve issues and complete tasks completely.

I occasionally have some caffeine and my skin shows the evidence within 3 days regrettably. I still love my coffee and through some timely and costly searching I have found a couple of brands of decaf that are fairly good. Another point though...I was recently diagnosed with diabetes and cut back on my sugar intake and sometimes it's too low and my energy level suffers. During these times have used a few sips, not a full cup, of caffeinated coffee to give my body some energy instead of reaching for the carbs.


Caffeine withdrawl

Great to read this.

The problem is that caffeine for many people causes, or exacerbates, anxiety and other mental ill-health, and they don't realise it (see the research here;

Also many people's morning grumpiness pre-coffee is actually withdrawal symptoms through not having had caffeine for the previous few hours.

Be aware too that there is plenty of caffeine industry funding for research that finds positive results for caffeine, but (surprise, surprise) very little for research looking at caffeine's negative effects.
Similarly the media can find caffeine-industry funded consultants for quotes for articles, but caffeine-concerned people aren't available as they can't make a living from it.
Read the caffeine-positive stuff in the media with your eyes wide open!

Caffeine is hard to withdraw from, but it can be done; great lessons from the 170+ pages of comments here;

All strength to you!

Energy Shots

Has anyone tried Energy Shots before? I've always been curious about such products, they work awesome though. I think as long as you take caffeine in moderation you'll be fine, I've never had a problem personally.

Caffeine Free!

I quit due to heath issues related to stress and anxiety as well as persisting depersonalization disorder. It took me at least a month for my energy to come back to baseline and my motivation/focus is still slowly recovering. I think this is because I was a pretty heavy coffee drinker and my receptors must have been very fatigued.

I am currently on month 7 of no caffeine (including chocolate), and I haven't felt this good in years. My stress and anxiety levels are WAY down and Im much more relaxed and calm around people.

I've always had mild but persistent acne that cleared up considerably since I quit, so thats another benefit!

I quit coffee just to start

I quit coffee just to start drinking it again. I like to go long periods of time without drinking it so I can get that one cup buzz again. Personally IDGAFOS what stupid bullshit on the internet says. I'm in this bitch to win and I'll be making 6 figures before I'm 21, and I could fuck your wife and daughter for 4 hours straight while smoking a cigarette and downing a mug of coffee.

tl;dr: Do what you gotta do to get your shit done, 1st priority always.

some observations

I've been an avid tea and coffee drinker for 20 years, and have 'given up' several times.

(1) You don't need to go through headaches -- take a caffeine pill once a day for 5 days ('Pro Plus' or half a 'No Doz') These actually contains less caffeine than you'd get in a single cup of coffee, but it seems this is enough to prevent headaches. You will still get sleepy, however

(2) Giving up coffee won't make you a better person in the absence of other change. You'll compensate with other stimulants such as certain foods, for example. Coffee may be healthier in this respect

(3) Beyond a certain number of cups per day there is no effect at all on sleep

(4) If/when you go back to coffee after a break you can expect a whirlwind of mental activity and new ideas will fizz up. So, don't waste the opportunity: drink alone and have a notebook ready to jot them down! Somewhat countercultural advice, I know

hi thomasR I'm totally with

hi thomasR I'm totally with you on that feeling of fizzing new ideas when you go back on caffeine, but I also find they are all actually cr*p. Caffeine fools you - that you're superman etc etc. Have you tested to see if those ideas are any good?

and see the 'BENEFITS OF


caffeine and ideas

Yes, I agree that getting 'high', as well as stimulating and mixing ideas, does seem to impair our judgement about them. That's why I suggest writing them down. They may then be criticised at leisure to see if anything valuable remains, because, of course, the truth of an idea depends on its content and not upon its source or the mood the source happened to be in!

Reply to comment | Psychology Today

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I stopped drinking coffee

I stopped drinking coffee when I went on the Atkins diet. I did not feel sick, drowsy or anything. However, I was very frustrated when some people were drinking in my presence while I had to be there. I still didn't drink coffee on those occasions. However, after I stopped the diet, I started drinking coffee again. The diet had worked but I have since gained the weight right back. My coffee habit is so deeply ingrained that I would not give it up even if a doctor said so. I actually happen to be a person who avoids doctors and does not particularly trust them, anyway. If it's just a matter of reducing my caffeine intake or even stopping for a specific reason, just as I did for that diet, maybe I would do it, but only temporarily. I do, in fact, take a break for a day, or a few days, max, once in a while to reduce the tolerance effect and feel again the effect of coffee at lower doses. I don't do that too frequently because I'm just too addicted. Besides, I'm working a lot and coffee is one of the few pleasures I get and part of my routine.

Caffeine is the health hazard No:1 in today's western society

Caffeine accumulates in the body as uric acids that are still active. These caffeine uric acids cause more than 80% of all mental disorders and criminality and suicides caused by them, and also same amount of many clinical illnesses, such as cardio-vasculas diseases, ischemic heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, ALS, giant cell carcinomas (cancer) etc, etc.

I have studied this for more than 30 years and work as a nutritional adviser after curing my own illnesses that put me on pension for 100% disability in 1986.

I can make depression, anxiety, panic disorder etc go away in less than 24 hours if the patient can use the most powerful treatment methods.

The protocol is explained in my blogs. I update my Finnish blog more often because it has a lot more readers than the english blog. You can read my Finnish writins using translator.

I drink 4 cups every morning.

I drink 4 cups every morning. Recently I had a colonoscopy and was not able to have my morning Joe. When I arrived for my scheduled 10am appt., I DID have a headache. The nurses asked, "Do you drink coffee? If you do every morning, THAT is why you have a headache now." So in summation, headaches are common when abruptly stopping coffee.

Caffeine morning headache and dementia

Fresh caffeine binds its main metabolic product,paraxanthine uric acid, to the tissues. When the concentration of caffeine (trimethylxanthine) drops, the levels of paraxanthine uric acid (1,7 dimethyluric acid) is released from tissues to the body liquids. When you wake up and start moving, these toxins flood your blood and you experience paraxanthine poisoning symptoms, including headache, nausea, dementia, aggresssion, irritability etc. A new dose of fresh caffeine binds the paraxanthine uric acids back to the tissues, and makes you fee like a million dollars.

Kidneys are almost completely unable to secrete this uric acid from the blood to urine because it shrinks the blood vessels in the kidneys, which stops uric acid secretion.

Based on average caffeine metabolism, if you drink 5 cups (125ml) of brewed coffee every day for 30 years, you have about 2,7 kilos of this deadly poison crystallized in your body. If it melts too fast, you die.

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David DiSalvo is a science and technology writer working at the intersection of cognition and culture.


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