Stop Being a Slave to Starbucks - How to Quit Caffeine

By Andrea Karim on 4 June 2007 (Updated 4 February 2011) 33 comments

I finally quit drinking coffee three weeks ago.

It's not something that I particularly wanted to do, but I did it. And now that I have, I'm actually really happy about it. I feel liberated, I feel healthier, and I have already saved myself quite a nice sum of cash — cash that used to go towards black gold of the Starbucks variety.

Now, I'm not one to advocate for a boycott of caffeine or anything. But, if you're already thinking about quitting caffeine, here are some reasons, and methods, for doing so.

Let's get something straight

OK, let me first address some of the accusations that will doubtlessly be thrown at this post:

  1. No, I don't think that there is anything WRONG with drinking caffeinated beverages.
     
  2. No, I do not hate Starbucks. I actually quite like Starbucks. I know that the title of this article sounds like I want Starbucks to go down in flames, but that's not the case at all. I still occasionally go to Starbucks, and I like their breakfast quiche.
     
  3. Yes, I realize that caffeine has been shown to have some positive health benefits.
     
  4. And no, I'm not advising anyone to quit. I'm just offering advice for people who already know that they don't want to consume caffeine anymore.

We good? OK.

Why would anyone want to quit?

Well, there are a number of reasons, but everyone has a different one. Some people freak out when their teeth start to stain. Some people want to save money, others have health reasons. For me, it was sort of a combination of all of these. I have stomach problems, and caffeine only exacerbates them. One cup of coffee in the morning felt like I was drinking a cup of lemon juice. The burning pain was simply too much to deal with.

Also, drinking coffee just got to be a pain in the butt. Traveling somewhere where good coffee is scarce was a hazard (small towns in Nevada, especially). Oddly enough, I have never dated anyone who drinks coffee, so those cute couples that stumble down to Cafe Vita on a weekend in their PJs to share foamy lattes over the Sunday Times? That was never me. Solitary trips to Starbucks aren't nearly as fun as the ones you can take with a fellow caffeine addict.

But most of all, I really hated being a slave to caffeine. I hated the fact that I had to consume at least a cup of coffee within an hour of waking up to stave off a splitting headache. I have a lot to do in the morning — dogs to feed and walk, gear to prepare — it takes me a good hour and a half from bed to door, and that's without much fussing about appearance. A trip to Starbucks made my morning routine that much longer.

Sure, I could brew a pot of coffee, and I often would, but then I'd just drink that much more.

For me, the decision was clear, but it took me a long time to make it, because DAMN, I really love coffee.

Oh, I like other caffeinated beverages as well — Diet Coke is SO good with Indian food. But I could give those up fairly easily, and besides, they don't offer the energy and mental clarity that coffee does. Not even Red Bull has as much caffeine as a cup of drip coffee. Everyone knows that caffeine is a drug, but its effect is so useful, and its side effects so mild that we don't really care. A little nervousness here, some heartburn there, maybe some insomnia — but the sheer energizing potential of a cup of joe makes it seem worth any little needling problems.

Usually. But for me, it simply got too bad. Stomach pain was a major factor, but there were others as well. In any case, once I realized that I had very little choice other than to quit, quitting was fairly easy.

How to quit

I have quit drinking coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) twice, but the first time didn't last. Interestingly enough, the first time I quit, I did it gradually, by simply drinking a little less coffee every day until I was just drinking decaf, and then slowly reducing the amount of decaf that I drank. I managed to stay away from caffeine for a few weeks, but eventually fell off the wagon, as it were.

This most recent time, I quit cold turkey. Just plain stopped. I let myself have a cup of decaf if I was feeling like I might crack and go back to swilling espresso, but mostly I just soldiered through the withdrawal symptoms.

Here are some tips for quitting:

Start on a Friday

It takes anywhere from 4-11 days to be free from caffeine cravings. If you start on a Friday, by the next Monday, you'll be at least 1/3 of the way through.

Drink plenty of water

The faster you cleanse your body of caffeine, the better off you will be. Drinking clean water will purify your blood, help cleanse your liver, and make your body function better. If you want, you can drink some detox tea, but you don't have to. It'll just clean you out a bit faster.

Get the extra sleep that you want and need

Plan ahead and realize that you'll probably need 2-4 more hours of sleep per day while you adjust to a caffeine-free life. You can take it in the form of naps, or just get to bed earlier. But if you don't set aside this time, you will have a very difficult time quitting — you'll be dragging along at 1 p.m. and just NEED a cup of coffee. I know it's difficult, especially with a busy schedule, to find a way to sleep more, but it's an important step.

Get those painkillers ready

Have a headache from withdrawal? Take some ibuprofen or whatever it is that you normally take to get rid of the pain. An ice pack on the forehead or the back of your head can help, too.

Don't be afraid to have some decaf

Yes, there is still caffeine in decaf, but if you need your fix, you might be able to stave off a complete relapse by having a decaf version of your favorite caffeine source.

Discover another energy source

When I'm groggy, I take a quick walk around the block while listening to The Ramones. By the time I'm back at my desk, I'm refreshed and perky. Well, as perky as I get, anyway. An apple is a great replacement for my afternoon coffee.

LifeHacker readers offer some good tips for quitting, too.

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Guest's picture
Joe

I never drank coffee ever, but just stopped drinking those energy drinks last month. I started on the Hansen's products about 12 years ago. Even tried taurine pills.(still have 1/2 a bottle) Got to the point where I needed two drinks at a time to get that "buzz", that's like almost $5 bucks a pop. Now I'm going to the gym in the early mornings for a quick workout, & breathing deeper throughout my day to help me keep going. I feel great and have about an extra $25 a week.

Jessica Okon's picture

A lot of over the counter pain meds have caffeine: Excedrin, Goody's, BC Powders. 

Guest's picture
Elke

Try Teeccino herbal coffee:
http://www.teeccino.com/

I swear you'll never notice the difference. Tastes amazing and great flavors to choose from.

I also notice that no caffeine makes me stress out on the little things much less, if at all.

And a hot bath works on the headaches/migraine thing as well. It could be a girl thing though.. ;)

Guest's picture
Guest

Simply the best tasting coffee substitute. No caffeine and made from soy. Comes in 8 flavors and best of all, it's organic. www.Soycoffee.com . Also visit www.CaffeineAwareness.org for more info about the dangers of decaf.

Guest's picture

I thought I had heart attack last year this time because my heart was pounding, call 911 and they said I was ok. Three days of long heart palpation and later visiting my doctor about it was sufficient enough to forget Coffee. A good dose of fear will force you to take charge of things you neglected for a long time. So, I recommend, free, easy, and very healthy fear to everyone. Remember not all fear is bad; this is healthy one :-)

Guest's picture
Mikeyyy

But somepeople like to do Cold Turkey all at once too. In the end, whatever works is best, no?

Guest's picture
60 in 3

I used to get my caffeine fix through sodas. Around 6 to 7 cans a day of either coke or mountain dew. When I tried to get my health under control, I did the math and realized I was consuming around 700 to 800 calories this way. It was enough to make me want to quit.

I changed to diet coke at first and then slowly drank less and less. These days I'll have a caffeine free diet coke once a day, but everything else is just water.

My life was tough the first few days after caffeine, but things slowly improved. I no longer fall asleep at meetings. I no longer have those crashes after lunch when my whole body shuts down. I even sleep much better now.

So congratulations to you on your new healthy drinking habit. Believe me, if you can make it stick, you'll never regret it. You'll end up saving money and feeling better.

Gal

Guest's picture
Esha

I couldn't go on without coffee...almost 2 days and my brain was pfffft!

It IS a huge step (and a verrrry difficult one), so congrats on going 3 weeks without it..you're a powerhouse!

Anyways, I'm loving your articles.

Keep up the good work :)

Guest's picture
Katie

It's has nothing really to do with the taste of any kind of caffeine...it's the buzz..the crazed-out-mania I experience over & over. I can quit, but for me to stay off of it completely is my struggle...I know all the negatives...I'm off it, start to feel better and boom back at it. Accountability to my God or myself is not enough, sadly not even to my 2 kids, hubby or any other poor soul who crosses my path in my paranoid, crabbed-out mood!! Yea, it feels great for a fleeting moment or two. To sum it up...I'm nuts and the "slave to any caffeine" just makes me more nuts!! So I'll get back on the wagon today...be trashed for a week or so and we'll see how it goes. It's cold turkey & no "kicky drink substitutes" tried them... they just lead me back. Yes, there's a reason I'm writing this at 2am..and it's not cause I work the night shift!! Katie

Guest's picture
Patrick

I asked myself the question: why am I frustrated after only one small cup of joe in the morning?
I have quit several times. Here's a simple comparison of me on the coffee and off the coffee...

OFF the coffee:

bed time: 10:00pm with another hour to fall asleep, so 11:00pm, I'm out.
wake-up time: 7:00am
TOTAL HOURS OF SLEEP: 8 hrs minimum, sometimes I sleep in an extra hour on top of that, here and there, it just feels right sometimes.

ON the coffee:

bed time: 10:00pm with another two hours (usually) to fall asleep, so midnight, I'm asleep with my mind still racing.
wake-up time: 5:00am and can't fall back to sleep to get my other usuall two hours of sleep, so I usually just get up, rather than lay there.
TOTAL HOURS OF SLEEP: 5 hrs, complete misery and I didn't even sleep that well!

There it is.
On top of that, I get extra wrinkles around my eyes.
I've done some research on coffee and have found that the people that say it benefits are the ones making money off it in some form or another, like they do in the cigarette market.

I'm going to go cold turkey again after this post is posted. We have got to quit being dragged around by these hooks folks!
I hope this helps someone else, heck, I hope it helps me.

Your friend,
Patrick

Andrea Karim's picture

Good luck Patrick!

For the record, caffeine-enhanced beauty products can reduce puffiness around the eyes and face (a lot of puff-reducing gels and eye ointments contain caffeine) because caffeine reduces swelling.

It's hard to stay off of, though, especailly in the winter. I fall off the wagon, and then climb back on, every few months. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I believe when applied externally caffeine may reduce swelling - but when taken internally it can dehydrate the body over time, increasing wrinkles and a host of other negative bodily effects.

Guest's picture
purple girl

I use to drink mountain dew and coke everyday like 3 20 ounce bottles a day. One day I checked my blood pressure because I didn't feel well and it was way too high for my age (22) but it was not considered hypertensive yet. I knew that caffeine and my smoking were the culprit. I stopped caffeine cold turkey and muttled through the work day with a migraine for about 3 days but once it went away I lost all cravings for it! I feel so much more refreshed by drinking water. I lost 8 pounds in 2 weeks when I stopped caffeine which was an extra bonus!! I have been caffeine free for 38 days and nicotine free for 9!! If I can do it anyone can. Good luck!!

Guest's picture
Guest

Yep, I did the coffee/smoking thing for quite a while as well. I had a pretty rough time breaking the smoking thing, while continuing to drink coffee/caffeine. A week after quitting coffee the smoking thing went away pretty much on its' own. Seems like the smoking/caffeine were driving each other. About 2 months after quitting coffee and smoke free, I had a coffee without thinking about it, by mistake. YEEHAW! Heart beat jumped by 20 beats, starting breathing hard and sweating. Coffee, does pack a punch for a lot of people.

Guest's picture
Bob25

And I'm dyin! The headache is unbelievable but manageable with Advil. Funny thing is, I'm really not jones'in for a cup right now. I know I need to stop as the heart problems (skipping beats) and anxiety need to go away. I also use whipping cream and half-n-half which has been adding the pounds. Used stevia for sweetener. I like sugar better but don't like eating that much sugar.

My brew of choice came from a Barista espresso maker from Bucks. We usually got bucks whole bean and ground ourselves. Found another bean out of Michigan by the name of biggby coffee. That was good stuff. Our filler bean (cheap bean to stretch the good bean) came from world market. Not a bad brew to begin with but can't stand up to bucks or biggby's.

I'm going to stick with it this time. Had quit before due to the way it was affecting my health. Drinking water now to the tune of 4-5 liters / day. I used to drink that much water before but the coffee slowly replaced it. Hey, I was getting my liquid needs through coffee right? So wrong. Nothing replaces good ol water.

The money we will save should be to the tune of around 50 per month. That's going through a 1 pound bag per week. I'm also off the diet pepsi as well. There's another 3-6 bucks a week. Funny how we add more and more caffeine the longer we use and really don't think much about it. Didn't get into the energy drinks thankfully. Adding those probably would have sent my heart over the edge!

Anyhow, looking forward to the days without this friggin headache. I did it before and I will do it again. Will make it for good this time. Best of luck to you :)

Guest's picture
Pauline

Hi
I am trying to go caffeine free. I started 6 weeks ago, quitting gradually, trying to give up coffee for Lent. I think I'm doing pretty good and want to stay off it. I find coffee is still calling me, but I have stayed off. I drink about 4-5 cups of decaf tea as a replacement and have had black tea in the morning to help. I heard tea is just as bad as coffee for the caffeine. What do you think?

Pauline

Guest's picture
Guest

Just wanted to chime and in say that I am in my 6th day with no Caffeine... Was sick and couldn't keep anything down so afterwards I thought I would give it a try to go a week without... I don't want to quit, just give myself a break and see what happens... I am too much a slave to my french press to give it up completely... Getting a Vietnamese coffee maker this week. Soooo good...

Andrea Karim's picture

 Hi, Pauline,

Tea has significantly less caffeine than coffee does (depending on how it is brewed), and is pretty good for you. I don't think that coffee is necessarily bad for you, either, unless it is consumed in large amounts. Tea has some other benefits that coffee doesn't, like lowering blood sugar.

-Andrea

Guest's picture
dale

Caffeine is just like any other narcotic but it's side effects are light enough that it is able to pass under the nanny-state's radar. Still though... it's a narcotic. You gotta have it just to function throughout the day. I'd say it's the most addictive one out there... more addictive than nicotine, alcohol or opiates. Why? Because it's so easy. "Why stop drinking caffeine?!?" we say. You're almost considered "weird" if you don't partake. Addiction and denial at a grand scale. We're all so dependent on it that we have almost completely erased the idea that it's a drug out of our minds... so we don't have to or can't admit we are using one. But don't take me wrong... I don't consider it a moral issue unlike most of the self-righteous sheep out there. I don't find anything inherently wrong with using any drug... I just don't like having to depend on one and society is no help in this case. The same society that likes to throw you in jail for smoking pot. What a bunch of hypocrites. I guess it fits the agenda of our overlords to have us hyped up on caffeine so that we'll be good worker-bees but a joint might make us realize how they are screwing us day in day out because, 'gulp', we might think for ourselves and, this is the worst part, have -fun- doing it... can't have that.

Guest's picture
Lucky

I had to have a mammogram two weeks back, so 2 days before, quit the 3 cups of Chai tea with 1 tsp of sugar I was having daily (sugar and caffeine can make mammos' more painful)

Didn't even think of withdrawl! It hit me on the way to the appointment... a massive dull pounding headache. I told the x-ray tech, I might just pass out because my head is pounding and now your're going to be clamping me in that!

So....I've decided again, to quit. I did a few years.. but one day picked up some regular tea as a treat, and slid downhill after that. Lesson learned!

Also have been having heart palpatations off and on too, and maybe these will go away.. can happen after 1 or 2 cups of tea.

Guest's picture
Frances

If cigarette-smokers have the nicotine patch to help them quit, how about a caffeine patch? Has anyone heard of it? Does it work? I have a long history of migraine and going cold turkey is going to make my noodles explode from caffeine starvation. slow but gradual process is the key - like the caffeine patch... if only I could find it.

Guest's picture
Kathleen

Umm that's not gonna help!! You're addicted to the caffeine not drinking coffee. It's not psychological like cigarette smoking is!

Andrea Karim's picture

Actually, many people are addicted to the cup of coffee - it's not just the headache that makes it hard to let go. There's a comfort factor. And anyway, a caffeine patch can be tapered off, duh.

Guest's picture
Nicholas

The physiological science behind caffeine and how it works is very interesting and helps to get an understanding of why it has the effect and why it exists in nature.
Caffeine is a poison that stimulates adrenalin production to create anxiety in animals who eat the beans. They become anxious and then stop eating them as they operate on a purely reactive level to the toxin.
Each dose of caffeine is an adrenalin incident and has physical consequences for the consumer. The dependency that it creates among it's consumers is a billion a day industry that is showing no sign of slowing down. Now they even state on 7-Up in the UK that it is caffeine free.
I quit in March 2011 and have not looked back since but had a terrible time for around 8 weeks if not longer...no going back for me, it has no benefit at all and is a costly and harmful drug to consume daily.

Guest's picture
Kelly

Thank you all so much for sharing here. I have been trying repeatedly to quit and get through 1-2 days then give up. It helps to hear other people talk about the heart palpitations and anxiety and all the crappy sugar and saturated fat that comes with that nasty cup of coffee. And how you did it. And why it was worth it. You have given me the courage to try again.

Guest's picture
leighcallen@hotmail.com

Leigh

I believe, from all the research that I have done on coffee and caffeine, that the negatives far outweigh any positives that caffeine would do to your body and your mind by ingesting it! Although I do agree that using caffeine as a cellulite treatment or in eye and skin creams do work!! It is unnatural to drink caffeine which puts your body in a state of fight or flight mode, when that causes so much exhaustion to your adrenal glands!! I have read that drinking caffeine puts a lot of stress on your adrenal glands,which will only leave you feeling exhausted! Then, this can lead to high cortisol levels which causes weight gain! Coffee is loaded with tons of bad acids,pesticides, and a high amount of caffeine in which all of these can be stomach irritants, causing all kinds of stomach problems like acid reflux and IBS etc etc. Also, if you are sensitive or intolerant to caffeine, it can mimic psychological and mental problems like depression, bipolar,add, and even schizophrenia and others! It can cause adrenal fatigue, skin rashes, and even joint pain! Caffeine also can cause anxiety and even anxiety attacks,heart palpitations, and worsens P.M.S. symptoms! I finally quit caffeine after a long battle of my love hate relationship with coffee!! I found out I was intolerant to caffeine, and I did suffer many of the above symptoms but not the schizophrenia! I know a lot of people can handle caffeine, but just look how much of the U.S. is on prescription antacids!! Well, I do feel way better off of caffeine!!:)

Guest's picture
Rebekah

I quit caffeine about 3 1/2 weeks ago. At first I had the headaches and was extremely tired and moody. However, for the past few weeks I have developed insomnia! I know that doesn't seem to make sense! It is driving me crazy! I sleep good one night and have a good day, feeling more calm and in control. Then the next day I wake up at 3 and can't go back to sleep. Do you know what its like when you are trying not to drink caffeine after maybe 3 or 4 hours of sleep and then still expected to carry on normally with your day and function. This is killing me. I'm trying really hard to stay away from caffeine. I had gotten to the point where I would get a small buzz from caffeine, but mostly just felt tired all of the time. I was unable to control my weight and was gaining weight. I'm pretty sure it has to do with the constant energy swings throughout the day. I'm in my late thirtees and I just can't handle caffeine like I used to. I guess I always knew it was bad for me and quit for periods of time in the past. The last time I quit was about a year ago. I quit for a month, but still felt tired so I started drinking it again. I really need to get off of it. I feel it is the first step to becoming more healthy, having more energy and hopefully getting my weight under control. I've heard of adrenal failure and that in that new book, "Caffeine Blues" the author says to stay off of caffeine for two months and see how you feel. I'm really trying, but two months is a long time to feel bad. The insomnia is killing me. When I don't get a good night sleep there is nothing that I can do, no Java fix, to keep me going. I just feel really miserable all day. I have to do this for my children. I just started homeschooling them a few months ago. I'm tired of not feeling well. When will this insomnia end and when will I start to feel better. Anyone that thinks that caffeine is not a drug is ridiculous. Quitting for me is a day to day battle that right now is pretty intense. I can see myself a year from now being much healthier, and I'm just trying to hang on!

Guest's picture
Dan W.

Getting enough sleep works for me. I used to think less sleep equals high productivity so I can't begin work without a latte. Somehow this has been a counterproductive way for me to increase my work output. Since I work at home, I'd usually drive a total of 30 minutes a day and get myself a grande latte at Starbucks. I was never a fan of brewed coffee so I always get mine at the store.

Guest's picture
Katie

It is good to be able to quit a bad habit once and for all. One thing I like to remember is that even if you relapse, think of how many days you went without your bad habit. Be positive and don't think, "I can't do this, because I'll just give up again." For some people cold turkey works and some like to wean themselves off.

I personally liked to quit cold turkey. A trick I use is to give up three things, but concentrate on one. For example, say I won't eat McDonald's, Steak & Shake and Sonic. If you give in one day and eat one of those, you can still feel good about not eating the others.

Before I moved, I have been off caffeine for 3 years and quit eating a lot of fast food. However, when I moved and began working it became difficult to maintain that lifestyle.

Essentially it is important to set yourself up for success by being practical. You have to consider the difficulties you will encounter and how will you process them. Not just wake up and say "I'm going to quit!"

My reasons for quitting are to save money and to get a better deeper rest. Hopefully over time, I will also improve my diet and lose weight. Whatever your reasons may be, GOOD LUCK!

Guest's picture
kabree55

just wanted to say...quitting and failing over and over is the only way my body wants to do anything!!...i quit and failed 4 times before i was able to finally stop nicotine...so quitting and failing is probably what i'll have to do before getting off caffeine sticks...just letting ppl know so youre not so hard on yourself if you fail this time...it just means the next time it just might stick!!

Guest's picture
Guest

Could anyone who has quit caffeine please post your story on my new website: caffeinefreedom.org

I am excited to collect and share stories from people who live life caffeine free. Please be an inspiration for others.
And, check out my website and book recommendations if you are still trying to recover.

Thank you so much!!
Crystal

Guest's picture

First - how do you get "2-4 more hours sleep"? And "get to bed earlier"? Last night, for example, I went to bed at 10:30, and I lie awake staring at the dark room for 2 hours. Alarm still buzzes at 7:25AM (which is about 40 minutes later than I really need it to go off if I want to be at work by 8AM... but I am rebelling and fighting our work schedule!)

Guest's picture
Jane

This is such great information and very encouraging. I am also quitting cold turkey...tomorrow! I love the advice about drinking a lot of water. I will be blogging about it as I go. I would love some comments, followera, encouragement, etc...and better yet...I would love for people to join me in this journey! http://stopcaffeine.blogspot.com ~Jane