A couple of months a ago I broke my daily caffeine habit because I disliked waking up every morning already "needing" caffeine. But, I LOVE coffee and I LOVE the buzz caffeine provides. So, for the past couple of weeks I have remained disciplined in having caffeine every third day. My reasoning is based mostly on the fact that the first 48 hours of withdrawal is the worst part of it, so I thought that by waiting 72 hours, I could have my buzz a few times a week without developing a chemical dependency.

Does anyone have anything science-based that can further inform me as to whether my thinking is right on this?

  • I'll do every one to two years a 5 week break. That works best for me.
    – schlingel
    Jul 20, 2015 at 9:07

2 Answers 2


You can absolutely develop a dependency. The important thing to remember is that there are physical and mental aspects to addiction. If you look forward to it hard enough, any amount of time can pass and you can still crave it just as deeply. Sometimes a deep craving can even result in symptoms that shouldn't be explainable by chemical explanations [Psychosomatic effects].

It would also depend heavily on dosing. You would want to make sure that you don't try to compensate for your days off by going on a binge and placing yourself directly under the espresso maker until you've had 3 days worth! In fact, that could make the problem worse because the difference between your "on days" and off days would be so much greater you might await those days the same way a junkie looks forward to their next hit.

droog has the right idea. Try to see if there are ways to rotate in other substitutes for coffee. Maybe you enjoy the hot drink, or you look forward to the short break it takes to prepare it. Regardless, people just don't go well with negative feedback. If you feel as if you are deeply depriving yourself, then change your approach. The way to be successful is to find a way that cuts down your caffeine intake while also not feeling as if you have lost something.

  • Dependency, habit, and addiction are not (in my view) synonymous, which is why I only asked about dependency from a physiological standpoint. A dependency involves a chemical input to bring one's central nervous system back to its normal state. My understanding is that when a drug is used habitually, the CNS adjusts back to normal in the presence of the drug and that withdrawal is the reverse - the brain adjusting to normal in the absence of the drug. A habit need not involve a chemical or reward - it is just something one does as second nature. IMO, the word "addiction" has no real meaning.
    – Nyantho
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:25
  • 1
    I'm also not seeking any substitutes for coffee or something lower in caffeine. To re-state, I love both of those and I want to fully enjoy it for all it is. What I don't want, however, is for my brain to adjust to the presence of caffeine and begin "expecting" it and giving withdrawal symptoms when I don't supply it. So far, my experiment is working out rather well. I spend two days mentally wanting the caffeine, but suffering no symptoms without it. Then every third day is like a mental party for me! I get lots of work done and enjoy socializing way more than usual.
    – Nyantho
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:32
  • Great! As long as you have found something that works well for you; everyone reacts differently, and there is no one correct way to approach such things. Jul 29, 2015 at 18:43

I'm not a pharmacologist, but I have done some research into this. AFAIUI all drugs have a measurable half-life in the body due to metabolism of the component chemicals. Broadly, there are water-soluble compounds which have a relatively short half-life (up to a few days), and insoluble compounds which typically have a much longer half-life.

The half-life (just like with radioisotopes) is the measure of the length of time for half of the compound to be eliminated. Depending upon the critical mass required to have an effect and the quantity consumed, it may take several periods of halving before the compound is out of your system.

If 72 hours gets you to where you don't feel the "dependency", it might be possible to reduce that by controlling your caffeine intake when you do drink coffee. You could try half-caff (IMO best to make your own blend, and don't skimp on the decaf part: Decaf should cost more because it costs money to decaffeinate the beans).

You could also try alternating with hot chocolate or a flavorful herbal tea (my latest fav is Yogi Teas Egyptian Licorice). A significant part may be the psychological aspect of the ritual of having a cup of hot coffee. Having a cup of hot something may just satisfy that need.

  • 1
    I've read some more regarding elimination half-lives and it seems that two things are at play here. As you suggest, the minimum therapeutic dose of a drug (expressed in mg per kg of body weight) and one's ability to metabolize a drug. FWIW, I kept seeing that a drug is considered to have been cleared after 6 half-lives. I was really more interested in the rate of physiological response times, in particular the down-regulation of adenosine receptors in the CNS. That's what triggers most of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms some of us experience.
    – Nyantho
    Jul 7, 2015 at 17:16

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