In our busy world of early mornings and late nights, most of us can relate to the words of Lorelai from Gilmore Girls: “What I need now is lots and lots of coffee.” 

However, how does the caffeine in a cup of coffee or tea, common energy drinks, or even chocolate affect those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? 

Some may claim that a quick boost of caffeine improves their symptoms, while others warn of dangerous side effects. 

As a mother of a child with ADHD, I completely understand the never ending quest to help your child have better focus and attention!  I feel as though I spend a large chunk of my day saying:

“Pay attention” 


“Give me your eyes” 

“Are you listening to me?” 

“Why do I have to keep asking you the same thing over and over?” 

All while simultaneously utilizing countdowns, visual timers, and feeling as though I’m negotiating with a little trained terrorist.  The phrase “we do not negotiate with terrorists” plays in my head on a daily basis! I adore my son, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mentally tapped out every day.  

Many parents who come to us are trying to avoid medications or wean their kids off of them.  We are not anti-medication. We are pro “do all of the other things to lay the proper foundation and if we need meds we do.”  

Caffeine is something commonly used in conjunction with ADHD and can be beneficial for some kids.  Hopefully this article will help break down some of that research if it’s something you’re considering supplementing caffeine for your child!


Can caffeine cause ADHD symptoms?

While most of us have felt the effects of caffeine, first, let’s break down what it actually does. Caffeine is the most widely-used stimulant in the world, and it raises your brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that positively affects concentration, movement, and focus.

Unfortunately, for those of us without ADHD, too much caffeine can have negative effects. We’ve mentioned here at The M Center before that your child’s sleep can be negatively impacted by the use of caffeine, which can also lead to inattention at school and other health conditions.

Furthermore, if you’ve had the “jitters” after a Starbucks or other caffeinated product, you know that less is more. Too much caffeine in those without ADHD can actually increase anxiety, and heavy caffeine users are more likely to deal with impulsivity and sensation-seeking — both common traits of ADHD. 


Does caffeine help people with ADHD concentrate?

While the side effects listed above can sound eerie, let’s circle back to dopamine. While too much caffeine may negatively affect some (causing symptoms like anxiety), the brains of people with ADHD have lower dopamine transporter density, which means that caffeine may actually have a positive effect. 

In fact, one study found that teens with ADHD were almost twice as likely to use caffeine as their peers, particularly caffeinated beverages like tea, soda, and cups of coffee. Research is indicating that caffeinated tea consumption can be an effective treatment.

Could this be because it affects their central nervous system differently? Well, another study of adult ADHD patients found that cups of coffee throughout the day could improve focus and mental clarity. 

In 2010, a caffeine study was conducted on rats with an animal model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The results led researchers to believe that administering caffeine to children with ADHD could have long-term cognitive benefits for hyperactivity, impulsivity, poor attention and deficits in learning and memory. 

A similar animal study in European Neuropsychopharmacology showed similarly promising results, including improving dopamine transponder density.

However, it’s crucial to talk with your child’s functional medicine practitioner about what adding caffeine into your child’s diet could look like, as not all forms of caffeine are created equally. 

Red Bull may “give you wings,” but it can also give you a case of insulin resistance, and going crazy with chocolate isn’t the ideal way to dose with caffeine. 

Since caffeine often comes in a sugary package or loaded with chemicals, you should monitor the dosage and type of caffeine for ADHD your child is receiving. 

Proper medical advice can guide you on how many milligrams of caffeine are right for your child’s age, weight, and symptoms of ADHD.


Caffeine & ADHD Medications

Oddy, it’s often safe to combine caffeine with another effective active treatment, such as an ADHD medication. 

When using caffeine alongside stimulant medications (like Ritalin or Adderall), the combined effect can be synergistic, or build on each other, for even more effective results. 

Again, each medication’s interaction with caffeine may be different, so consult your child’s healthcare provider when deciding how to use this promising stimulant for optimal results. 


Risks of Caffeine Overuse

As the old saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing, even with caffeine and ADHD treatment. While caffeine intake in moderation doesn’t pose any real harm, long-term, heavy usage can cause some truly unfortunate health problems, such as dependence, chronic anxiety, and links to cigarette and alcohol usage. 

Energy drinks seem especially problematic, as energy drink-related trips to the emergency room are continuing to rise

Over time, excessive caffeine consumption can not only raise the blood pressure of the brain and increase the risk of heart attack, but also damage kidneys, raise cholesterol, and cause an irregular or raised heart rate. 

In conclusion, caffeine shows a surprising amount of positive effect on children and adults with ADHD, and it may be time to talk to your doctor about the dose and administration that’s right for you to get all of the cognitive benefits and focus that it may add to your life.



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