Headaches, sleepiness, irritability, lethargy, depression, muscle pain, stiffness, cramping, lack of concentration, insomnia, dizziness, and anxiety. All of these are symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

The Challenge

Over the course of five days, I experienced every one of these symptoms as I challenged myself to drink only water in an attempt to overcome my caffeine addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) caffeine withdrawal is now recognized as a mental disorder.

Day One

Almost immediately after beginning my experiment, I began to experience withdrawal symptoms. By nine a.m. on Tuesday, the first day, I had a splitting headache, as well as some lethargy. From there, the symptoms only became worse. That night, I experienced one of the worst cases of insomnia I had ever experienced. I went to bed at eleven p.m., which is pretty normal for me. At half past midnight, I was awake, and nothing I did would allow me to sleep until four a.m., only an hour before I had to wake up for work. And from there, my symptoms only got worse.

Symptoms

Each day throughout the experiment, my symptoms increased in severity. I tended to become noticeably tired by those around me, as well as more irritable. I constantly had headaches and would take ibuprofen each day in order to counteract the pain. I also became incredibly dizzy for the first few days, so much so that I often had trouble walking. The worst symptoms, by far, during my experiment was an increase in anxiety and depression. My genetic anxiety and depression had increased so much that I had a hard time socializing with others.

According to the Australia Alcohol and Drug Foundation, caffeine is “a stimulant drug, which means it speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.” Some of the effects of caffeine are feeling more alert and active, restlessness, excitability, dizziness, anxiety and irritability, dehydration, higher body temperature, faster breathing and heart rate, headaches, lack of concentration, and stomach pains.

Overdosing

Like with any drug, there is also a possibility of overdosing on caffeine. If a large amount is consumed, the consumer may experience tremors, nausea, vomiting, increased and irregular heart rate, confusion, panic attacks, and in the worst case, seizures. Regular heavy use of caffeine (more than four cups of coffee a day) can also cause long-term effects such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, heartburn, ulcers, difficulty sleeping, infertility, anxiety, depression, needing to use more to get the same effect, and dependence.

Conclusion

After doing this experiment, I came to see how dependent I have become on caffeine. Going through the withdrawal symptoms made me realize how addicted I am to caffeine and what the drug is doing to my body. As a result, in the weeks after my experiment, my consumption practices have greatly changed. While I do still drink things with caffeine in them, I have drastically cut down on how much I drink.

-Taylor Fogarty, ’18

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