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Caffeine levels double when quitting smoking

John R. Polito

coffee cup labeled WhyQuit, an Internet quitting forum, with cigarettesAmazingly, nicotine somehow doubles the rate by which the body depletes caffeine. Smokers trying to quit were randomly assigned to either caffeine-use or caffeine-abstinence conditions in a 1997 study published in Addictive Behaviors. "Results showed a significant linear increase in caffeine sputum levels across 3 weeks post cessation for those who quit smoking and continued using caffeine. Three weeks after cessation, concentrations reached 203% of baseline for the caffeine user."

Imagine ending all nicotine use, continuing to drink the exact same amount of caffeine and at 21 days having twice as much caffeine circulating in your bloodstream.

Although it could potentially be of serious concern to heavy caffeine users -- defined by the Mayo Clinic as 500 to 600 mg. of caffeine daily, or 4 to 7 cups of coffee -- withdrawal syndrome assessment in this study suggests that a doubling of caffeine intake probably shouldn't concern most quitters.

"It is possible that some people's tolerances with caffeine may have fluctuated back and forth over time after quitting," says Joel Spitzer, a 30-year full-time quitting counselor and education director at WhyQuit.com.

The question may be, can the quitter handle drinking twice their normal caffeine intake without experiencing additional anxiety, shaking, insomnia, gastric or digestive disturbance? Keep in mind when attempting to go to sleep that a cup of tea before bed may now pack twice the punch.

"Anyone who feels jittery after a few days of quitting should examine his or her caffeine consumption levels. Many find that they cannot tolerate caffeine consumption at prequit levels," says Spitzer. "If you are experiencing a jittery feeling you may want to experiment with reducing quantity or strength of caffeinated drinks or products."

But aside from finding that few caffeine drinkers have anything to worry about, another lesson from the 1997 study is that trying to end all caffeine use when ending nicotine use results in a significant increase in fatigue and decrease in stimulation.

If concerned that elevated caffeine levels are causing added anxiety, applying the 1997 study's finding of a doubling suggests that, at least temporarily, a caffeine reduction of roughly half may be of benefit.

But jitters or no jitters, remember, it is impossible to relapse and fail so long as the bloodstream remains 100% nicotine-free. Upon ending all nicotine use there's just one rule ... no nicotine today, Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew.

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Written 04/14/07 and page reformatted 08/07/18 by John R. Polito