How To Quit Coffee

Coffee with grains

Some people claim that slowly substituting decaffeinated coffee for caffeinated is a good way to ease the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.  But my experience has been that attempting to taper a caffeine habit is about as successful as an alcoholic sticking to just one drink.  And let's get real-we've all seen the looks the baristas give one another over those split shots.  Besides, when it comes to decaf, what's the point?

Go ahead and give the taper method a try.  I hope it works for you.  Otherwise, you're going to have to go off coffee cold turkey.  And I want to break this to you up front; it's not going to be pretty.  Coffee is highly addictive stuff.  You're going to have a nasty headache that can last from one to seven days.  You'll be irritable, nervous, restless, sleepy, depressed, and you'll have trouble concentrating.  You'll be nauseous maybe even to the point of blowing chunks.  And the worse your habit, the worse your symptoms.  Why would you want to quit in the first place?  We'll get to that later. 

Now keep in mind that I'm not a medical doctor, and you should take my advice with several grains of salt.  But if you've decided to give up caffeine whole hog, you'll need to do everything you can to ease the symptoms.  Timing your withdrawal to coincide with some of the circumstances listed below will make the transition easier:

  1. Stomach flu. You're puking everything up anyway, and we all know that acidic food and drink-think spaghetti sauce, think coffee-does not taste better the second time 'round.  Since you can't keep anything down, add coffee to the list.  You'll get a few days of caffeine-free living under your belt while you're under the weather; by the time you're feeling better, the worst part of the withdrawal will be over. 
  2. Hangover.  If you have a really nasty head-spinning kind of hangover, you are feeling like crap anyway.  Bite the bullet and add caffeine deprivation to the mix because really, how much worse can you feel?  Not much.  You're a teetotaler?  Your tough luck.
  3. Childbirth.  If you've got only one X on your sex chromosome, this one won't work as well for you.  If you've got two XXs and you were able to give up coffee during your pregnancy, good for you.  If not, childbirth offers you a second opportunity.  Odds are labor will start in the middle of the night and you'll quickly lose track of time.  When morning rolls around, you probably won't feel like sucking down coffee in between contractions.  Any headache pain will be outweighed by the sensation of trying to pass a bowling ball.  And when baby arrives, you'll be surfing such a big endorphin rush that, believe it or not, coffee will not even cross your mind.  When you finally get a chance to collapse into exhausted sleep, odds are you'll have gone anywhere from 24-48 hours caffeine-free, so you're off to a good start.
  4. A visit from the in-laws.  Look at it this way.  You already have the splitting headache.  And you'll have the combination head rush and confusion that can be just the ticket for enduring your own version of hell, be it a visit from the in-laws or the cable guy-again.

Now as to why you'd want to quit.  Many people claim an increased sense of calm, the settling of a nervous stomach, an end to sleepless nights and stained teeth, and the quieting of a racing heart.  Plus, that $3+ per day you used to spend on coffee is available to spend on something else.  Then there's that indescribable feeling of victory over an addiction.
I should admit that I'm the worst kind of quitter, the kind that likes to go back to the coffee house where I was a regular and proselytize.  They reserve a special look-and a special place in hell-for former regulars, especially in Seattle where what caffeinated beverage you drink IS your sex, religion and politics.  As to why you'll want to continue living after quitting coffee, I can't help you there.  Even after the headache has worn off, and the Joneses have moved on, you'll miss things that you never even knew were a part of the experience-from the barista who knows you like your hairdresser to her beloved crema.

But for me the best part of quitting is something altogether different.  It goes like this......  One day you wake up-no headache, no need for a quick pick-me-up, no wrangling of the child into the car so that you can get your fix-and you decide, I can do this.  Just for old times sake, you head down to the coffee shop.  Your barista is still there and her shots are ristretto, as always.  There's that crema.  And you decide, just one shot won't hurt.
Upon that first taste-which at the time you believe will be your only-the heavens open up, your blood begins to sing, and all the trouble of quitting is made worthwhile.  Starting again is that good.


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