The pounding headache that settles in just before lunch might not be due to the 15-minute commute that turned into an hour-long ride. Skipping your regular Starbucks stop for your morning coffee during the traffic jam is a more likely culprit.
Whether your daily caffeine arrives courtesy of coffee or soda, Johns Hopkins at hopkinsmedicine.org says the more you consume, the more severe your withdrawal symptoms will be. Between 80 and 90 percent of adults in North America admit to regular use of caffeine. The average daily intake in the United States is one to two mugs of coffee or three to five bottles of soda.
A Hopkins study reviewing 170 years of research on caffeine withdrawal revealed that drinking just one standard cup of coffee a day can result in caffeine addiction. Scientists identified clusters of common withdrawal symptoms. They included headache, fatigue or drowsiness, dysphoric moods including depression and irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Some individuals also noted flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain and stiffness.
According to caffeinedpendence.org, while most studies on withdrawal focused solely on adults, evidence suggests that children also experience withdrawal effects when they start to abstain from caffeine.
Many adults who’ve axed it suddenly have headaches that develop gradually and are diffuse. They typically describe them as throbbing and severe.
Symptoms of fatigue are usually verbalized as tiredness, lethargy, or sluggishness. Individuals for whom sleepiness or drowsiness became a problem say they yawned a lot while coming off caffeine. Many report difficulty concentrating and decreased motivation for completing tasks at work or home.
Often caffeine lovers described themselves as irritable – to the point of feeling miserable – after withdrawal. Some reported a depressed mood, while others said they felt anxious and nervous. In addition to traditional flu symptoms such as nausea and aches, some said they experienced hot and cold spells, along with heavy feelings in their arms or legs.
Studies have determined that significant caffeine withdrawal occurs after skipping the equivalent of just one six-ounce cup of brewed coffee or two to three 12-ounce servings of a caffeinated soft drink a day. Coffee drinkers who suddenly stopped their single cup a day were surprised to experience withdrawal symptoms.
For individuals who eliminate caffeine suddenly, the incidence of a withdrawal headache hovers around 50 percent. However, the severity of withdrawal symptoms seems to vary greatly from one individual to the next without any specific reason.
Research suggests that withdrawal syndrome follows a predictable timetable. Symptoms typically begin between 12 to 24 hours after eliminating caffeine, though for some individuals, it can be up to 36 hours. The peak withdrawal intensity apparently occurs between 20 and 48 hours after last ingesting any caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms usually last between two days and one week.
Some individuals actually experience a medical condition known as caffeine intoxication as a result of acute or chronic use. Typical symptoms include nervousness and anxiety, restlessness, excitement, insomnia, and rambling speech and thought patterns. Also common are gastrointestinal upsets, tremors, tachycardia, diuresis, and muscle twitching. Sufferers also report psychomotor agitation, periods or inexhaustability, fever, and a host of sensory disturbances.
Intoxication can occur in individuals who have been using caffeine without incident for many years. Overall, however, only about seven percent of people who use caffeine experience this condition. Fortunately, it normally resolves quickly, with no long-term effects.