The Relationship Between Caffeine & ADHD

Updated August 31, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many of us know that having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make it very difficult to concentrate. People who live with ADHD may have a more difficult time performing certain tasks. They might get distracted easily because they are able to pick up on so much of the stimulus around them (noises, sights, smells, and so on) and have a hard time tuning them out and can become frustrated when performing tasks that take a long time. Living with ADHD can be pretty difficult if medical professionals aren’t properly treating you and/or you don’t understand the condition fully.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder impacts the lives of both children and adults. In fact, it’s so common that studies conducted, now known as the Spontaneously Hypertensive Rat model (SPH), have concluded that SPH rats display virtually the same symptoms and behaviors as people with ADHD.

Many people think of ADHD as something that only children have to deal with, but it’s actually very prevalent among adults. As many as 4.4% of American adults have ADHD, but many choose not to seek treatment and many are never diagnosed, meaning this percentage is likely actually higher. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that some people choose to self-medicate instead.

To be clear, the best thing that you can do when you have adult ADHD is to seek medical treatment, because ADHD is considered a psychiatric disorder that can greatly impact day-to-day life and functioning. Prescription medications and therapy are often the best ways to deal with ADHD. Other remedies and treatments are not going to be nearly as useful. That being said, a surprising number of people turn to caffeine to try to help with their ADHD symptoms.

Most adult ADHD medications are prescription drugs that act as stimulants. Caffeine is also a type of stimulant, so it should work okay to help people with their ADHD problems, right? Well, you shouldn’t get too far ahead of yourself. Caffeine is a very popular way to increase your focus, but it isn’t really going to be a great substitute for ADHD treatment, as it doesn’t actually treat ADHD and can make some ADHD-like symptoms worse. Take a look at the relationship between caffeine & ADHD below to learn more.

What Does Caffeine Do?

Can Lifestyle Changes Improve Your ADHD Symptoms?

Using caffeine for ADHD may not be the best choice overall. You need to understand what caffeine is doing to your brain in order to get how it works. Caffeine has the potential to raise your dopamine levels in your brain. Many ADHD medications do this in order to increase the focus on the patient, so caffeine and ADHD are not always the best mix if you’re already taking a stimulant drug as part of your treatment. In theory, caffeine can work as an ADHD medication, but it does come without its downsides.

There are many side effects associated with drinking too much caffeine. When you drink a significant amount of caffeinated beverages, you’ll run the risk of getting migraine headaches. To add to this, you may also experience insomnia, general irritability, and stomach problems. You’d likely have to drink a lot of caffeine in order to truly replace traditional ADHD medications, making using caffeine as an ADHD drug impractical.

Researchers do think that caffeine may have some potential as an ADHD drug in the future. Tests have been performed on lab rats that show promise. Some of these tests have shown an increased ability to focus in rats that have received caffeine. Having something work well on lab rats is different from having it work for humans who live with ADHD, though.

Using coffee for ADHD is probably not going to be the best solution. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a caffeinated drink, though. Both caffeine and medication can of course impact your ADHD symptoms, so you should speak to your doctor about how caffeine will interact with your ADHD medication. You should be able to enjoy a certain amount of caffeine every day without it being a detriment.

Caffeine And Children

You should definitely avoid letting your kids have too much caffeine. There are some parents who have used caffeine as a substitute for traditional ADHD medicine when treating their children. This doesn’t work out well as the side effects of drinking too much caffeine are more pronounced in children. Some evidence shows that caffeine can negatively impact brain development in children too and potentially result in spatial learning deficits, particularly if the child has ADHD.

Do your best to help your child avoid caffeine if they have ADHD. There might be some signs that high amounts of caffeine will calm hyperactivity, but this is going to come with many side effects. For example, it can make insomnia really bad. Too much caffeine could ruin your child’s sleep patterns and they may wind up struggling to stay awake during the day.

Traditional ADHD medication is much better at regulating things. The side effects are not as problematic and you’ll be able to keep your child on track. Does caffeine help ADHD? It might in some ways, but it isn’t worth the problems that it will cause for your child.

Work together with doctors to come up with the best treatment plan for your kids. This will likely involve traditional central nervous system stimulant medication. Some kids don’t react well to stimulant medications for ADHD, though. There are children who need to treat ADHD with non-stimulant ADHD medications, making it even more obvious that caffeine is not likely going to be the best answer due to the way caffeine affects ADHD in sometimes negative ways.

Caffeine Makes Me Tired ADHD

Some people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get tired when they drink too much caffeine. This is not usually going to be due to drinking the caffeine itself, though the effects of caffeine do play a role. The tiredness is going to occur due to losing sleep because of the caffeine that you’ve taken into your system. If you drink a lot of caffeine throughout your day, particularly if you consume energy drinks, then you might have more problems with getting enough sleep. Lower caffeine tea consumption, such as green tea, can provide a bit of a boost without the adverse effects for some with ADHD.

Not being able to sleep at night can lead to restlessness. You might wind up only getting a few hours of sleep and this will throw off your entire sleeping schedule. Sleep deprivation due to caffeine consumption is more common than you may realize. Caffeinated drinks are very popular, and many people consume them at inappropriate times.

To add to this, caffeine has the potential to make people with ADHD more wired than they need to be. You might wind up feeling like you’re crashing after being very amped up for a small period of time. It’s best to use caffeine sparingly when you have ADHD issues. Try to only drink coffee or soda in the morning and stick to only drinking a reasonable amount.

If you drink caffeine properly, then it might give you a small boost in the morning. You just need to avoid having too much, such as energy drinks, to avoid the negative side effects. As mentioned earlier, consult your family physician on caffeine use and how it might interact with any medications you’re taking. It’s always best to err on the side of caution.

What About Other Stimulants?

Now that you know more about caffeine use and how it may affect ADHD, you might be curious about whether or not other stimulants, such as stimulant ADHD medications, will be safe to take. You should always consult your family physician before trying anything new. There is some concern with certain stimulants, as ADHD can increase the risk of substance use disorders and addiction. There are some natural remedies that have proven to be capable of improving focus. Many people buy herbs such as Gingko Biloba in order to help themselves stay on task.

Another possible option is lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX), which is a stimulant drug in which d-amphetamine is covalently bound to l-lysine, a naturally occurring amino acid. After ingestion, LDX breaks down with help from red cells into its primary components d-amphetamine and l-lysine. As an added bonus, preliminary studies show promise in terms of this stimulant not adversely affecting blood flow or blood vessels.

The problem with this is that the natural remedies are still not going to be as effective as the prescription medication and may only help with minimal brain dysfunction and ADHD symptoms. In most cases, you’re going to be well-served by following your doctor’s plans and an effective active treatment plan. If your doctor thinks that a certain medication is worth trying, then you should do your best to trust in them. However, be sure to ask plenty of questions and learn any supplementary information about the medication before trying it to make sure that it’s something you’re comfortable with trying. Doctors have experience and they know how to help people manage their ADHD symptoms, but you also need to feel safe and comfortable in your treatment plan, particularly if it involves taking stimulant medication.

Even if you have taken ADHD medication in the past, you might not have found the right mix of medication. It can take time to determine the right treatment for ADHD. Some medications will work well for others while not working at all for you. Also, it can take time to figure out what the proper doses are.

You need to give your doctor a chance to work with you on your ADHD problems. This is going to be true whether you’re dealing with ADHD or if your child is having ADHD problems. Doctors need to be able to figure out the best solution to alleviate the ADHD issues. It may take a bit of time, but they can help you with their years of experience.

Sometimes Therapy Is Necessary

Sometimes therapy is going to be necessary when treating ADHD as well. Therapy is an essential element of ADHD treatments. This can help people to learn how to focus better when they’re dealing with ADHD symptoms. Therapists know how to teach people to deal with certain ADHD problems better in order to promote increased productivity.

They can also work with patients in order to change certain behaviors that make ADHD problems worse. Going through talk therapy sessions and cognitive behavioral therapy sessions can make a real difference. There are many therapists that specialize in treating those with ADHD. If you take the time to reach out, then managing your symptoms might become that much easier over time.

Online Therapy is a Good Option

Can Lifestyle Changes Improve Your ADHD Symptoms?

One good option to consider is online therapy. Online therapy is just like traditional therapy except that it is even more convenient. You can speak to a licensed therapist today from the comfort of your own home. They’re experienced when it comes to helping people deal with ADHD issues and they’ll be happy to help you or your child out.

You can speak to one of these therapists at any time you’re in need. It’s a lot easier than traditional therapy because you don’t have to worry about office hours. Being able to reach out at any time is definitely beneficial. Your therapist will be ready to help you and coping with ADHD symptoms will be easier with their help.

Take the time to get the right help today from BetterHelp. You can easily sign up for online therapy and start talking to someone in a matter of days. There are many different options, and you’ll be matched with a therapist who will work with you to help you meet your goals. These therapists are great at helping with many other issues as well, so you can count on them for all of your needs.

Other Commonly Asked Questions:

Do People With ADHD Lack Dopamine?

Molecular genetic studies have found that ADHD involves a deficit in the brain’s dopamine levels, caused by the presence of the gene allele DRD2 A1. This allele interferes with the process of the brain laying down dopamine receptors in reward sites within the brain. Essentially, their dopamine transporter density is lower than usual, resulting in cognitive deficits in the form of low dopamine. This is why many people with ADHD may engage in impulsive behavior, sometimes risky ones, that help provide a boost in dopamine levels. These can include things like video games, self-medication, drug abuse, or high-adrenaline activities that increase blood flow and result in a dopamine dump.

Does ADHD get worse with caffeine?
Do people with ADHD calm down with caffeine?
Why does caffeine make people with ADHD tired?
Why do stimulants calm ADHD?
What age is ADHD worse?
Is ADHD a form of autism?
Why caffeine doesn't help ADHD?
Why does coffee make me sleepy instead of awake?
What can untreated ADHD lead to?

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