Caffeine Makes Good Substitute For Adderall In College Students

Apr 9, 2021

The study gave some participants about as much caffeine as a standard cup of coffee.
Credit Julius Schorzman

Many college students misuse prescription stimulants like Adderall. But a new study from the University of Wyoming finds that caffeine may be a safe and effective substitute.

Alison Looby, UW associate psychology professor, said Adderall is prescribed to treat ADHD but is frequently misused.

"They're being used by college students without an ADHD diagnosis because they have this reputation of being cognitive enhancers," she said. "College students are using them to help study, concentrate, but also to some extent to improve mood, to get high as well."

Looby's team decided to measure the expectation of taking a drug.

"Half of the subjects were told that they were receiving caffeine, or they were told that they were going to receive 10 milligrams of Adderall," she said. "In actuality, half of them received a placebo pill, and the other half did receive 200 milligrams of caffeine. So nobody actually received Adderall."

Participants who expected Adderall but received caffeine reported the strongest effects. They also performed better than people who expected caffeine on a memory test.

For people without a medical need for prescription stimulants, Looby said caffeine can make a good substitute. Especially when expectations play such a large role in the process.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.