The Relationship Between Caffeine And ADHD

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams
Updated February 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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One of the primary symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is inattentiveness. Those living with ADHD may struggle to perform certain tasks, get distracted easily, or become sensitive to the stimuli around them, such as noises, sights, or smells. Living with ADHD can be challenging, so some people with the condition use coping mechanisms like drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages to attempt to focus or reduce hyperactivity. To understand this coping mechanism, it may be beneficial to look at the connections between caffeine intake and ADHD symptoms.

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Caffeine can exacerbate ADHD symptoms in adults and children

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? 

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder impacts the lives of both children and adults. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder and a form of neurodivergence. Some people may believe that ADHD mainly occurs in children. However, it is a lifelong condition starting in childhood, so those who grow up continue to have ADHD as adults and may continue to require accommodation and support.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5), which is used to diagnose psychiatric disorders, people with ADHD demonstrate a persistent pattern of inattentive or hyperactive and impulsive behavior.

Around 4.4% of American adults have ADHD, but some may not be diagnosed with attentional deficits, so the percentage could be higher. In some cases, those who don’t have a diagnosis or treatment options may turn to self-medication in the form of caffeine to manage symptoms. 

How is ADHD treated? 

ADHD is commonly treated with a combination of therapy and medication. ADHD is a lifelong condition and brain difference, so it cannot be cured. However, treating ADHD is common and symptoms may be managed with professional support. Accommodation and lifestyle changes may also be helpful for those living with ADHD. 

How do caffeine and ADHD interact? 

Caffeine treatments may not be helpful for ADHD. Caffeine can potentially raise dopamine levels in the brain, like some ADHD medications. For this reason, if one is already taking a stimulant medication, caffeine may increase dopamine production to a level that renders the medication ineffective. Although caffeine treatment can potentially reduce ADHD symptoms, it may not be the most effective option. 

Several side effects are associated with drinking too much caffeine. When you drink a significant number of caffeinated beverages, you may risk migraine headaches or become dependent on the substance. In addition, you might experience a rapid heartbeat, increased anxiety and blood pressure, insomnia, irritability, or gastrointestinal symptoms. The amount of caffeine required to affect the body like ADHD medications do would be significant, making it an impractical and potentially unsafe alternative. However, consult your doctor before considering any substance or medication. 

Are there positive impacts of caffeine consumption on ADHD? 

Caffeine may have potential as an ADHD treatment in the future – and animal model and human studies involving caffeine use tend to confirm “net benefits.”  However, further studies are needed to validate medical hypotheses and understand the impacts fully. Although some people with ADHD may focus better using caffeine as a chronic treatment option, some people may also report becoming sleepy or struggling to complete tasks when using low doses of this substance. 

Both caffeine and medication can impact your ADHD symptoms, so speak to your doctor about how caffeine may interact with your ADHD medication before trying it, especially if you are already taking medication or supplements for your condition. They can help you factor in important considerations such as your body weight, prescription medication, and specific symptoms to determine how much, if any, caffeine is appropriate for you to consume.

Can children with ADHD have caffeine? 

It may be healthiest to avoid letting your kids have caffeine. Using caffeine as a medication substitute may be ineffective and cause more severe side effects in children. Evidence shows that caffeine can negatively impact brain development in children and potentially result in spatial learning deficits.

Do your best to help your child avoid caffeine. Although caffeine may calm hyperactivity in some individuals, it can come with side effects like severe insomnia and anxiety. Too much caffeine could change your child’s sleep patterns and make staying awake at school or during the day difficult. 

Work with your child’s doctor to develop a healthy treatment plan. This plan may involve traditional central nervous system stimulant medication, therapy, or a combination of adolescent psychiatry treatments. Some children may be recommended non-stimulant ADHD medications if stimulants do not work or aren’t recommended for their case. 

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Why does caffeine make me tired?

Some people with ADHD get tired when they drink caffeine. In those with ADHD, caffeine’s effects may be different, as it is a deterrent to brain hyperactivity. In these cases, the individual may experience a slow-down of thoughts and urges, which can seem like exhaustion. In addition, if caffeine causes insomnia for you, the insomnia may lead to a lack of quality sleep, which may increase your exhaustion and lead to issues with working memory. Lower caffeine consumption through drinks like green tea may offer an energy boost without the sleepiness of regular caffeine drinks. 

Sleep deprivation due to caffeine consumption is common. Caffeinated drinks are popular; some people may consume more than recommended or drink caffeine throughout the day. If you drink a lot of caffeine, you may achieve a short-term energy boost but have a “caffeine crash” later in the day, experiencing exhaustion. To avoid these impacts, ADHD patients can try to moderate doses of caffeine in the morning, drink decaffeinated coffee in the afternoon, and avoid drinking it at least three hours before bed.  

Are other stimulants effective for ADHD? 

If caffeine doesn’t help you or you want to try a different form of treatment for ADHD, you might consider talking to your doctor about stimulants. Talking to your doctor before starting, changing, or stopping a medication for ADHD can be essential, as some ADHD medications increase the risk of addiction. You can also talk to your doctor about natural treatment methods like supplements. However, note that holistic treatments for ADHD may not be evidence-backed or federally approved for consumption. 

Follow your doctor’s treatment plan. If your doctor thinks a particular medication is working, work with them to report your symptoms and concerns. Ask questions if you’re thinking of trying a new medication or supplement on top of any they have prescribed, and try to work with a team of doctors to prevent misdiagnosis or ineffective medication. It can be essential for clients to feel safe and comfortable in their treatment plan, so bring up any concerns that arise. 

Even if you have taken ADHD medication in the past, you might not have found the proper medication, as it can take time to determine a suitable treatment. Some medications may work well for others and not offer you relief. In addition, different doses may garner different effects. 

Is therapy for ADHD effective? 

Therapy is often effective in helping clients manage ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms. Therapists are trained in behavioral techniques that can be helpful alongside or instead of medication. These techniques are often designed to increase productivity, focus, and motivation in those with the condition. 

A therapist can also help clients change behaviors that may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Talk therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions target unwanted beliefs or thought patterns to change behaviors. If you don’t like a talk therapy approach, you might be able to partake in an alternative therapeutic modality like art or music therapy, which is more interactive. 

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Caffeine can exacerbate ADHD symptoms in adults and children

Alternative therapeutic options 

Some clients may avoid therapy for ADHD because it doesn’t fit their schedule, isn’t affordable, or doesn’t accommodate their needs. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be more effective. Through an online platform, clients can speak to a licensed therapist from home. 

In addition to convenience, online therapy platforms allow clients to schedule appointments at times when they may have more focus on the session. In addition, you can send thoughts to your therapist throughout the week, which may be helpful for people living with ADHD.

Several studies have shown in a systematic review that online therapy is effective in helping clients manage ADHD symptoms. In a meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials involving 261 patients with ADHD, online therapeutic interventions were more effective than a waiting list control in improving the attention deficit and social function of adults and youth with ADHD.

Takeaway

While ADHD is not curable, medication and therapy may relieve symptoms. Caffeine is sometimes used to cope with ADHD. However, it may not be effective in the long term, as it can cause side effects like gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, and insomnia. To consider your options for treatment, consider reaching out to your doctor and a therapist for further support.

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