Autism: How Caffeine Affects Us and Benefits of Giving it up

Caffeine affects us all in different ways.  Being autistic/Asperger’s does not alter this fact.  Some people with autism are affected much less, by caffeine, than others. As autism and ADHD are strongly linked, the effects of caffeine could change dependant on whether you have autism with or without ADHD.  This aside, I strongly believe that most people with autism are hypersensitive to caffeine (and any drugs, including alcohol).  I certainly fall into this category.

How Caffeine Affects Caffeine Sensitive People

I first realised I was hypersensitive to caffeine at one of my previous workplaces.  My manager at the time used to have several mugs of coffee or tea throughout the day.  When I first worked with him, he would always offer to make me a drink.  On my first day I had a cup of coffee and about an hour later he made me another.   I thought it would be rude to refuse, so I drank it.  I was high on caffeine.  Something which had never happened to me before and it was really scary.  I was overly alert, could hear and feel my heart racing, panicky and extremely anxious.  When this wore off I crashed and felt totally drained.  I put a rule in place for myself, there and then, to only have caffeinated drink once every three hours.  

These are few of the affects I felt, but I have experienced many more at other times which include:

  • Being agitated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Jittery
  • Not being able to sleep
  • Being addicted to it.  So I would need it to wake up properly and function throughout the day.
  • Not having a regular caffeine fix would make me: overly tired, grumpy, depressed and at times even angry.

Why and How I Gave Up Caffeine

I gave up all caffeinated drinks when I was on a camping trip with my eldest son, almost three years ago.  At the time I knew caffeine was affecting me in a more negative than positive way. What happened on the camping trip was the breaking point to me giving it up.  When I went camping I had made a flask of tea the previous night and it had gone cold.  I would have gone outside to make a fresh cup, but it was windy and raining heavily. Because of this it would have taken too long with the equipment I had at the time.  I was so desperate for the caffeine that I forced myself to drink the tea, even though it tasted horrible and it was making me heave.  This is when I knew I was totally addicted to it and thought from that moment on I am not having caffeinated drinks again.  Which also meant I had to give up drinking cold caffeinated drinks like Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper.

A couple of months before giving up caffeinated drinks, I had stopped drinking coffee and only drank tea. Just doing this alone made me feel much better, as tea contains about half the caffeine of coffee.  It may have been this change that helped me to give up totally.  

When I first gave up caffeine it was incredible difficult.  I smoked for a couple of years, in my early twenties, and giving up caffeine was just as hard as giving up smoking.  I had withdrawal symptoms and felt immense cravings for the caffeine. On top of this I had a painful headache, felt miserable and was fatigued.  All of this went away after a week and It was all worth it in the end.

Benefits to Giving Up Caffeine

I have had many benefits from giving up caffeine.  These are below:

  • Reducing overall anxiety
  • Reducing nervousness
  • Sleeping better.  I go to sleep early and get up early (which is what I prefer).  Almost always managing to have a full eight hours.
  • I drink much more water.  Which is much better for me than tea and coffee.
  • Reducing sugar intake (therefore reducing calories).  As I had two teaspoons of sugar in my hot drinks and drank the sugar version of Coke.
  • Not needed a caffeine fix.  Which means I can go out without worrying about taking a flask or finding a café.
  • Saving Money.  As I don’t need to buy coffee, tea, sugar for myself or go to a café.
  • Saves Time and effort.  This is especially true at work, as I don’t have to make my regular cup of tea or coffee and then wash the mug afterwards.  I simply take my water bottle and refill it as needed
  • Not being involved in arguments.  Some of the biggest fall outs at work occur around people not contributing to the tea/coffee fund or people not washing their mugs up after themselves.  As I don’t drink caffeinated drinks anymore I am out of all of this bickering (which is good for someone like me with autism).

There are one or two drawbacks though, as everything in life has positives and negatives.  The main one is that people who love their coffee or tea find me to be a bit strange for giving it up.  It is more their problem than mine, but I feel I would probably fit in better if I drank coffee and tea like them.  The same is true when I tell people I gave up alcohol.  Some people look at me genuinely horrified.  But I am glad I gave caffeine up.  When I see a coffee now it makes me feel sick and I cannot stand the smell of it.  I can’t imagine I will ever drink it again.

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