How to painlessly kick a caffeine addiction in 5 days
It’s all about habit change and refueling the brain
Caffeine is amazing. It wakes you up, gives you energy for workouts, helps you party all night, and even lets you make it through hours and hours of meetings about your company’s new logo. It’s truly hard to imagine modern society without caffeine.
Caffeine addiction, on the other hand, is hell. You’re fatigued every day and unable to sleep every night. You can’t focus, you can’t enjoy yourself — hell, you can barely even get out of bed.
I struggled with caffeine addiction for over a decade before I found a method that many people have used to kick their addictions in under a week. Crucially, this method allows you to avoid most or all of the usual withdrawal symptoms from quitting caffeine.
Once you’ve kicked your caffeine addiction, you can either stay clear of caffeine for good, or — my preference — keep consuming it in moderation, with occasional tolerance breaks, so that you can enjoy the benefits of caffeine without suffering the downsides. Interested? Read on.
1. Fix your brain’s dopamine deficiency
First, a short lesson on how caffeine causes dependency. Its main effects are exerted by antagonizing (i.e. blocking) adenosine, a hormone that slowly builds up during the day and causes drowsiness. Caffeine also causes the brain to produce more dopamine, a neurotransmitter that exerts a stimulant/euphoric effect. Some studies also suggest that caffeine inhibits dopamine re-uptake (an ability to “recycle” neurotransmitters to use them again).
The brain synthesizes dopamine from L-Dopa, which in turn is synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine can be consumed in the diet or synthesized from the amino acid phenylalanine.
With caffeine, the brain overproduces dopamine. If it does so for an extended period of time, it first depletes its stores of tyrosine, followed by its stores of phenylalanine.
Caffeine tolerance and withdrawal happens in large part because the brain becomes depleted of tyrosine and phenylalanine, leaving it unable to produce adequate amounts of dopamine. The lack of dopamine leaves you feeling sluggish and depressed. Caffeine temporarily alleviates these symptoms by forcing the brain to produce dopamine using what little tyrosine and phenylalanine it has left, but that ultimately just makes the problem worse.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the solution involves supplementing with phenylalanine. Supplementing with tyrosine is also an option, but since tyrosine can’t be converted back into phenylalanine, taking tyrosine won’t directly restore your brain’s supply of phenylalanine, whereas taking phenylalanine will restore both amino acids.
Usually you get tyrosine in high-protein food; foods high in this amino acid include eggs, spirulina, cod, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, dairy products, avocados, almonds, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. It’s also in aspartame, which you’ll find in many diet sodas. In this article, however, I’m going to suggest supplementing with specific dosages via phenylalanine capsules instead.
No supplement is without risk. Some people are allergic to phenylalanine—those with phenylketonuria (PKU) should not take it. It’s also probably not a good option for you if you have high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, anxiety or other psychiatric problems, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Doses higher than 5,000 mg can cause nerve damage— but that’s far beyond the recommended dosage. Read up on side effects and contraindications here and check in with your doctor.
You can get a bottle of phenylalanine capsules on Amazon, at supplement stores like Vitamin Shoppe, or sometimes at health food stores like Whole Foods. They’re typically dosed at 500 mg per capsule. You may see bottles labelled alternately as L-Phenylalanine, DL-Phenylalanine, or just Phenylalanine. The D and L refer to the right and left-handed variants, or isomers, of the amino acid. Without going into detail, both versions work, but DL-Phenylalanine (meaning a mixture of both versions) might work a little better.
Follow this dosing schedule for the first 5 days:
Day 1: 1000 mg (usually 2 capsules) in the morning, 1000 mg after lunch
Day 2: 1000 mg in the morning, 500 mg after lunch
Day 3: 500 mg in the morning, 500 mg after lunch
Day 4: 500 mg in the morning
Day 5: 500 mg in the morning
You can start to extinguish your caffeine habit (steps 2 and 3 below) on Day 1 in the schedule above.
Beyond day 5, you may optionally take 500 mg in the morning or pre-workout for a small energy boost, but you should never need more than that.
Note that if you decide to start drinking caffeine again, be aware that your tolerance will plummet after these 5 days, and phenylalanine can have a synergistic effect with caffeine. If you’ve been used to drinking a high-caffeine drink like Monster, you may want to trade down to something more moderate, like Diet Coke.
2. Get rid of your caffeine
This part is simple: if you want to kick this habit, then get rid of any caffeine. That doesn’t mean to just put your coffee in the garage or out of sight — it means take all of your coffee, soda, tea, caffeine pills, fat-burning supplements, or any other caffeine you may possess, and either give it away or throw it away.
Your consumption of food and beverages is driven largely by convenience: simply put, you tend to drink what’s in front of you. Even if you don’t drink that coffee in your cupboard, the mere fact that it’s there will weigh on your mind, slowly feeding your caffeine cravings.
The only solution here is to cut that craving off at its source. Never resist temptation when you can eliminate it instead.
Get rid of all your caffeine on Day 1— the day you start taking phenylalanine. Once the caffeine sources are gone, you can can further bolster your efforts by replacing it— that’s step 3.
3. Create a substitute for your caffeine habit
At this point, your caffeine habit is down but not out. Once you get rid of your caffeine habit, there will be a void where it used to be. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum, and so it is with habits. It is extremely difficult to simply remove a habit, but much easier to substitute it with another habit. In this case, that means finding a new favorite beverage that’s caffeine-free.
Here’s a quick primer on how habits work. First, there’s a cue for you to engage in the habit — like feeling thirsty or bored, or entering a restaurant or convenience store. Second, there’s the routine — the thing you do. In this case, that would be drinking your caffeinated beverage of choice. Finally, there’s the reward — your enjoyment of the flavor, the caffeine buzz, or perhaps the social experience of drinking coffee with your coworkers.
For a seamless habit change, you need to replace the routine while leaving the cue and reward intact. That means there are two requirements. First, your new beverage needs to be as similar as possible to what it’s replacing, so that it can provide the same reward. Second, it needs to be available in all the same times and places, so that it will be at hand whenever the cue occurs.
For instance, if you normally drink coffee, you should switch to decaf. What if you drink coffee in the breakroom at work, and they don’t have decaf there? Then you need to get them to start stocking decaf. Buy it yourself if need be.
Now suppose you normally drink Diet Cherry Coke, which you sometimes drink at home and sometimes buy at convenience stores. Caffeine-free Diet Cherry Coke isn’t usually available at convenience stores, so that’s out. Your best bet in this case might be diet root beer. Basically, you want to choose something that’s as similar as possible to the old habit.
If you do this correctly, your new habit will be so similar to your old habit that you’ll barely even notice the change.
Overcome your need for caffeine this week
To recap, here are the steps you need to take:
- Supplement phenylalanine for five days to reduce tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, using the schedule above.
- Throw away or give away all of your caffeine.
- Start drinking a non-caffeinated substitute in place of your favorite caffeinated beverage.
Follow this method, and you can be free of your need for caffeine within five days. You’ll still be drinking a beverage you love, and best of all, you’ll have more energy than you’ve had in months— maybe even years.