Our Curious Relationship With Caffeine

If you were to paint a few stereotypes surrounding our community, where would you start? Maybe in apparel habits: the t-shirt from a tech conference, or the ubiquitous hoodie. Or how about leisure pursuits: gaming, or even D&D? There’s one thing I can think of that unites most of us, we have a curious affinity for caffeine. Is it a propensity for working into the dark of the night that’s responsible, or perhaps those of us with ADHD find the alertness helpful, but whatever it is we like our coffee and energy drinks. Rare is the hackerspace without a coffee machine and a fridge full of energy drinks, and I have lost count of the times I have been derided by the coffee cognoscenti among my peers for my being satisfied with a mug of mere instant. Deprived of my usual socialisation over the festive period by the pandemic, and contemplating my last bottle of Club-Mate as I drank it, I took a while to ponder on our relationship with this chemical.

The plant we most associate with caffeine, Coffea Arabica. Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.), Public domain.
The plant we most associate with caffeine, Coffea Arabica. Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.), Public domain.

Caffeine can be found as a constituent of a variety of plants native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, in which it evolved as a chemical defence against pests. We were evidently not considered through their evolution to be pests as some insects or other plants are, because for us it’s a psychoactive stimulant in anything but extreme doses. Thus our ancestors who were first to chew a coffee bean, a kola nut, or a yerba maté leaf set our species off on a love affair with it that will probably last for millennia.

What Does Caffeine Do To Us?

In chemistry terms it’s a methylated xanthine, at its centre a figure-of-eight composed of both a six membered and a five membered ring joined together, each with two nitrogen atoms in their structure.. The exposed carbon atoms on the six membered ring each form a ketone group with an oxygen atom, and two of the nitrogen atoms on the six membered ring and one on the five membered ring each have a methyl group attached.

The chemical structure of a caffeine mollecule. Vaccinationist, Public domain.
The chemical structure of a caffeine molecule. Vaccinationist, Public domain.

Caffiene’s similarity to the structure of adensosine — a substance that relaxes blood vessels — makes it bind to the adensosine receptors in our brains. Where adenosine is involved in inhibiting the brain’s activity as part of tiredness, the caffeine has the effect of causing alertness. Reading research papers on its effect on the brain (Paywalled paper) makes it appear as though this is just one of  a scatter-gun of chemical effects, boosting dopamine production and also increasing electrical activity in the brain. We feel up to anything on caffeine not only because we are more alert, but also because our brains have become more capable while under its influence.

In my case I’m aware that my affinity for caffeine has in part the function of self-medicating ADHD. I have the characteristic extreme difficulty in concentration that can play havoc with my ability to get my work done, and having a significant quantity of caffeine in the morning transforms my productivity. It’s likely more than a few readers will share this, it seems the condition gives us a naturally low dopamine level to which the caffeine provides a boost. Were I to ask my doctor I could access a range of stronger medications including members of the amphetamine family of compounds, but for now a few cups of coffee or a Club-Mate when I can get it does the trick.

A Cup A Day, Or Is That Too Much?

As someone who in effect medicates using caffeine I thus have an acute sense of the relative strengths of different concoctions containing it. I know that a cup of instant coffee is less potent than one of brewed coffee, and which energy drinks do more than others. But how much caffeine do they really contain, and how much caffeine is too much caffeine? The last question is easy enough to answer, though it varies from person to person. Over a gram of the stuff is likely to make you feel pretty sick, and ten times that figure is likely to kill you. But few of us will carefully weigh out pure caffeine powder, so it’s better to start at the other end of the scale.

This British-market Red Bull can even carries a health advisory warning over its caffeine content.
This British-market Red Bull can even carries a health advisory warning over its caffeine content.

There is no standard cup of coffee, but my cup of instant is likely to give me around 50 mg of caffeine and I can expect about twice that from an equivalent cup of a typical brewed coffee. Meanwhile a can of Coca-cola has 34 mg, while its caffeine-enhanced cousins have about 80mg per can, as does the slightly smaller can size of the UK version of Red Bull. Our favourite Club-Mate isn’t quite as strongly caffeinated as other energy drinks at 20mg per 100ml, but its larger 500ml bottle contains 100mg of caffeine.

So to do myself harm I would have to drink ten Club-Mates or drink ten cups of strong brewed coffee, but the reality is that even at the most laser-tinged evening at a hacker camp or the trendiest coffee bar I’m not going to manage that. It’s a surprise that a cup of a strong blend of brewed coffee will contain  more caffeine than the energy drinks, but evidently it was a triumph of marketing that I believed otherwise. My three, maybe four instant coffees a day barely tip the scales at under 200mg, making me a relative lightweight in the caffeine stakes rather than the serial abuser I worried I might have become.

In my investigation of my culture’s most socially acceptable psychoactive addictive chemical I’ve discovered a few things I didn’t know about it, and taken a critical look at how I use it. That I’m addicted to it and that ADHD means I probably couldn’t do my job without it is beyond doubt, but like many in our community I think the benefits outweigh any other concerns. Now my biggest annoyance is that I can no longer stock up on imported energy drinks at my hackerspace due to the pandemic.

Coffee bean header image: MarkSweep, Public domain.

109 thoughts on “Our Curious Relationship With Caffeine

  1. So what’s curiously not mentioned is caffeine is often a chemical doctors suggest be eliminated with some diagnosed medical conditions. If it takes so much to not be harmful, why is caffeine such a common chemical to be avoided medically? Is it mostly cardiovascular conditions due to the relaxed blood vessels as mentioned?

          1. They would either kick off a build, or drop a fresh build on the testers. While thinking about feedback or refactoring code in their heads, they would swing by the bathroom, then grab a fresh cup of coffee on the way back to their desk, but stop off in the smoking room (when they were still a thing) to have a quick smoke. They were like hamsters running in a loop :) Most of the best solutions to problems were found by bouncing ideas of others, on a whiteboard in the smoking room. I always related it to chemistry where the reaction or polymerization occurs at the interface of two immiscible liquids. Solutions to your problem can often by provided by people with no direct understanding, from a different area of knowledge where an analogous problem and solution exists.

          2. Habit grew to 12 to 14 cups before realizing it was out of hand. Work got a new coffee machine which gave out lots of different roasts freely. Had to reduce it to 4 to 6 as couldn’t sit at the desk long enough to write reports.

        1. There a no really clinical relevant interactions between coffee and drugs.
          Clozapine comes to mind, but since it is dosed on clinical response you don’t have to stop the coffee.
          And better not take bisphosponates with coffee, as it wiill reduce the absorption.

      1. I was drinking multiple cups per day before I got a bout of afib and had to stop cold turkey. That was…13 years ago. I got off it easy enough but I’ve switched to drinking decaf only which is a real limit on my coffee choices. I do know when I get a caffinated drink by accident and it’s too late by then. Fortunately it hasn’t caused me to go back into afib.
        Way back when (college and just after) I could be up all night drinking coffee and jolt cola, turn in my paper first thing in the morning, then go right to bed. For the few years before I stopped, a coffee after dinner would keep me up until 2-3AM so I stuck to mostly mornings and early afternoon.

    1. At what point does it stop being like any other ‘harmless’ chemical/mineral in our food/drink that our bodies process? I mean you end up on strong enough caffeine free supliments and they can make you really really buzzing for a while, in a way that makes coffee/tea meaningless, but none of those are considered ‘drugs’ or addictive (I think its mainly the B12 in the cocktail I was told to try for a while, but I’m not an MD…).

      Heck has anybody ever studied a real absence of caffeine and any similar compounds in our diet and its effects on humans – wouldn’t surprise me if its actually a required family of compounds for a healthy functional body… There are some relatively potent poisons on the list of compounds we know are needed too, need that tiny bit of them, but too much will make you very ill (at best)…

      1. There’s some evidence that limited coffee intake improves cardiac and other health. That’s in the range of two cups a day, not twenty. You’ll live without, but it may help living a healthier life.

  2. I may be in the minority here but I don’t think we should be putting psychoactive chemicals in our food supply. I do find it disconcerting how many people have become addicted to caffeine and sugar. With so many stimulants being added to foods in large quantities in the US, it’s no wonder that heart failure is the number one killer there.

      1. Demonstrably false. Heart failure is a very narrowly defined clinical entity. I’ll give you a pass somewhat because common use English and medical English unfortunately overlap. Example: “short of breath” has very specific medical definition and implications vs common language use.

        Also false that everyone dies from “heart failure”. People get shot in the face and it has nothing to do with heart stopping, or, formally, brown death criteria. Heart is beating. Patient is dead. Not brain dead, just dead. It is binary.

    1. No 1 cause of heart failure is icshaemic heart disease, and if you want to go and chase that one out, you’re looking at hypertension, diabetes/obesity (of which diet is a big part), lack of exercise, smoking, cholesterol and other lifestyle factors, Yes, overdoing some stimulants (yes, cocaine, I’m looking at you) can cause heart attacks leading to failure.

      The relationship with caffeine and heart disease is unclear – no real evidence to support significant effects one way or the other.

      Might be mildly protective, but also might not.

      1. Caffeine undoubtedly increases blood pressure in the short term. Relationship to Migraine is clear with caffeine being a trigger for some 70% of chronic migraine sufferers and I regularly recommend my patients avoid caffeine. And as a migraine sufferer have been recommended to avoid it myself by my neurologist. I am of course aware that caffeine has been recommended for management of acute migraine in the past in preparations like cafergot which is no longer marketed in Australia

        1. I suffered regular migraines for years until I found one cup of coffee just after I woke up would suppress them. Too many in a day and it stops working, the day I forget to have one (or don’t have it soon enough) and the migraine hits. No caffeine at all and they come regularly.

          Everybody responds differently.

          1. Caffeine withdrawal headache is a well described phenomenon which can occur in non migraine sufferers but more readily in migraine sufferers and takes many days to settle when you reduce caffeine exposure.. Certainly caffeine has been used for its ability to suppress the acute headache but it may aggravate the long term pattern of headaches.
            I agree people are different.

    2. As your body absolutely must have sugars to function its hard to say it shouldn’t be in food. Though I wish they would stop adding so much of it to everything (a problem I understand to be much worse in the US than here).

      As with everything your body needs, it only need so much of it, with excess very often being bad for you (though many things can also be consumed in stupendous quantity as the excess is filtered out and syphoned off rapidly). But that is where the issue really comes in, lazy, sedentary folks eating more calories in a mouthful than they use all day, so turning into spheres of vaguely human shape… That same diet can actually be reasonably healthy, if you are a manual labourer, sports person of the right type etc – as they are actually using that energy!

    3. There is quite a difference between Caffeine, Sugar and say Crack. The fact is you will never have someone offering to give you a bj for a Starbucks Vente Pike’s Peak dark roast.

    4. Considering how many foods contain caffeine naturally and the fact that you literally need sugar to live, it’s kind of hard to avoid them.

      As for heart failure in the USA, I don’t think it is caffeine creating plaque in arteries.

    5. “I don’t think we should be putting psychoactive chemicals in our food supply”
      That’s like saying we shouldn’t be adding fat to our butter.
      Caffeine is already a part of those plants, we don’t add it there. Decaffeinated is the process of removing the caffeine that was present before we laid hands on the plant.

      Sugar can be different, but from your context you mean add sugar where there was none before, which isn’t as often as you think. What is done is add more sugar to what was already present. That is certainly a problem, just a different problem than the one you stated.

      There’s a reason we don’t Desugar foods akin to decaffeinating them. Without sugars the human body would not be able to metabolize and you would die.

      1. Big Pharma just wants you to THINK you need glucose to live. Everyone knows humans never ate sugar-laden meat, fruit, or vegetables before the Industrial Revolution. They just want you to forget you can live entirely on water and salt! /s

  3. I am a bit sceptical about the idea that cafeine is beneficial to people with AD(H)D. Cafeine increases wakefulness but doesn’t neccesarily increase focus. People with attention deficits often have lower levels of dopamine in certain parts of the brain and ADHD medicines work by releasing dopamine or by inhibiting its reuptake.

    The article suggests that doctors are quick to prescribe “stronger medicines” and “amphetamines” while supposedly cafeine also works.

    The reality is that a lot of people are benefiting from these drugs regardless of their reputation and I doubt that they can just swap their Adderall, methylfenidate, dexamphetamine etc. out for plain cafeine.

    1. I don’t think the author was trying to imply that caffeine a 1:1 replacement for prescription drugs. Merely that it has a similar but weaker effect. A lot of people with ADHD had been “self medicating” with large caffeine intake before getting diagnosed and folks with milder cases are often able to get by on caffeine alone.

      1. I’d like to see some science on that this is in fact self medication and not some thought up idea.

        Personally I am familiar with both cafeine and one of the typical ADHD drugs, namely methylfenidate and I can say that they are kind of different in the effects they have.

        My experience is that cafeine merely wakes you up and makes you a bit more talkative. Methylphenidate is clearly different, it provides concentration and focus. If there’s lots of distracting sensory input, for example noise, it is easier to ignore that.

    2. Jenny says that she’s self-medicating, and that she feels that it works well enough *for her* that she hasn’t needed to pursue more aggressive treatment options even though they’re available to her.

      Precisely *none* of that is a claim that caffeine is a wonder drug that all ADHD sufferers should immediately switch to from their prescribed medications.

    3. Johan, it does work for some of us.

      I was on ritalin for about 4 years, I was actually prescribed a tablet that was tylenol, caffeine, and some depressant for the ritalin withdrawl migraines, I switched to just dosing with vivarin and tylenol after a few months because the prescription made me too hyper.

      For my ADHD, the caffeine in very small doses seems to regulate the speed at which different parts of the conscious brain function, so my brain doesn’t switch tasks / focus / channels / stimuli quite as fast as when I have no caffeine.

      The adensosine receptor uptake might also explain the why of my caffeine paradoxical reaction.
      Two caffeine tablets and I’ll be asleep within about 10 minutes of the caffeine hitting my bloodstream.

      I also still get the odd bought of pathological hyperfocus, nothing like reading a novel trilogy over a weekend without really eating, sleeping, etc because you can’t turn off / break the focus.

        1. This is interesting!
          When I’m on my regular methylphenidate dose, I find I get very overstimulated with even a little bit of caffeine. But I never tried a half dose!
          Usually I’m on sustained release capsules on weekdays so can’t play with the dose easily, but I’ll try it with the instant release ones I have for the weekend (the 12h sustained release are simply too long when I sleep in and don’t want to go to bed super-late).

          Thanks for the tip!

    4. As it happens, where I live there are a lot of hoops to jump through and a lot of time seeing specialists before they give you the stronger medicines. They don’t just hand out speed to anyone who asks.

      Caffeine is by no means perfect for ADHD. But it’s all I’ve got.

      1. Jenny, the hoops are a good thing.
        I seriously would hold back drug therapy to being as a last resort.

        ADHD neurofeedback therapy, is something I would suggest investigating and seeing if you have availability near you.

        1. Hi Dingbat,

          Yes, the hoops are a good thing. Methylphenidate has misuse potential. (Although research shows its effect on neurotypical brains is much less than ADHD brains, so some suspect the “academic doping” users mostly experience placebo or happen to actually be ADHDers…)

          Correctly dosed and checked for side effects it is safe though. For children there is some indication of long term neurological change (although it’s unclear whether that is a bad thing or just that well-treated brains tend to mature towards being neurotypical), but for adults there is no indication of long term detrimental effects.

          On the plus side, it is an absolute enabler for some. As for many, the coaching part of my therapy was mostly ineffective before I started medication.

          @Dingbat, if medication-free treatment works for you, I am very happy for you! But PLEASE do not give public medical advice contrary to the established research.

          @Jenny and all potential ADHDers:
          If you suspect you may have ADHD, PLEASE seek help. Get diagnosed, even if it takes several years to jump through the hoops.
          Once you are diagnosed, discuss treatment options with a medical professional.
          (And since we’re on hackaday: read up on the primary medical research yourselves! The papers are mostly open access and not rocket surgery to follow)

          Untreated ADHD is surprisingly debilitating.
          Many untreated ADHDers develop coping strategies as children and adolescents that more or less work for decades and allow a seemingly normal/successful life. However these impromptu strategies often are maladapted and leave deep psychological scars.

          Realising you are not stupid, lazy and slow, but just had to always work several times as hard as everyone around you, and then actually starting to see some of these issues improve, can be life-changing.

    1. Yes, it most assuredly is. I, personally, avoid it, only partly for reasons of flavour. I use a press these days, and the time for the ritual is often a useful break. This is only the last ten years or so. Previous to then I used a conventional filter brew machine. Never did get into the keurog (sp?). Too pricey.

      Back when I was in the research lab, there was a period where I was teaching a heavy load during the day, so I was in the lab, generally alone, at night. Crash out for a couple hours on a bed in a treatment room , then to work. We had a Mr Coffee and commercial cartons of vacusealed pre-filled filter pillows, each good for one strong pot (about 2 litres). Some nights I went through two pots. I would like to think I was still coherent teaching the next morning.

    1. I lately got really obsessed with yerba mate tea. I was really proud to have it mentioned here but unfortunately the author did not get into much depth.
      I can really advise anyone to try out unsmoked(because you get less PAH) mate the way they drink it in South Ameria. The taste might be strange at first but after a while you might never want to get back to coffe or energy drinks. And club mate might be a watered down, sugary mate tea but it is not even close to the real deal, neither in taste nor in effect.

      1. I drank mate for 10-12 years or so, having really enjoyed the lack of an end-of-day crash as well as the less harsh buzz in contrast to coffee. But now I’m almost exclusively drinking matcha since it’s similar but with far greater health benefits.

      2. another mate drinker here
        find it much less jittery and hyper – making than coffee
        smoother, less crash

        l like it smoked, Argentine style (particular about brands if I’m honest)

        never tried club mate
        but l like some of the guayaki mate sodas which are becoming common on the Left coast of the us

        1. Milk, why ruin a good cup of tea!!! Black is the only way!!

          Seriously though if you ever drink the proper loose leaf stuff do try without – Mum’s a tea adulterator, but likes all the loose leaf ‘real’ teas without better than with now she’s tried them as such. Where the floor sweepings that make it into even higher end teabags she has to have milk with…

          1. To each their own, just suggesting folks try it with loose leaf, if you don’t like it can always put the milk in afterwards anyway…

            (Muttering under breath “ruin nice tea, nasty humansess”)

    2. For a really obscure source of caffeine, there’s the Yaupon holly tree in Georgia and Florida. It lost a lot of popularity when it kind of got a reputation as “Like tea when you have no money”, but the trees are still grown as a decoration.

      1. There are several sellers of Yaupon Holly and it can be a nice break from same old sources of caffeine. It takes a bit longer to grow then tea or beans is why it’s not as widespread source of caffeine.

  4. I’m more disturbed by her consumption of ‘instant coffee’. That stuff’s -nasty!- I hope dear Jenny gets better coffee making gear and some great beans, then invests in a good Thermos.

  5. Auditory researchers have informed me there is a verified correlation between caffeine and tinnitus. At my regular 2 espressos, I’m fine with average background noise. But, in the acoustic rooms or anechoic chamber, the ringing seems loud with even half cup of drip.

        1. Phew… I’d hoped so, glad to have it confirmed…
          Got to be a hard one to test – anechoic chamber sound weird anyway don’t they? At least if you are not used to them – because we are not used to that level of silence, the brain fills it in, or so I’m sure I’ve read somewhere..

          And even if my memory is faulty on that part how do you get folks off caffeine and into such a room without giving them a pretty strong hint that something might ‘go wrong’ and by the questioning what it you are looking for…

          1. So quiet, you can hear your blood flowing! Yeah, it’s a strange, vacuous sort of quiet.
            I offer to be their Guinea pig and out of courtesy for getting good data, I refrain from the caffeine. Not that it’s required, I do it for science! It does make about 2dB of difference for me.

  6. Caffeine consumers suffer from lower rates of neurodegenerative disease, or so my medically trained wife tells me. As for Dopamine, take a look at ISBN:9780195373035 and you will learn that there is a complex system at play there and more drugs is not the answer, there is as much benefit to be had from conditioning the brain, and from that I draw the advice that mindfulness training should be as much a part of your day as your caffeine consumption is.

  7. I’ve been consuming about 300 to 800 mg daily for the better part of 14 years. Mostly energy drinks.

    It started as a necessity after switching to a night shift factory job.

    On my days off, consumption is on the lower end of the range, naturally.

    I sometimes take breaks for a day or sometimes two, but largely find myself cheating with a can of Coke lol

    I’m prone to some kind of high-functioning depression, and sometimes will treat it with caffeine – I’m good at entertaining myself, and that combined with the stimulant is usually enough to distract me from a bout of self-defeating mental gymnastics, as I tend to stay focused on whatever recent interests I’ve been involved in. Literature or gaming.

    I’m still working unskilled factory labor jobs, so a lot of my consumption is a direct need to stay stimulated so I can make it through a work day by contemplation or fantasizing.

    This is a little bit stream-of-consciousness but I thought that outlining my use-case could be relatable, and add to the discussion.

    Also if anyone is interested in my concerns, criticisms, and commentary on the US labor market as a whole… lol

  8. I was one of those programmers doing >20 cups/day of strong black filter coffee (mid ’80s) for many years.

    Then I started getting terrible headaches, right in the middle of the forehead, migrane-like strength and debilitation, but only at the weekend (I wasn’t at work). Pain killers would not touch them (and watch out – the “extra” or “plus” ones contain caffeine!)

    After I guessed the cause and went cold turkey and totally 0, the slightest amount of caffeine would bring on one of the headaches, get this, 36 hours after I had taken it. Took me months to work that one out: eat a small square of chocolate (contains caffeine!), 36 hours later get a crippling headache, and in the meantime my 2-year old could stuff a whole Easter egg in. “Defcaf” should be called “low caf” because it still contains some caffeine, guess how I know. Even a cup-cake with a bit of cocoa powder in the topping, not even brown, did it once after the cook promised me it contained no chocolate.

    After 10 years abstinence I was able to gradually wean myself back onto “decaf” instant, then full-caf instant, and finally coffee shop strength coffee, what heaven I can remember that day clearly.

    Now I have a coffee shop style machine at home but very strictly only 3 cups in the morning.

    But on a dark, cold, wet UK morning just the thought of it will get me out of bed like a shot (unforunate phrase!)

    I am an addict.

  9. When I first bought my coffee roaster, I roasted a small batch of each variety of green coffee bean that I’d ordered, and proceeded to pull and knock back a double-shot of espresso from each batch in turn. After a few espressos it seemed to me that I was looking at the world through a fish-eye lens so I decided it was probably time to quit taste testing for the day.

    BTW, if you’re in Toronto, ON Canada, and you want to experiment with caffeine as your drug of choice, allow me to suggest Jet Fuel Coffee. It’s very popular with bicycle couriers and for good reason. I had a double-shot there mid-morning and was wired until 6AM the following day.

  10. For me, stopping with caffeine was more difficult than quit smoking. Partly because my body craves it, but mostly because it is so difficult to maintain. Caffeine is in a lot of drinks an the socially factor is not to be ignored. I stopped using coffee about three years ago because I needed more and more coffe to get going in the morning, to the point of shaking all day. I had to hand pick and place a lot of smd stuff that time, so I really had to stop drinking it. The first two weeks were horrible in my case, but after that it got better. I could wake up without coffee and my focus was way better. Now I only drink herbal thee and a chai latte once a week.

    But of course: n=1 and everybody reacts differently.

    1. Lol. I sometimes forget to go easy on the caffeine on days I have to build a board by hand. Under the microscope I can see my hands shaking. Often I’ve shelved a build until the next day because I’m too shakey. I so need to get on with building me a PnP machine. Compound this with aging eyes, and clear ADHD issues exactly how Jenny describes, make this article one of the most pertinent non-tech of recent times for me.
      I probably ought to do something about it.

  11. As a somewhat “prepper” (I was NEVER a preppie), I wonder what is the best way to store coffee.
    Raw beans?
    Roasted beans?
    Roasted and ground and hermetically sealed?
    Freeze dried instant coffee? (yuck!)

    1. Good question, would be an interesting if very slow experiment to figure out what tastes best (and possibly is safe)…

      I expect protective atmosphere, probably after roast and grind for compactness.. But I have no idea if that would change the taste, or keep that well.. Maybe you do the roast in the tin you end up sealing it up in…

      Dumping in high proof -vodka? should do it too… But might make your pick me up rather more intoxicating if you don’t wait long enough/ drive the alcohol back out before the brewing..

      Maybe lightly boiled in a very sugary syrup so preserved like jams… Probably add a little sweetness (which is a shame IMO) but should just last…

      Freeze dried instant has to win as simple, and long lasting..

      Glad I prefer tea, that one is simple, dried leaves, kept dry is good enough…

    2. Believe me you’ll take any caffeine when you need it and like it! Instant coffee in room temp water is great when you haven’t had power for a week and gas grill ran out of propane! Last hurricane where we lost power for days, my neighbor brought over his coffee maker and in broken English said my wife is going crazy can you plug this into your generator?!!! He was happy I added water since he only had enough for half a pot, I’m sure it lasted a lot longer LOL!

  12. Hi Jenny and friends,

    I’m late to the party but sincerely hope you and others will still read this and it will help some. I know this is long, bear with me.

    I was self medicating my ADHD with caffeine exactly like you describe.
    I had it all pat down: Coffee for the baseline. Club Mate for the edge and clarity. Black tea to very subtly just not feel tired.
    Dose was key. Too little, and, well… brainfog, bone tiredness, antsy, you know how it feels. Too much, and it really depends on too much of what. Coffee? Hyper and the runs. Mate? No sleep till Brooklyn. Tea? Baad stomach. Maybe different for you, but I’m sure you recognise it. The sweet spot was quite narrow sometimes.
    But in my sweet spot, yay! I was functional!

    The thing is, I had no idea I have ADHD and was self-medicating. I thought everyone has these issues, but others are just, well, better than me.
    You will probably be well aware of the issues this lifelong perception brings with.

    I got my diagnosis last year, aged 43.

    I started multimodal therapy, combining some classical psychotherapy to learn to accept myself and deal with the fall-out of lifelong maltreated ADHD plus CBT and coaching to learn skills to better manage my brain.
    All the techniques I learned made a lot of sense, but didn’t really seem to stick. It’s just soooo bloody hard.

    Several months later I started medication with methylphenidate.

    I don’t want to bore you with the details of adjusting the dose and learning to actually recognise the effect it has on me.
    Correctly dosed, it’s like hitting juuuuust the sweet spot of caffeine. Like two, three large cups of coffee plus a bottle of Mate.
    … only without the nasty side effects of caffeine!
    … and the effect you actually want, removing the brainfog, is very subtle but a lot more effective!
    … and you hit the right dose every day!
    … and it doesn’t take half a day till juust the right dose is in the bloodstream!
    … and the right dose isn’t slightly different every day!
    … and you don’t feel like complete shit until at least half the dose is in your system! (Seriously: that feeling in the morning until midway through the second coffee? That’s not just you not being a morning person. That’s withdrawal. I’m not kidding.)

    There’s downsides of course. Methylphenidate can raise blood pressure, so you need to be careful if you have high blood pressure. It reduces appetite which can be an issue if you’re underweight. Also, caffeine is completely overstimulating for me when I take methylphenidate. Which sucks as my favourite coffee place won’t serve decaf. (Those coffee snobs..)

    And most importantly: “pills don’t give skills”!
    Meaning, just because the brainfog is lifted, your habits are not one bit less destructive.

    But remember where I said the techniques I learned never seemed to stick and it all was just soooo bloody hard?
    Well, it’s still bloody hard, and I struggle, and have bad days or weeks. But now I do make progress.

    And just making progress is literally life-changing.

    I now realise that I stood NO FRACKING CHANCE to get the techniques to stick without medication. None. Zero. ADHDers will know what I mean: the brain just won’t do it, no matter how hard you try. Maybe it works for some ADHDers without medication, but not for me. And according to my doc, not for most.

    Don’t just self-medicate with caffeine and accept that as your lot. Please!
    Get diagnosed if you suspect you may have ADHD. Even if it takes years and you have to switch docs three times.
    Get therapy and coaching!!1!eleven
    And do give proper medication a serious consideration.

    Hope this write-up may help some.

    PS feel free to get in touch if I can help you: anonymous-alex+ADHD @ posteo.org

  13. Recently I have been diagnosed allergenic to caffeine. Its too hard for me to start my day. I barely manage the laziness and headache. My doctor asked me not to take caffeine during the treatment. Treatment is too long. I can’t understand how I am going to survive for this long. Please suggest me alternative ways to reduce laziness and headache.

    1. Caffeine withdrawal feels a bit like what you describe. How long have you gone cold turkey? I felt like you describe for about a week or so.

      If it’s a lot longer than that, then of course it’s not that. The “lazyness” sounds like my ADHS sometimes feels (although I’d describe it differently). Read my post above, there’s definitely better options than dosing up on caffeine! Headaches, who knows.. migraines? Do you sometimes see auras?
      But I’m just s random dude on the net – get it checked out by a doctor!

  14. VERY late to the party but here goes…

    Disclaimer: “Dammit Jim, I’m an engineer, not a doctor!”. These are just my ungrounded observations.

    I know that ADHD is used as an umbrella term, but there’s a big difference between adHd and ADD. It’s much easier for a teacher to identify a child with ADHD… sometimes you want to nail their feet to the ground, because they can’t sit still for prolonged periods. It’s much harder to identify a child with ADD. They gently float away in their own dream world without disrupting the rest of the class. It’s easier to get lost in the system and untreated if you have ADD.

    I started out with ADHD but the H part got “conditioned” out of me quickly in a school system that still had corporal punishment and I continued with unidentified ADD, because my grades were good (enough). Luckily the conditions were *just right* for unintentional neurofeedback training. My hyperfocus (which I see as a super power by the way) had me immersed in 1980’s computers and magic which I learned from books (not videos). If you did not type in a BASIC or machine code listing perfectly it would not work. If you did not comprehend the wordy description of a magic trick then you could not do it. The unintentional feedback training forced you to pay attention, check your work and fix your mistakes.

    It’s hereditary and my son is afflicted the worst. When he was first diagnosed the doctor prescribed a week’s worth of Ritalin to me so that I could experience the effect. Wow! It’s like holding up a mirror and seeing the blind spot of your brain for the first time. Unfortunately I’m super sensitive to stimulants and would function great during the day but would not be able to sleep at night. After a week I would be dead tired and it would outweigh the benefits :(

    I call them the “swipe-left” generation. Why is it called a “smart” phone if it’s actively making you dumber? The technology today (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, …) is conspiring to reduce your attention span and ADHD / ADD people are losing out all the way. The neurofeedback training is that if it does not grab your attention within 5 seconds then you “swipe left”. My son has the concentration span of a gold fish and I can’t prohibit him from using a smart phone, because it’s required by the school system.

    If you have ADHD / ADD you should also look at managing and stabilizing your blood glucose levels. Concentration goes down the drain if your level is lower. This is a really hard thing to manage! Caffeine triggers Adrenalin which plays see-saw with your system.

    All I can say is: it’s so damn hard! You are not alone. I have a theory that a lot of ADD people gravitate towards a programming / engineering career, because our logic skills are well developed to compensate for a lack of memory skills.

  15. Hi Zero and others,

    re ADD vs ADHD: nomenclature changes. The way I understand it, the current technical terminology is that ADHD has “predominantly hyperactive-impulsive”, “predominantly inattentive” and “combined” presentations. What was called ADD until recently would in current speak be “ADHD with predominately inattentive presentation”.

    re neurofeedback, caffeine, glucose levels, reducing smartphones etc to help with ADHD: this is all very valid and does help, but please do get proper medical help. ADHD is one of the best-researched neurodevelopmental disorders with surprisingly well understood mechanisms. The literature is well accessible and understandable for nerds like us. Medication is generally well tolerated and safe, and can be very effective.
    For many, myself included, it is what enables the other, deeper and more important therapy elements and coaching. The combination can be life changing.
    But I’m just a random voice on the net, go talk to “that kind of doctor” :)

    re ADHDers in our community: I observe the same! And also, our community tends to have clever people. People with above-average intelligence tend to cope better with untreated ADHD by developing cognitive adaptations at an early age. Super if they work, but they tend to add strain and sometimes leave scarring after decades. Getting help is worthwhile also mid-life.

    re hyperfocus super power: YES :)


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