How To Quit Caffeine Without Withdrawals, According To A Doctor

Photographed by Sophie Hur.

Some of us (myself included) can't imagine starting the day without a cup (or three) of coffee. Not only is it part of our daily routine, but it also just makes us feel good — awake, of course, and a little sharper, a little more "on."

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But like all things that seem too good to be true, our sweet, sweet bean juice may come with a few cons.

Namely: Caffeine is a drug. Like many drugs, it's addictive. It has the power to change your brain chemicals, especially dopamine, which can boost alertness and concentration, says Robert Graham, MD, co-founder of FRESH Med, an integrative health practice in New York City.

What's more, you can build up a tolerance to caffeine, so eventually it'll take increasing amounts to boost your energy. And if you take in too much, you can experience side effects, including insomnia, anxiety, acid reflux, and irregular heartbeats. (Side note: People metabolize caffeine at different rates, studies indicate, so "too much" means something different for everyone.)

The energizing substance also has its perks (besides, um, energy). It can lower blood pressure, improve digestion, ease headaches, and even reduce the risk of diabetes, says Graham. Still, if you can't function without it, it's worth taking a break to reset your tolerance — or get off the stuff altogether, for good.

We asked Dr. G for advice on breaking the habit, and he said his strategies could help even the most die-hard java addicts get off the drip pretty painlessly. Here are some tips.

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Don't quit cold turkey.

Seriously — just don't. Unless a doctor tells you need to stop consuming caffeine STAT, this isn't the best option. If you're a heavy-ish drinker who's ever been separated from your daily rocket fuel, you might know why. Suddenly cutting yourself off can trigger withdrawal symptoms. That can include headaches, fatigue, irritability, focus issues, and brain fog, Dr. Graham says. Some people even feel like they have the flu.

Go slow.

Like, way slower than you might think. Dr. Graham's timeline for kicking caffeine to the curb is around four weeks — plenty long enough to minimize your caffeine withdrawal.

Say you usually drink three cups of coffee (and/or soda) a day. On week one, drink two cups, plus a splash more. Week two, a little less than two full cups. And so on, until — voilà! — you're no longer consuming any at all.

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Get really into tea.

Join the thriving community of tea obsessives. Start getting really, really into small-batch brands. Build a collection of teapots, even though you only ever really use an electric kettle. Look down your nose at people who microwave tea water.

Or, you know, just pick up a box of whatever tea looks good at the supermarket, suggests Dr. Graham. Many teas, especially herbal teas, contain little or no caffeine, making them a great option when trying to wean yourself off.

Incorporate a low- or no-caf tea into your cutting back plan. Instead of just pouring yourself less coffee, start by replacing half of your usual intake with tea. Then keep adding more tea, and less coffee. You can also brew some to replace your usual Diet Coke fix.

Drink decaf.

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You may be consuming fewer cups of the "real stuff", but if you find yourself missing the taste of coffee (or just your favorite creamer), feel free to replace every drop you give up with decaf, Dr. Graham says.

If most of your daily caffeine is coming from soda, plenty of brands offer stimulant-free substitutes for your favorite flavors. From personal experience, I can tell you that Coca-Cola's caffeine-free version tastes identical, sans the jittery side effects.

Work in some morning exercise.

One of the main reasons people like to load up on caffeine is for the energy boost. But do you know what else gives you energy in the a.m.? Getting moving.

No matter what you do, whether it's going for a run, finishing a relaxing yoga flow, or just doing a few jumping jacks, getting your dopamine pumping is a great way to start your day.

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Get enough sleep.

Nothing is going to make you crave a cup of coffee like a rough night's sleep. So at least during the weaning off period, it's especially important for you to focus more on catching the right amount of ZZZs. Dr. Graham suggests hitting the hay earlier than usual to make sure you clock in around seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

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