Speed-Weaning: How to End Your Caffeine Addiction in Just Three Days

I've been a daily coffee addict for the past 15 years, drinking up to 2-3 cups a day, and until recently the idea of kicking the caffeine habit was simply inconceivable. Why suffer unnecessarily?

But my upcoming plans to do a seven day raw foods trial required me, at least temporarily, to face down the withdrawal symptoms and end my caffeine addiction.

As it turned out, kicking the caffeine habit was far easier than I expected. What follows is a three day, rapid-weaning schedule that can free you from coffee addiction with an absolute minimum of pain and suffering.

Photo credit: Ballistik Coffee Boy

Before we get started, three quick preliminary notes:
1) Supplies: to follow the Speed-Weaning schedule, you'll need to have a small supply of decaffeinated coffee and a small supply of your favorite caffeine-free tea.

2) I'll show the process in two parts: The first part simply contains the three day schedule with basic instructions on what to do each day. If you follow these steps, by Day 4 you should be entirely free of any physical addiction to coffee or caffeine. Below, I'll share more in-depth thoughts on my experiences while I went through the process. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but after reading both parts of this post you should have a clear sense of what to expect if you decide to try this yourself.

3) Optional but strongly recommended step for Day T-minus 1: The day before you begin this schedule, try this extra step: make an extra strong, extra big pot of coffee--and then drink too much of it. Enjoy the pleasurable caffeine buzz, but also pay close attention to the scattered and nervous activity of your brain when under the influence of too much caffeine. This preliminary day of coffee overindulgence will help you handle the psychological aspects of caffeine withdrawal. For me, it was similar to how a night with too much alcohol makes it easy to not drink the next day.

Okay, let's get started:
The Three Day Speed-Weaning Schedule for Ending Caffeine Addiction
Day 1: For your first day of caffeine weaning, make a pot of 3/4 decaf and 1/4 regular coffee, and enjoy 1-2 cups over the course of the morning. After 12 noon, be sure to avoid all caffeine.

Day 2: On Day 2, make a pot of all-decaf coffee, and drink as much as you want. You will feel sleepy and foggy today, and you might experience a mild headache (optional: take one aspirin tablet shortly after waking up to address headache symptoms). Don't fight the fatigue, accept it: this is just your body adjusting to a new, non-caffeinated reality.

Day 3: Congratulations--you've made it through one full day with absolutely no caffeine! Now it's time to seal the deal and break the coffee habit once and for all. Today, when you wake up, you will drink only a cup of hot water or non-caffeinated herbal tea, and you will avoid caffeine the entire day. By tomorrow the physical symptoms of addiction will be entirely behind you.

Day 4: Welcome to the first day of your new life as a person entirely free of caffeine addiction. Enjoy it!
My Experiences With The Three Day Speed-Weaning Schedule
I'll be the first to admit it: I was expecting a much more difficult process, with stronger and longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms. This is how each day went for me:

Day 1:
1) I had no caffeine withdrawal headache on Day 1, thanks to the small amount of caffeine in the 3/4 decaf coffee. However, I was quite sleepy during the bulk of the morning and I didn't really break out of that fatigue until noon. What was interesting, however, was how much better I could concentrate despite my tiredness. I did a substantial amount of writing during this day. It goes to show that although coffee often makes us feel more alert and alive, it can badly hurt our ability to focus on cognitively demanding work. If anything, that's a huge reason why it's worth considering going off caffeine from time to time.
2) The worst disappointment of this entire three-day process occurred during my mid-day run on Day 1. It was the worst run I've had in years. My arms felt like they had anvils attached to them, my breathing was shallow and out of rhythm, and my running form was absolutely terrible.
3) I recommend doing Day 1 of the Speed-Weaning schedule on a Friday, since it allows you to use the weekend to execute Days 2 and 3.

Day 2:
1) If I could only describe for you how I dreaded this day: a day where I'd have to drag myself out of bed and pour myself a flaccid cup of pansy-ass decaf coffee. But as it turned out, this day was actually easier than yesterday. Despite the fact that I compounded matters by dwelling and thinking about how bad I'd feel, I never really felt that bad. My advice: don't think about it so much. Don't get all wrapped around the axle on how bad you think you're going to feel, just let the experience come. It won't be as bad as you think it's going to be.
2) Here's the key reason I suggest spending one day on decaf coffee rather than going cold turkey: a cup of decent decaf carries most of the smells, tastes and other sensory inputs that we addicts associate with coffee. This helped me manage the psychological as well as the physical aspects of caffeine withdrawal.
3) I took one aspirin immediately after getting out of bed. I still had a mild headache for part of the morning, but it was nothing serious. I also felt somewhat mentally foggy, but by afternoon the fog had totally passed.
4) One quick note about decaf coffee: many decaf coffee brands state on their labels that they are 99.7% caffeine-free, which means, mathematically, you could get the equivalent of one cup of regular coffee by drinking 333 cups of decaf. Do not attempt this.

Day 3:
1) I have never made a practice of discussing digestive functions here at Casual Kitchen, so let me address the following subject with oblique delicacy: If you are the type of person who depends on a morning cup of hot coffee to, uh, stimulate certain digestive processes, you will be surprised how you can achieve the same results with just a cup of hot water or herbal tea. Try it, and you'll see what I mean.
2) Once again, I was a bit tired and cognitively foggy in the morning, but even so I was still able to do quite a bit of focused writing. And by the time I finished my mid-day run, I felt perfectly normal.

Day 4 and beyond:
1) On Day 4 I experienced no physical withdrawal symptoms at all, and aside from an occasional desirous thought about coffee once or twice during the day, I experienced no psychological withdrawal symptoms either.
2) Over the next several days, I felt occasional passing thoughts (perhaps once or twice a day) about how nice it might be to have a cup of coffee. These passing thoughts turned out to be very easy to resist, and I never really had anything that I could describe as a craving at all.
You Can Do it Too!
Until a few days ago, I was as addicted to coffee as I've ever been in my life. Now that I'm totally out of my prior profession as a Wall Street analyst (where the stress and excitement obviated the need for extra caffeine) and I spend most of my time at home writing, it's become beguilingly easy for me to drink cup after cup of joe all day long. Despite this, I was still able to shake off my coffee addiction in three short days. I was shocked at how easy and fast this Speed-Weaning process turned out to be.

With the caveat once again that your mileage may vary, the bottom line is this: if I can do it at a time in my life when I was deeply addicted to caffeine, you can do it too. Try it--you can kick the caffeine habit!

Readers: have you ever tried to break your caffeine addiction? What were your experiences, and did you succeed or fail?

Related Posts:The Macchinetta: Stovetop Espresso Coffee
Seven Rules On the Value of an Experience
What Have You Given Up That You Don't Miss?
Countdown: The Top Ten Best No-Alcohol Drinks

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Julia said...

I've given up coffee twice, both times cold turkey. Day one is definitely slow and head-achy, but I'm over it by day 3. I tend to avoid coffee altogether because for me coffee is as much about the morning routine as it is about the caffeine.

The second time I gave up coffee was much easier -- when I went to Asian last year. I was so jet-lagged that it didn't much matter if I added caffeine withdrawals to the mix.

Julia said...

P.S. Good luck with the raw food! I don't know that I could do that.

Ellie said...

I was so excited to see a way to give up caffeine in 3 days. However, while your plan looks good for the moderate coffee drinker, I know from experience that it would result in some pretty painful headaches for me when I'm in heavy caffeine use mode. At my worst, I'll drink 3-4 16oz cups of coffee, plus 3-4 mugs of black tea, plus about 2 (diet) caffeinated sodas.

The best, most pain-free way for me to stop with the caffeine is to switch from unlimited coffee --> one cup of coffee & unlimited black tea, stay there for several days, ---> just unlimited black tea, a couple days later -----> one cup of black tea and unlimited green tea, then a couple days later ----> just unlimited green tea.

Sometimes I stop there, but at that point I can easily switch directly to herbal & decaf only. I allow unlimited decaf tea/coffee/soda at any time. The whole thing can take several weeks, however, depending on how much caffeine I'm on - but it's pretty painless.

I actually did it accidentally when I moved to England - I started off drinking coffee, as is my habit, but gradually moved to black tea, since that's what everyone drinks there. I then went through a green tea stage for a month or two, before moving back to black.

Jim Hohl said...

I've started drinking only tea in the morning, which granted still has caffeine but somehow seems less of a kick than coffee. I find that on weekends I'm fine but on weekdays first thing when I get to the office, I want some coffee. I imagine that is less of a caffeine addiction and more of a habit. Good luck with this and the raw food trial. I am planning on one myself so I'm looking forward to reading your tips.


Since I don't like coffee unless it's piping hot, I never could get past half a cup in the morning before the coffee turned too cool to drink = never had an addiction.

I perk up with a cold bottle of water each morning (putting a little lemon juice in it first) - much much better.

I've also lived on a raw foods diet for 20 years (going on 21) - to me it's the only way to eat. You have great energy; never have headaches - never are constipated, and don't stand in a hot kitchen making hot meals.

The foods travel easily; it's inexpensive, and you feel wonderful all the time.

Keep up the good trend toward healthy eating; ditch coffee altogether, and enjoy juices and water - much better for your body.

Tom C said...

Coffee must be easier to quit than soda! I get very powerful headaches for a least a week when I quit. I guess that makes sense as a function of the sugar?

I have never tried weaning myself off Mountain Dew and cherry cola using non-caffeinated sodas, but it might help I suppose. I do notice that I strongly crave dark chocolate when undergoing caffeine withdrawal.

I very much like your recommendations of a pre-emptive aspirin (once the headache sets in it won't go away) and a final binge.

Another thing that has helped me is thinking about the neural chemistry and biology of caffeine addiction. When I recognize the headache as a symptom of a drug-induced neuroreceptor blossoming it is obvious that I should try to quit.

kittiesx3 said...

I did go caffeine free for a few years but I missed my puny two cups of coffee in the morning--and sorry, but decaf does NOT taste the same to me at all. So I drink my two cups first thing in the morning and then I drink hot water the rest of the day :-)

Janet C. said...

Dan: When I was a student I became addicted to Peet's (remember, the original Peet's coffee was in North Berkeley just a few blocks from where I lived. I could easily drink four or five cups a day of that potent brew.

The addiction lasted until early in my working career...when I decided to have children. I went cold turkey when I became pregnant with Ed. It was not fun....headaches and drowsiness...for three or four days. But I survived!

Eventually I went back to coffee...although now I'm down to a cup or at most two in the morning...and no afternoon brews. That works well for me.

BTW, the raw food thing is something I would not try...I think God gave us fire for a reason ;-)

Daniel said...

Thanks for the input everyone.

Julia, thanks for sharing. A related story: I have a family member who kicked coffee while he was sick in bed for a week. He figured, how can it be any worse--I might as well accomplish something while I'm lying here!

Ellie, calling you a heavy caffeine user is the understatement of the decade. Wow. Most assuredly, you are far beyond using a three-day Speed-Weaning method.

Jim: agreed in many ways it's habit, but that's part of addiction, isn't it? And stay tuned, on Tuesday I'll start the series on raw foods. I hope it helps you.

Happy: not to be a hypocrite and help a coffee drinker stay on coffee, but my secret is/was the microwave. I nuke a lukewarm cup of coffee for 30-40 seconds to get it right back to piping hot.

Tom C: I think you need help. First with your soda addiction, and second with your laughably low tolerance for headache pain. :)

KittiesX3: maybe you are on to something with your hot water solution--perhaps by copying you I can keep my caffeine intake down if I go back on to coffee. Thank you for your comment.

Hi Janet: Those are great stories! Thanks for sharing. And we'll all see about how the raw foods trial goes soon enough... :)


MaryMary86 said...

I just had to quit overnight when my surgeon told me the day before "oh by the way nothing to eat or drink after midnight." Someone in the office told me the headache is from dehydration (since coffee is a diuretic.) He recommended upping my salt intake and making sure I drank plenty of water the day before. I had sushi for dinner with plenty of soy and woke up thirsty at 4am in spite of all the water I drank that day. I went ahead and drank more water (I didn't think it would still be in my stomach at 8 am) and went to surgery with no problems and no post op headache.

Consider trying this with the other suggestions in this post ... drinking lots of water can't hurt!!

Daniel said...

Hi MaryMary: nice of your surgeon to give you so much advance notice! Thanks for sharing your thoughts--I think I may very well add in your idea about drinking extra water.


Charmian @ Christie's Corner said...

I'm not addicted. I'm dependent :-)

I drink one double-shot-of-espresso latte each morning and have no caffeine after that. Every once in a while I go off coffee. It no longer tastes good for some reason and I quit cold turkey for a month or two. I don't get headaches, but the large muscles (glutes, hamstrings and quads) ache for a couple of days. Then I'm fine.

I feel no more or less energetic on or off coffee. And I never plan on leaving it permanently. I just give myself the occasional break when my body tells me to.

While your weaning is interesting, I'd rather quit flat out than drink decaf. But that's just me. I know some people can't do that.

Good luck with the raw food experiment. I know I couldn't do it.

The Diva on a Diet said...

When I first read the title of your post in my reader - my initial thought was: "Why?!" ... LOL ... but now I see that its part of your raw food experiment ... about which I'm anxious to read.

I don't drink coffee, ever, though I do need and require my morning cup of tea ... very strong and very dark. In fact, you'd have to pry it from my cold, dead hands!

Congrats on kicking the habit and good luck with your raw food experiment, Dan.

Eleonora said...

That's interesting. I usually have two cups of espresso a day, one at breakfast, one right after lunch. I basically give up coffee every time I'm outside Italy :-) and I've never had any headhaches or other withdrawal symptoms. I've heard that the dark roasting used for espresso has less caffeine than other brews, but have no scientific support for that. I also have a cup of black tea in the morning, but I support your thesis: any warm liquid will do!By the way, I brew roasted barley in the normal espresso "macchinetta" If you find some in NJ you might try it!

DEO said...

Very inspiring, Dan! I just might take the plunge myself.

How's the raw food diet going otherwise? I particularly admire you for taking on this challenge during the colder months. It seems like the RFD wouldn't be too hard in the summertime with so much good produce available, but this time of year a lot of the seasonal produce (e.g., winter squash, sweet potatoes, other root veggies) need to be cooked. I'm curious to read about what you'll be eating. Maybe some good (and laughably cheap!) raw cabbage salads/slaws will make it into the repertoire?

Good luck and keep us posted!

The Economical Epicurean

Daniel said...

Hi Charmian:
Dependent. Right. :)
Many people would agree with you on decaf (i.e., what's the point if there's no caffeine?). In this case, however, it's solely to replicate the habits, associations and smells and so forth of morning coffee, not for the taste or the caffeine. It ends up making the caffeine weaning process quite a bit easier.

Diva, plenty of other tea/coffee drinkers would say the same. I would never try to persuade my readers to give up coffee, obviously. I'm simply talking about my method of kicking the habit for any readers who are considering giving it up and want a relatively quick and painless way to do it. And PS: I was waiting for somebody to do a double-take on the use of the word weaning. I was really proud of that title. :)

Eleonora, thanks for stopping by! You are one of the lucky ones who don't get headaches. But now that I think about it, to an Italian, most of the coffee you get outside of Italy doesn't really count as real coffee! :) And I'll definitely have to try roasted barley in our macchinetta, thanks for the idea.

Hi Diana,
Actually this time of year in the NY/NJ area is the peak of apple season, and that probably was one fruit I ate the most of. But agreed, the raw food diet breaks down a bit during the fall and winter, especially if you live someplace with a long winter and yet you still want to try and stay somewhat local with your produce purchasing. I hope to share more thoughts on the environmental aspects as well as the cost aspects of raw foods as I develop more context and expertise.


The Diva on a Diet said...

Dan - you do have a way with words ... love the title!!

oilandgarlic said...

Wow, you have a whole system!
I used to drink coffee at work but not on weekends. On weekends, I would get headaches and drag myself through the day. (I know I could have drank coffee on the weekends but I didn't want to believe I was that dependent!)

Nowadays I drink black tea in the mornings and green tea in the afternoons, coffee only on occasion. I did completely quit my caffeinated soda habit though!

If I ever move to Italy, however, I'm going back on my coffee habit!

Diane said...

I just quit, as I recently had some bad stomach issues as a result of too many NSAIDs I was taking for an injury. It was ROUGH. I had headaches for five days. But now am great. I only had one cup a day, but it was brewed in a stovetop moka pot - so very strong. I think I'll stay off it for a while to clean out the system before starting again in a few months.

James said...

Cor - that's quite a serious coffee habit. I did the same with coca-cola years ago - new years revolution. Could drink 3 litres a day - caffeine is a great appetite suppressant. Much more vitality without it.

Tigerblade said...

I'm not a coffee drinker, never have been, but I'd probably still qualify as a caffeine addict. I'd have an energy drink almost every morning (Red Bull or Monster or something equivalent), and usually two or more cans of Mountain Dew the rest of the day - one for lunch, maybe one later in the afternoon, and one with dinner, two if I was really thirsty.

Clearly, not a healthy addiction. Since one of my goals is to lose about 20 pounds over the next couple months, that seemed like the first place to start - I went cold-turkey starting January 2 this year. Massive headaches for a few days, but stubbornness prevailed and I didn't have another soda til yesterday (almost two weeks) and probably won't have another for a long while.

I do miss it, though. I'm just too stubborn to give in to my craving.

Daniel said...

Tigerblade, thanks for sharing your story. If you look at Tom C's experience in the comments (#6), you'll see how he faced serious headaches too when he kicked his soda addiction. Good luck on reaching your goals!


Chaplain J said...

4) One quick note about decaf coffee: many decaf coffee brands state on their labels that they are 99.7% caffeine-free, which means, mathematically, you could get the equivalent of one cup of regular coffee by drinking 333 cups of decaf. Do not attempt this.

...Caffeinated coffee is 98%+ caffeine free. It's like your low-fat milk is 98% fat free and your whole milk is 96% fat free. 4 cups of decaf will start to reach your lower caffeine regular blends and 6-7 cups will be the equivalent of most coffees. So really, don't go for the 333 cups because it would probably kill you :)

walshcooks.com said...

Oh I've tried and tried and tried again to quit coffee. It's not the caffeine kick that brings me back, it's riding on an elevator to work when someone enters the elevator with a freshly brewed paper mug of coffee and the rich aroma hits my nose that gets me. I let everyone get off the elevator, hit G for ground and RUN to the nearest coffee shop for my fix.

Unknown said...

No one --that I've noticed-- has mentioned all the additions that some of us put into our coffee. Namely, flavored creamers and sweeteners. My guy and I have a cup of coffee first thing every morning. It's a ritual. Into that coffee, we customarily put liquid flavored creamer, a packet of stevia, and, top it off with a dollop of whipped cream (the aerosol variety). We've tried other beverages, but they don't have the "mouth feel" of the coffee with additives. The ritual AND the coffee have been a cozy way to begin the day. Tomorrow, however, we are going to take a brisk walk at the time we would normally have our coffee. Then, I'm trying the 3 day program. He's staying with coffee. :-) I'm also beginning a Nutrarian way of eating (a la Dr. Fuhrman). I CAN DO THIS.

Nettie Chase said...

Hi Dan! I wish I had read your story before attempting to kick my caffeine habit. I went three days last week without coffee and on the fourth day had an almost migraine strength headache. I couldn't deal! I thought, I can't do this forever (that's what it felt like anyway) and ran for the coffee. Voila! Headache gone, but IBS back in full force. I feel like a complete failure as I sit here with my slave master by my side. I want so bad to kick this habit! It's been 30 years in the making. You give me hope, though. I'm going to try again (tomorrow...today's a goner!) by following your advice. Wish me well, please! Thank you for giving me, and countless others, hope! Three days to freedom sounds amazing!