My first experience with caffeine withdrawal was in my senior year of high school. One of my clubs did the 30 Hour Famine to raise money for world hunger. Around 24 hours into the fast, I was miserable. More miserable than someone who hadn’t eaten for a day. I was nauseated, lethargic, and had the worst headache in my life. I felt like I caught the flu and had been hit by a semi in the same afternoon.
I went to an after school pizza party and snuck some pizza and soda. All of those terrible side effects quickly melted away and that’s when I learned that I was a victim of a first world problem: Caffeine Addiction.
Over the years, I would come to resent the short leash that my caffeine addiction would put on my life. If I went camping or traveled, I had to make sure that there was a caffeine source available. Caffeine withdrawal affects everyone differently, and for me, it’s pretty terrible. I have trouble focusing and can barely function until I get my daily “fix.”
What’s worse is that I hate hot drinks so the bulk of my caffeine comes from soda. That put me between the rock of downing literally pounds of sugar or the hard place of the questionable effects of artificial sweeteners.
I’ve tried many times to quit but it isn’t just that the symptoms are horrible (and believe me they are) but that my whole life now revolves around caffeine. I don’t drink much or do drugs but caffeine has become a coping mechanism for me to deal with stress. A cool glass of cola can instantly calm me down. Not to mention, when you go out to eat, there aren’t many diet friendly caffeine free options beyond water.
Sometime ago, I was going through some stressful times and started to rely heavily on caffeine. I’m not sure how much I consumed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were drinking a gallon of soda in one day. My sleeping habits were wrecked. I was swinging from being hyper to exhausted. My health and my bank account (a gallon of soda a day adds up!) began to suffer.
Six weeks ago, I decided to do something about it. I decided to start up a gradual wean of caffeine. I started by having a cut off time. The first week was 5 P.M. No caffeine after that. The following week would be 4, the next week 3. I’d keep doing that until I’d gone a week with no caffeine after noon. Then, I averaged the number of cans I drank a day that week then had one less than that for a week. For me, that meant three cans a day (I told you, I was drinking A LOT of soda). After that I’d decrease by half a can a week (using the 7.5 oz mini cans) until I was down to half a can a day. Then, every other day. Then, a half can only when I felt withdrawal symptoms.
I am about halfway through this program. Today, I started the decreasing by half a can, so I drank 2 1/2 cans. My sleep has been amazing over the last week or so. I’ve fallen asleep quickly and have slept deeply. I have been experiencing a lot of tiredness. I’ve taken to drinking a mini can of Sprite in the afternoons as a sugar pick me up. It’s only 90 calories and I can always drink a second one if needed.
I haven’t really experienced any other withdrawal symptoms. I did once have to drink a mini can to deal with a slight headache on a step down day. Apparently, there is a wide difference in caffeine content in different brands of soda. I had switched from a high caffeine brand to a low one. I’m now slowing moving from the high caffeine ones to the low ones.
This process has been slow, but the great sleep alone has made it worth it. Plus, it has given me plenty of time to find non-caffeine beverages and other ways to deal with my stress.
I’m excited to revisit this topic in a few months and share what’s it like to be free from the chains of caffeine.