November 16


How Does Caffeine Affect ADHD?

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

November 16, 2023

adhd, adhd and caffeine

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide, impacting focus, impulse control, and daily functioning. Treatment for ADHD typically combines medication and behavioral therapy. In recent years, scientists have studied the relationship between caffeine and ADHD. Some research suggests that the popular stimulant could have beneficial effects for people with ADHD. Exploring this question can help you understand the impact of caffeine on symptoms of this condition.

How Does Caffeine Work?

Person holding coffee cup
Photo of Person Holding Cup by Alina Vilchenko is licensed with Pexels License

Before we dive into the caffeine-ADHD connection, let’s look at how caffeine functions in our bodies. Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee and tea and is also added to energy drinks and other beverages. It’s prized for its ability to increase alertness and energy levels, but how does it achieve these effects?

When we consume caffeine, it swiftly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, where it interacts with adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleepiness. When caffeine binds to these receptors, it effectively blocks adenosine’s calming effects, leading to increased wakefulness and alertness. The result? You feel more awake and focused.

Caffeine’s impact isn’t limited to adenosine receptors. It also promotes the release of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which play essential roles in attention, motivation, and mood regulation. This dual mechanism of action sets the stage for the connection between caffeine and ADHD.

Can Caffeine Help You Focus?

Many of us have experienced the immediate perk-up that a cup of coffee or tea provides, but can caffeine genuinely help you focus? Research suggests that caffeine can enhance alertness and concentration for individuals without ADHD. It temporarily counteracts feelings of fatigue and can lead to improved cognitive performance, including better attention and memory.

For individuals with ADHD, who often struggle with maintaining focus and attention, caffeine might offer some advantages. A 2022 systematic review of animal studies published in the journal Nutrients found that caffeine increased attention span and decreased impulsive behavior. However, the study’s authors caution that we need more research to truly understand how these animal models translate to human treatment, especially for children and teens.

The relationship between caffeine and focus is not the same for everyone. Some individuals with ADHD may find that caffeine enhances their focus and attention, while others might experience jitteriness or an overstimulated feeling. It’s essential to recognize that individual responses to caffeine can vary significantly.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine looked at the impact of caffeine consumption on adult veterans of the U.S. Army who have ADHD. According to the study’s authors, participants consumed more caffeine than their peers who did not have ADHD. These individuals experienced better cognitive performance and reduced ADHD symptoms, although they had a higher risk of substance abuse.

Does Caffeine Help With ADHD Symptoms?

Given caffeine’s potential to improve attention and reduce impulsivity, it’s natural to wonder whether it could be a helpful tool for managing ADHD symptoms. Some individuals with ADHD have indeed reported positive effects from caffeine consumption, indicating that a moderate dose of caffeine, such as a cup of coffee or tea, helps them feel more alert and focused, making it easier to tackle tasks requiring sustained attention. People with ADHD may also feel drawn to caffeine because it activates the dopamine system, which signals the feeling of reward in the brain.

However, it’s crucial to approach caffeine as a complementary strategy rather than a primary treatment for ADHD. Caffeine’s effects are relatively short-lived, and the risk of developing tolerance or dependence is a concern. In addition, excessive caffeine intake can have negative side effects, including increased heart rate, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns — problems that can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.

Caffeine can also compromise sleep, and many people who have ADHD already struggle with insomnia, including medication-induced insomnia. A lack of sleep can increase ADHD symptoms and lead to fatigue. Some drugs, including heart medications, antipsychotics, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can also interact negatively with caffeine.

Adding caffeine to prescription ADHD stimulants can increase the risk of substance abuse. At the same time, the risk of addiction is elevated among people with ADHD who do not manage their symptoms with medication.

Before incorporating caffeine into your ADHD management plan, it’s advisable to consult with a health care professional. They can help you determine an appropriate intake and discuss potential risks and benefits specific to you.  In general, most people should avoid consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. Higher doses than this can cause stomach disturbances, mood swings, irritability, and migraine headaches.

Does Caffeine Make You Tired if You Have ADHD?

One intriguing aspect of the caffeine-ADHD connection is the paradoxical effect the stimulant sometimes has on people with this condition. Instead of an energizing effect, coffee makes them feel tired or drowsy.

This reaction to caffeine might be related to differences in brain chemistry and neurobiology. It’s possible that, for some, caffeine interacts with their unique brain chemistry in a way that doesn’t produce the typical alerting effects. This phenomenon underscores the importance of individualized approaches to managing ADHD and demonstrates that what works for one person may not be effective for another.

Finding What Works For You

While caffeine can offer some benefits for individuals with ADHD, such as improved focus and reduced impulsivity, it should be used with caution. Individual responses vary, and there’s a risk of overstimulation, dependence, and other side effects. Effective ADHD management often involves a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, and lifestyle adjustments tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

Exploring Options for ADHD Management

If you or your child is experiencing symptoms of ADHD and needs help managing their diagnosis, consider reaching out to professionals who specialize in neurodevelopmental disorders. NeuroHealth in Arlington Heights offers experienced guidance and support for ADHD, assisting children, adolescents, and adults. Taking proactive steps to diagnose and manage ADHD can significantly improve your or your child’s function and quality of life. Contact our team to schedule an appointment today.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.