A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Hooked on caffeine? Tips for cutting back

Addicted to caffeine illustration - grande coffee cup, soda bottle

You should cut back on caffeine if your intake is more than 400 milligrams per day.

Do you get headaches after a day without coffee, caffeinated soda or energy drinks?

If you answered “yes,” you may have a caffeine addiction.

“Caffeine meets the requirements for an addictive substance,” said Kristene Schulte, a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian. “You can build a tolerance, become dependent and have withdrawal symptoms.”

Unlike other drugs, using caffeine won’t lead to dangerous behaviors, but too much can have negative health effects.

Does that mean you should stop using caffeine? Not necessarily, Schulte said.

How caffeine addiction works

“Caffeine tolerance develops over time but one study showed tolerance developed in as few as one to four days of drinking coffee. That means you’ll need more to get the same effect,” Schulte said.

You may have withdrawal symptoms if you consume 100 milligrams of caffeine per day and stop abruptly. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Problems concentrating

Symptoms last two days to a week for most people but can last longer, Schulte said. They may be unpleasant but don’t pose life-threatening health risks.

Should I cut back on caffeine?

Although caffeine is addictive, most healthy adults safely can consume up to 400 milligrams per day. You should cut back if your intake is higher.

One cup of coffee has 100-150 milligrams. Federal dietary guidelines recognize three to five cups per day as consistent with a healthful diet. A cup of tea has 40-60 milligrams of caffeine. Soda has less caffeine at 25-45 milligrams per 8 ounces, but watch out for high sugar content.

Schulte advises avoiding energy drinks, which aren’t regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Talk to your doctor about safe caffeine levels if you have heart disease or certain medical conditions.

Cut caffeine slowly

“Cut caffeine intake gradually to reduce withdrawal symptoms,” Schulte said.

Reduce your intake by one serving every few days. Drink plenty of water to curb withdrawal headaches. Adjust to life with less caffeine by getting more sleep.

Looking for a beverage to replace your morning espresso? Try plain water or herbal tea.

  1. Jun 10, 2016
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