Adderall vs. Caffeine

Modified on by Brainscape Team

Adderall vs. Caffeine (image: pill bottle with pills spilling out)

Here at Brainscape, we like to believe that our scientifically proven web and mobile “smart flashcards” tool is the best natural way to improve your concentration and help you learn more with less study time.  But often, students turn to drugs like Adderall to give them an additional academic edge. Considering the potential health risks, one might wonder if caffeine is a safer and comparable learning aid.

Doctors prescribe Adderall to patients with difficulty maintaining focus and alertness — specifically those with a diagnosed abnormality in daily function. The active ingredients are psychostimulant amphetamines, and the drug looks and acts similarly to MDMA and methamphetamine (neither of which would be taken to study!). How does caffeine compare? Let’s talk Adderall vs. caffeine.

Stimulants with Different Side Effects

Adderall vs. Caffeine: Which is a Better Learning Aid?

While its popularity grows by the semester, the repercussions of using amphetamines like Adderall often evade its users. In addition to the risk of hypertension and seizures, Adderall causes the brain to stop making dopamine over time, which can result in severe depression, aggression, and psychosis. Adderall is also a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high risk for addiction and dependence — further increasing the likelihood of negative effects.

Caffeine is also a drug, and while you can find it on almost every corner, its effects are powerful. Caffeine is the most commonly and widely consumed psychoactive drug. It is a stimulant of the central nervous and metabolic systems — and causes alertness, wakefulness, and focus. Naturally, a downside exists: irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and heart palpitations are not uncommon symptoms of use. The Food and Drug Administration recognizes caffeine as safe since toxic doses (>1g) are significantly greater than doses normally found commercially (<500mg).

So, how do Adderall and caffeine size up as learning aids? Adderall causes a longer-lasting, non-jittery period of focus; however, the dangers and illegality of Adderall far outweigh its advantages as a learning aid. But these drugs don’t make you smarter. They let you productively hone already existing knowledge despite prior sleep or wakefulness. They don’t even necessarily make you a better learner! Caffeine is a safer, more easily accessible alternative that can truly help you study and learn in a productive, yet less physically taxing, manner.

Sources of Caffeine

Below are options that DO NOT include study drugs, but will give you just the boost needed to keep you successfully powering through your work. Safe studies!

Soda may not provide the energy or attention boost that Adderall does, but it is inexpensive and tasty. Some high-caffeine options are below!
• Dr. Pepper 12 oz. can: 36 mg of caffeine
• Coke Classic/Zero 12 oz. can: 35 mg
• Mountain Dew 12 oz. can: 55 mg

Energy drinks contain ingredients like guarana, a caffeinated berry, and ginseng, a stimulant, which can power you through fatigue.
• Red Bull 8.4 oz.: 80 mg of caffeine
• 5-Hour Energy 2 oz.: 207 mg
• NOS 16 oz.: 260 mg
• Monster 8 oz.: 80 mg

If you’re happy with your coffee fix, you may be interested in the different caffeine contents depending on how the coffee is made.
• Brewed: 1 cup (7 oz.): 80–135 mg of caffeine
• Espresso: 1 shot (2 oz.): 100 mg
• Drip: 1 cup (7 oz.): 115–175 mg

Most importantly, stay hydrated with WATER. Research suggests that feelings of fatigue may indicate dehydration. It’s easy and healthy to drink — at the very least eight 8oz. glasses of water a day — and who knows, it may even be the energy fix you need to study and learn better.

Editor’s note: another great study aid (that doesn’t have any side effects) is Brainscape flashcards — an adaptive platform for learning languages, sciences, mathematics, and more (you can even make your own cards). Check out the Brainscape flashcard decks and iOS apps at

This post was written by Elizabeth Gjersvik, a Biological Basis of Behavior student at the University of Pennsylvania. Elizabeth has worked as a research assistant in both cognitive science and general surgery and joined the Brainscape team in 2014.

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit or find us on the App Store .


Mike K 6 years ago

Uneducated writing.

QS 6 years ago

"the dangers and illegality" is completely opinionated. This writer is an idi0t.......

so.ximus 6 years ago

actually, methamphetamine IS used for studying. It's called desoxyn (methamphetamine hcl). That's why methamphetamine is a C-II, and not a C-I. I've had it, and it's easier to study on, because it produces like zero anxiety. This person went to college?

TH 3 years ago

Unlike amphetamine, METHamphetamine is way more addictive and causing intense high (and intense withdrawal symptoms). Meth should never be considered as a study aid. Even for amphetamine, always stay low dose in a regular schedule to avoid the "crash" or the comedowns.

Senior D 3 years ago

... zero anxiety until the afterburners begin to fire... for the next 12 hours.

elias 3 years ago

when after, when u sleep ? LOOOOOOOOOOL

adhdadvocate 6 years ago

As a medical provider i've seen far more adverse side effects from energy drinks, including high blood pressure, palpitations, and anxiety than Adderall. This is full of misinformation.

Johan Johansson 6 years ago

I must say I was kind of expecting a side by side comparison of the effectiveness in a, say, double blind experiment, not opinions and "but it's illegal!". At least some kind of hard fact. Speaking of which, that espresso number seems very high.

Derrick J 4 years ago

I lost all respect for this article with the recommendation for energy drinks...

JOLO 3 years ago

Literally just posted the same thing and then saw your comment haha

burritolikethesun 5 years ago

Wow this is a terrible information

Ojoojo 5 years ago

Brainscape team? More like propaganda team.

JOLO 3 years ago

What the hell is this? Any piece of writing that suggests Dr Pepper and Red Bull are good for focus has lost the plot...

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sleepswaytoomuch 4 years ago

Caffeine alone is about effective as water for me. I have in the past fallen asleep involuntarily after consuming those 20 ounce monster drinks in one sitting. Also modafinil is a prescription drug that you need to get a script for and obtain from an actual pharmacy. It might be different now, but I can recall modafinil being way more expensive than Adderall when obtained legally.

Tim 3 years ago

Brainscape should be embarrassed to have this article on their website. There is insufficient objective data to allow a reader to make an informed decision on Adderall vs Caffeine. It seems like it was written by someone who doesn't have the pharmacological, medical, or psychiatric qualifications/experience to provide an expert opinion. To remotely claim that caffeine, soft drinks, energy drinks are a possible equivalent to properly medicating ADHD, that it is healthier, without scary side-effects, without any cited scientific documentation/research/findings, really challenges the legitimacy of this website.

Hopefully the comments section will at least provide some useful information that the article lacks. I came to this website after an "Adderall vs Caffeine" Google search when I was debating self-medicating my ADHD with caffeine as an alternative to trying Adderall (or similar prescription ADHD drug). After extensive personal research I ultimately made the decision to try Adderall (legally, with a prescription from a qualified psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD). The results have been positively life changing for the better. Caffeine would only perk me up for a short period of time, and made me more hyperactive and anxious. Also, take a look at the side-effects of caffeine:

I'm not qualified to speak to all the pros and cons of each, but had I counted on this article alone, I would have missed out on the drastic quality of life change that has resulted from properly treating my ADHD. If you're searching/debating, I'd recommend talking to your doctor and continuing your research beyond this weak article.

DanielJDeibler 3 years ago

Piratall is what you want if you need an alternative to Adderall. It's not just caffeine. Caffeine will only get you a short-term perk. You need more than that, and you can get it from the right combination of nootropics. I've been successful in replacing my Adderall XR with Piratall. It gets me through the day without the lousy side-effects of Adderall.

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Hannah 5 years ago

Adderall is great and all but so expensive. You'd be better of getting Modafinil from Modafizone.

Ryan Bamford 5 years ago

I am prescribed a pretty decent dose of Adderall for ADHD. I can take a 30mg instant release pill (which I never do, usually break into quarters to spread throughout day) all at once and be perfectly fine minus some sweaty armpits. 30mg is the highest dose in a single pill.

This morning I forgot my medicine at home, so I drank an energy drink containing 180mg of caffeine and now I have cold sweats, hands so shaky I can barely put this computer together, nervousness and irritability. I don't take my adderall 2 days a week to keep tolerance down and give my brain a break and on those days I feel completely fine, just distracted like normal. On days my fiancee did not take any caffeine she complains of major intense headaches and becomes a major bitch (in her words) without any.

My resting heart rate on adderall is an average of 68. My resting heart rate right now sitting in my office after consuming caffeine is 92.

The conclusion of this article is debatable in my opinion.

frank 5 years ago

just a thought but I currently take 30 mg of adderall, but its the slow release one, just an idea but if you like to break yours up through out the day then maybe the slow release may be a good idea?

Erika Mahoney 3 years ago

Hi Ryan, I'm the same as you, I can't take caffeine! make me so sick, adderall does not make me sick at all and I can focus in my work area

Matt 3 years ago

Not true. Using amphetamines has been CLINICALLY PROVEN to increase one's IQ by 10-15 points.

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