Over the past decade there has been a proliferation in the marketplace for energy drinks, shots, strips, and chewable tablets. Coffee has been the long-time staple for those who want a boost and eventually become addicted to the caffeine it contains. Caffeine can be useful in some instances when you need to stave of fatigue and sleepiness but most of the time it is simply unnecessary. Caffeine is also a drug, a stimulant, and even if it is a mild addiction compared to other drugs, it can still have negative impact on both your life and your wallet. If you’ve taken caffeine before you know all about its effects on sleep, the racing thoughts, feelings of stress or anxiety, etc. There are plenty of reasons to kick this habit but like any addiction it requires some work and planning to do so successfully. For our purposes, I wanted to go over a few methods for quitting your caffeine addiction and try to minimize the withdrawal symptoms if those are something that you cannot handle.
In the past two years or so, I have been drinking energy drinks for months at a time before giving them up for a stretch and then returning to them again. It’s weird because in my teenage years, I actually gave up soda completely and went essentially caffeine and sugar free for multiple years. At some point, maybe it was during school in order to keep up, I started to consume those energy drinks. It wasn’t an everyday thing at first but it quickly became a habit and I found myself craving caffeine when I got out of bed. When I logically thought about that fact, I realized how pathetic that was and knew that I needed to quit energy drinks for good.
Why Do You Want to Quit?
The first thing that I did in this process of kicking this addiction was to clearly identify and write down my reasons for doing so. After all, the energy drinks weren’t all bad. I liked the boost of energy and heightened alertness at times so if I am going to quit, I had to identify reasons that were stronger than my enjoyment. Here was my list of reasons:
Erratic sleeping patterns
The sleeping problems were a huge motivation for me to crack this problem. Caffeine and the other stimulants found in energy drinks can wreak havoc on your ability to get to bed on time or will have you waking up intermittently throughout the night. It became a reinforcing cycle, couldn’t sleep well which resulted in me waking up later or not getting enough sleep, which in turn made me have to rush through my day, drink another energy drink to ‘wake’ myself up, and also affected my ability to stick with my diet plans and undertake other goals.
For me at least, my sleeping pattern is the number one factor that I have identified for getting things done in my life. When it gets out of whack, I eat worse, I exercise less, I read less, I write less, and it goes on down the line like an infection. Even if I had no other problems with energy drinks and caffeine, this factor alone is reason enough to quit because it is hindering my goals for personal growth (see: How to Wake Up Early for Night Owls).
How much money do you spend on your addiction each day? Energy drinks cost between two and four dollars each, so with taxes you could be spending $100 a month just for that extra unnatural pep. Extrapolate that over a whole year and you might be over $1,000 spent, depending on how much you consume.
Think about all of the money you waste by drinking energy drinks or coffee and what you could do with that extra cash. For example, if you have a $20,000 student loan debt, then that $1,000 you spend a year on caffeine drinks accounts for 5% of that loan! $1,000 could be invested for a nice return or used to pay rent or take a vacation. This money is just being wasted on a purchase you really don’t need in the first place.
In addition, I’ve noticed that my spending overall increases when I’m hopped up on an energy drink, I seem to have more impulse buys. Not only that, but because my sleep patterns get out of line, I tend to order out at restaurants for lunch because I didn’t have time to prepare anything before work. That is a big cost over time and only further solidifies my moving away from caffeine.
I really don’t like how my brain and body have been craving caffeine just to get me through the day. Sure, it’s a mild physical dependence that isn’t too bad to get over but I just don’t like the idea of a drink having some psychological power over me. Also, caffeine raises blood pressure, so long term energy drink consumption probably isn’t a great idea. Stress and anxiety levels also tend to be higher on caffeine and stress is one of the biggest health problems in the modern world. Add to the fact, that I make poorer food choices when on caffeine, and it just makes sense for my health’s sake to get rid of them. If you have any type of digestive issue or condition like colitis or IBS, then caffeine consumption is only making things worse for you, so getting off of it would be a great idea.
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On caffeine and these similar stimulants, my mind is noticeably alert and I have feelings of being pumped up and ready to go. However, this does not translate well to getting tasks done. While I am alert, I have a hard time focusing on what I need to get done or developing ideas and organizing them. Also, my creativity seems to have dark periods that directly correlate with my energy drink usage as my brain is jumping from thing to thing and never really having much depth to my thoughts at all.
Finding the Root Cause
I also think that it is important to figure out a root cause for the dependency on caffeine. Feeling tired or run down all the time can have its roots in a poor diet, bad sleeping habits, and a lack of exercise. Maybe it was simply a habit that was picked up during a time where you needed that extra energy but now only consume energy drinks because that’s just sort of what you do now. Whatever the reasoning behind the consumption, if you can identify the underlying factors, it can make the transition away from caffeine and stimulants that much easier.
How to Kick the Habit
There seems to be two methods for quitting caffeine. The first is obviously just stopping your consumption cold turkey. This method is the quickest way but also the most difficult in terms of habit change and withdrawal symptoms. The second is to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate. This method makes it a transition into going without caffeine and energy drinks and not an abrupt stop, which is helpful because it isn’t very difficult and the withdrawals are minimized but it does take planning.
This is the method which I utilized the first few days. I felt extremely tired and had a minor headache with cloudy thoughts. It was doable but unfortunately it also coincided with a busy work week and interviews for other jobs. So, I switched to a minor amount of caffeine just to manage the fatigue and get through those few days. I think the cold turkey method is a good choice if you have the time and not much to do, so that you can get in the extra sleep you’ll want and not have to be so irritable.
The Gradual Method
This is the easiest way to kick a caffeine habit. The first step is to determine how much you consume each day. If you have two energy drinks a day, the just giving them up would be a rough go on your body for a week or two. I usually had one energy drink a day in the 16 oz. size, so I wanted to cut that dramatically. I determined that a 16 oz. usually contains 140-160 mg of caffeine and that I wanted to cut that amount significantly to wean myself off of it but still have enough to get through that first week.
I chose to replace an energy drink with a Mountain Dew which contains 91mg of caffeine in a 20 oz. bottle. I only drank half of this bottle and poured the rest of it out, so I ended up consuming roughly 45mg of caffeine. Lipton Green Tea is also a good choice because it has way less caffeine than an energy drink and a different taste, so that you aren’t reinforcing that energy drink flavor.
The goal for me was to keep the total mg of caffeine low so that it didn’t interrupt my sleeping habits but I wasn’t going through with the withdrawals to the same extent. 45 mg of caffeine in the morning on one day and then the next either reduce that amount or just not consume any for that day. It was a good idea for me to schedule the reduction towards the start of the week, so that, by the weekend (my days off work) I could just go without and be able to deal with the rundown feelings by taking naps, eating more fruits and veggies, and not have any stress make the feelings worse.
If you have a major caffeine habit, you simply have to stretch out the time line and slowly reduce the amount of energy drinks, soda, or coffee you drink each day. If you currently consume two 16 oz. energy drinks per day for example, try to reduce that initially to one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. for a few days, then perhaps drop that further to two 8 oz. energy drinks, then to one 8 oz., then to a bottle of green tea, and then eliminate caffeine completely. This is something that needs to be planned out to be most effective. So grab a calendar or a sheet of paper and keep track of how many mg of caffeine you consume and then start reducing it until you can kick the habit completely. It is a very good idea to consume more water during this process and I find that eating healthy foods and satisfying meals throughout the day helps with the cloudy mind somewhat.
Energy drinks, coffee, and other sources of caffeine and stimulants can cause quite an addiction that can cost you money, sleep, and your health but with the right plan you can kick the habit. Quitting caffeine can be one of the best decisions you make in your life because of all the direct and indirect impacts it can have on your behavior and spending habits. Make the choice now to free yourself from this habit and learn to find your natural balance again.