Why I Switched from Coffee to Caffeine Pills

Yes, the title of this post is “Why I Switched from Coffee to Caffeine Pills”. If you are like most people, you are sizing up what flavor of crazy I am. Hear me out.

When I need a burst of concentration or energy for a few hours or weeks, I use caffeine pills instead of drinking coffee.  I’ve found the pills are far more convenient and reliable, and much less expensive. They’ve worked very well for me for the last 2+ years. I can carry them anywhere and use them anytime without relying on the whims of some freshly tattooed barista for my fix.  I can control the dosage far more accurately, allowing me to have more energy when I need it and the ability to taper off the dose to get off the sauce without much fuss.

My story:

In the spring of 2012 I was taking Chemistry and Anatomy, two heavy-duty classes. Chemistry started at 9am bright and early! To get my pep and focus going I brewed and drank a cup of coffee every morning.  One fine morning on the way to a big test I realized that I forgot to drink my morning brew. As I walked to class, it was easy to  feel the difference in my body: I needed some coffee to function for the test!

I knew that without the pick-me-up, I  wouldn’t be my best so I walked into a convenience store on the way and grabbed a cup a’ Joe.  I drank my coffee, rocked the test and went about my day. But before the test was even finished, I realized that something had gone terribly terribly wrong. The convenience store coffee had way more caffeine than my home brew! At home, I had a French Press with a mild Trader Joe’s brew that put a little zip into my day.  But this convenience store cup was rocket fuel in disguise!

I  survived of course. But I felt like crap all day. First I was too high and jittery, I was buzzing so hard that I couldn’t think straight. By the afternoon I burned out and felt low. It dawned on me that  it was a bad plan to rely so heavily on having the right amount of coffee every day in order to have a good day. The next time I travel, how the heck am I supposed to get the right coffee fix from some unknown barista? Maybe they brew it strong, maybe it’s rocket fuel. This is a plan for disaster!

What I needed was control over the dosage! I went down to Walgreens and picked up a bottle of Walgreens Maximum Strength AWAKE  (yes, in big, red, all caps italics!).

I divided the pills into halves and then halves again.  Now when I needed a boost in the morning, I’d chew on 1/4 of a pill, 50 mg. exactly! And in 20 minutes I would feel it warming my blood. But better still, the pills are rather bitter.  You’d think that there isn’t any positive side to that but let me explain: every time I chew on my wonderful bitter pill I know I’m going to get a rush in a few minutes. After a few weeks of that, I would start to feel better almost immediately after tasting my beloved drug. I know it’s a placebo but it works anyway!

How well does it work for me? In brief: very well!

How much does it cost?  The value is staggering. For the cost of 1 Venti Caramel Macchiato I get about two months of pills! No fat, no waiting in line, and it’s always as close as my backpack!

Popping caffeine pills is not without a downside. It’s easy to become addicted. But heck, most of our society is already addicted to caffeine, I’m just grabbing this horse by the reins. We all know the symptoms of caffeine withdrawl: headache, lethargy, crabbyness, maybe even (ironically) insomnia. Getting off caffeine pills is easier than coffee. It’s easy to carefully titrate the dose over a few days or weeks. Life is much better when you have easy access and control over your dosage; I will never find myself binge drinking an espresso at a random Starbucks to quell a raging withdrawal headache!

One strange aspect of this practice is that I have become keenly aware and responsible for my energy level over the course of the day. I find myself flipping my little pill box in my pocket wondering, “Do I need to be high energy in an hour or should I wait to take my power-up?”

What about brain cancer and Franken-drugs and taking “unnatural” things on a daily basis? I’d say that the vast majority of caffeinated foodstuffs have caffeine added to them from big chemical vats just like my beloved pills.

It’s true that pills aren’t as fun as a nice steaming cup of fair trade Sumatra blend. I enjoy sipping coffee too, the pills are for enhancing productivity, not rest and relaxation.

Update September 4 2014: Caffeine pills helped me greatly to study for my prereq classes and take the GRE. I was taking 1/4 to 1 pill per day. I spent 3 months over the summer getting off the sauce. Now, two weeks into grad school I’ve only been eating tiny slivers of caffeine pills on some mornings to jumpstart my day. It’s been going very well. :-)


  1. Laura B says:

    I never learned to like coffee until after college; and even years later, I don’t drink coffee for the caffeine – I genuinely like it. In college, I would take caffeine pills if I needed to pull an all-nighter (never thought about dividing the pills and taking them more steadily – that’s brilliant!) Since I rarely took them, they were very effective, but wrecked my sleep cycle for about 48 hours.

    I do understand about caffeine dependency; I have had problems with Goodys powders in the past, taking them and becoming addicted to the caffeine and the medication, and getting headaches when I didn’t have one. But it sounds like you have been very smart and systematic. Best of luck with the new semester!

  2. lee says:

    It’s variable. Lately for school I’ve been doing this:
    * wake at 5:20 AM for school
    * get on the train at 6:30 and start studying
    * take 1/4 of a caffeine pill (50 mg) at about 6:50 when I feel my eyes start closing
    * study and feel pretty energized walking to school at 8:30
    * maybe take another 1/4 pill at noon if my energy is waning

    When I was studying for the GRE, I’d take up to 2 pills/day, spread out over the day.

    I make sure to never take any caffeine after 5pm since I should be going to sleep at 9pm for school (damn 5:20 wakeup time)

    I notice that when I’m doing caffeine more aggressively (3/4 to 2 pills per day) my day is much more divided into sleep time and wake time. In other words, I don’t laze around as much, which I suppose raises my productivity.

    When I was in college years ago, I tried taking the “recommended” dose of caffeine on the side of the package: 1 tablet every 4 hours. I downed it with a can of Dr. Pepper. It was a mess! I got all jittery and buzzy and still fell asleep with my head literally in a book. Intention and careful dosing is important!

    I have to keep careful awareness of my changing tolerance for the sauce. If I take it maybe 4 days in a row at the same dosage my tolerance goes up. That means I’m constantly changing things up.

  3. Thomas Krehbiel says:

    This may seem a trivial inquiry, but I’d like to know if the imprint 44-344 appears on the Walgreens Awake white capsule shaped tablets.

  4. lee says:

    Thomas, sorry I don’t know. My current batch of caffeine comes from CVS.

  5. Jonathan Moore says:

    Hi Lee, have you tried cacao nibs? I find them to be the best natural means of stimulating wakeful concentration, and haven’t found them to be personally addicting. The unsweetened ones can be a bit of an acquired taste because of the bitterness, however.

  6. lee says:

    Jonathan, yes, I tried cacao nibs! For a while I carried a bag of them around with me and would sometimes use them for a boost! I agree with you about them being an acquired taste but I enjoy them every now and then. I couldn’t tell you about their addictive qualities but I assume it would be the same as the caffeine pills. It’s nice that they are all natural too.

    I could try cacao nibs again. Do you chew cacao?

  7. Lee says:

    I was chatting with a friend (Hi Powerpoint Girl!)

    She was saying how her old comfort foods weren’t doing it for her any more and I responded:

    Yeah, my tastes are shifting too. My go-to has moved to chewing on cocoa nibs, which objectively speaking is terribly bitter. But I love them. I think the origin came from deciding to switch from coffee to caffeine pills in 2012 to study for becoming an OT Most people say caffeine pills are terribly terribly terribly bitter but now I associate the flavor with energy, wakefulness and getting-shit-done. 8 years of associating a flavor with an intention can change a brain.

    So, in your heart, what flavor is associated with success?

  8. Lee says:

    In the last year, I’ve gotten off caffeine entirely as a support. My caffeine pills sit idle in my medicine cabinet. Every now and then I’ll chomp some cocoa nibs or similar, have a nice energized feeling and usually notice the mild headache several hours later. This is the right place for me to be these days.

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