Caffeine withdrawal headaches develop after someone who usually consumes caffeine stops consuming it or cuts back on their intake too quickly. Consuming caffeine resolves caffeine withdrawal headaches, but other home and over-the-counter remedies can also ease symptoms.
Here, we look at the causes of caffeine withdrawal headaches, other symptoms, and how to treat caffeine withdrawal and dependency safely.
A person may experience headaches if they cut back on caffeine intake too quickly.
Caffeine is one of the most popular psychoactive drugs in the world, present in many drinks and foods. It belongs to the methylxanthine class of stimulants that act on the central nervous system. These stimulants:
- speed up metabolism
- increase urine production
- improve digestion
- increase heart rate
- relax smooth muscles
- increase alertness
- enhance physical performance
- potentially help treat some types of cancer when in compounds derived from caffeine
However, caffeine may cause or contribute to headaches in a number of ways. One analysis reported that 50% of people experience a throbbing, widespread headache during caffeine withdrawal.
This is because caffeine has a vasoconstrictive effect, meaning it narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow. With regular caffeine consumption, blood vessels become familiar with this constriction.
Caffeine reductions can trigger a rebound effect, causing blood vessels to widen. This reaction is significant because blood vessels tend to enlarge before the onset of certain types of headache.
Caffeine also blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, which are pain modulators. Blocking these receptors can potentially decrease the spread of pain in the head.
People who consume caffeine regularly tend to develop more of these adenosine receptors, making them more likely to develop a headache when they stop drinking caffeine.
Treatment and remedies
The quickest and easiest way to relieve a caffeine-withdrawal headache is to consume caffeine.
However, people trying to cut back on caffeine can use several other remedies or tricks to reduce caffeine withdrawal headaches.