A cup of coffee.

The Connection Between Caffeine and ADHD

Caffeine can help anyone stay awake and alert. People who have ADHD naturally struggle with focusing, making them more likely to need caffeine. Unfortunately, caffeine does not work for everyone and there are pros and cons to consuming it. Let’s take a look at the relation between caffeine and ADHD.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a popular stimulant. Millions of people drink caffeine daily in the form of coffee, tea and soda because it heightens their focus and alertness.

The coffee plant was discovered in ancient Ethiopia, then brought to Arabia. Starting in 13 century, they began brewing coffee the way we still do today. However, coffee did not become popular in America until 17 century. In this century came The Boston Tea Party of 1773, which made drinking tea a form of patriotism.

Caffeine is found in coffee beans, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, cocoa and some medicines. It is also artificially added to gum, jelly beans, waffles, water, syrup, marshmallows, sunflower seeds and other snacks.

Why Does Caffeine Affect ADHD

To understand how caffeine affects people with ADHD, you must first understand what dopamine is.

Dopamine is a chemical in our brains that motivates behavior. When you are actively engaged in an activity, dopamine is produced. When you are bored, dopamine levels are low. People with ADHD have lower than normal levels of dopamine, so they experience boredom often. While caffeine is not a dopamine trigger, it does interact with dopamine. Caffeine slows the rate at which dopamine is absorbed in your body, causing the affects of dopamine to last longer.

Caffeine Side Effects

If everyone drinks caffeine, how can it be so harmful?

According to Poison Control Centers, in the United States in 2016, 3,702 caffeine related over doses were reported. Of those over doses, 846 ended with someone in the hospital.

Side effects of caffeine include:

  • Migraines or headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent urination
  • Upset stomach
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

These side effects might only occur if you consume too much caffeine. However, everyone’s limit is different. The average adult can safely consume 400mg of coffee, or about eight cups of brewed tea.

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Caffeine Benefits

The following benefits are based on reviews of studies, data and the personal experiences of people.

Benefits of caffeine might include:

  • Short-term memory boost
  • Reduced risk of suicide
  • Reduced risk of death
  • Decreased risk of type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and stroke
  • Decreased risk of liver cancer and other cancers

Most caffeine research is used with tea and coffee.

The Pros and Cons of Caffeine for ADHD

Listed below are some things to keep in mind about caffeine for people who have ADHD; the good, the bad and the ugly.


  • Enhances focus
  • Can soothe nerves
  • Can clear up brain fog


  • Does not work for everyone
  • Does not target specific regions of the brain like stimulant
  • medications, which may result in a mix of good and bad effects

  • Finding the right dose of caffeine for your unique body will take trial and error, similar to finding the right dose of medication
  • Can worsen anxiety symptoms (47% of adults with ADHD have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder)
  • Might have zero effect if you are already taking stimulant ADHD medication
  • High levels of caffeine can prevent children from growing and sleeping
  • Risk of addiction
  • Can cause stimulant overload if taken with stimulant ADHD medication

An Analysis

In general, caffeine is not recommended to be consumed by people with ADHD. If you want to take caffeine, do so only if you do not have an anxiety disorder and your ADHD medication is not working for you. Speak to a doctor first.

In some cases, one or two cups of coffee can make people with ADHD sleepy or bounce off the walls. To benefit from caffeine, you must consume the right amount. This can be challenging for anybody and impossible for certain individuals because of the way the human body metabolizes caffeine. Not all people who have ADHD will be able to use it to their advantage. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently.

Only adults should use caffeine. Children should never be given caffeine as an alternative to ADHD prescription medication. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children under the age of 12 years should not eat or drink any caffeinated foods or drinks. The Food and Drug Administration says parents should talk to a pediatrician before giving caffeine to a child.