ADHD Treatment How Does Caffeine Affect People With ADHD? By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Twitter Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 28, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Medically reviewed by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Facebook LinkedIn Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Cavan Images / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Caffeine? Caffeine and ADHD: Can It Help? What Is ADHD? Interaction Between Caffeine and Medications Caffeine and ADHD If you have—or suspect you have—attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may wonder about the relationship between caffeine and ADHD. Caffeine is one of the world's most popular drugs for a reason. Most people love that it helps them feel alert and focused and some people simply enjoy it for the taste. But if you have ADHD, you may be more drawn to it because caffeine and the medications used to treat ADHD all work on your dopamine system, the reward center in your brain. Here’s what you need to know about caffeine, and how it may affect people with ADHD, especially if you are also already taking stimulant medication to manage ADHD symptoms. What to Know About Caffeine Use What Is Caffeine? Caffeine is one of the most commonly used substances in the world—research shows thatmore than 85% of Americans will have at least one caffeinated drink a day. Caffeine is found in: Coffee Energy drinks Chocolate Tea Soda Caffeine is classified as a central nervous system stimulant,meaning that it's a drug that increases alertness, energy, and attention. It generally works by blocking the neural receptors that make us sleepy. Instead, the activation of these receptors creates a chain reaction that ultimately leads to producing more adrenaline, which gives you that extra boost of energy and concentration. Similar to other drugs used more recreationally, caffeine also increases the amount of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain. While caffeine can be helpful for those with ADHD, it also has diminishing returns as. For example, caffeine can increase anxiety symptoms. This may actually decrease your ability to concentrate. Also, as caffeine is a highly addictive substance, it is very possible—and common—for one to develop a tolerance for caffeine meaning they will need more to get the same effect. Excess caffeine may also lead to insomnia, resulting in fatigue. Tiredness can lead to even more issues with concentration. Additionally, coffee may lead to an increase in cortisol,the stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol have been associated with cognitive issues. Caffeine and ADHD: Can It Help? However, caffeine may be used to treat ADHD, according to some research. Tea, particularly green tea, may be beneficial. It is thought that l-theanine (an amino acid in tea), which helps with anxiety, also increases dopamine in the brain. Fifty percent of people dealing with ADHD also deal with anxiety. In children, at least, while traditional stimulant medications outperform caffeine in treating ADHD symptoms, there is still more of a benefit to using caffeine versus not. Some benefits seen include reduced hyperactivity, increased executive function, and decreased explosiveness. Caffeine can even calm children with ADHD, paradoxically. Of course, little research exists on the long-term safety of caffeine use in children. It may also depend on the medication; Ritalin (methylphenidate) appears to be much more effective than caffeine while Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) is not quite as dramatically effective as caffeine. In the three core symptoms of ADHD (attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity), methylphenidate was more effective than caffeinein reducing only hyperactivity. Amphetamines were more effective than caffeine in reducing both hyperactivity and impulsivity. Caffeine and medications seem to be about equal in effectiveness for attention. What Is ADHD? ADHD is a condition that involves inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which lead to difficulties managing behaviors and attention. It is primarily passed on through genes,though not all of those who inherit the gene will end up showing symptoms of ADHD. It is believed that people with ADHD have dysfunction within the dopamine system within their brains, leading many to seek—usually, illegal—drugs that will release dopamine. Therefore, it makes sense that people with ADHD would seek caffeine, as it both satisfies those dopamine deficiencies as well as helps with the inattention inherent in ADHD. “Caffeine [use] can often be an inadvertent or unintentional effort at self-medication in people with ADHD,” says Brit Barkholtz, MSW, LICSW. Indeed, research proves that those with undiagnosed ADHD are likely to seek out stimulants to self-medicate, including parents who take their children’s ADHD medication. Interaction Between Caffeine and Medications Most medications for ADHD, with the exception of Strattera (atomoxetine), are stimulant medications that speed up the body and brain’s processes; similarly, caffeine is also considered a stimulant drug. Since both of these substances work similarly in the body and brain, the effects of the two combined may be intensified. Additionally, both caffeine and ADHD pharmacological stimulants carry high risks of addiction, especially when taken together—and people with ADHD are already at a higher risk of substance use issues. One study puts that risk at three times more than those who don’t also deal with ADHD. However, those who take medication to treat their ADHD are less likely to develop substance use disorders. Some of the risks of combining stimulant ADHD medication and caffeine: Jitteriness/jumpinessElevated heart rate Increased blood pressureInsomnia Anxiety Benefits of Caffeine And Medication A small studyfound that in some cases, at the right dose, caffeine and ADHD medication together may actually have a synergistic effect, helping symptoms such as impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity. In these situations, one may even need less of their stimulant medication than previously thought. How Caffeine Affects People With ADHD Differently In some areas, caffeine affects people with and without ADHD similarly. However, where these paths diverge is how caffeine affects overall functioning. In one study, children with ADHD’s functioning had greater improvement with caffeine than those who didn’t have ADHD. Caffeine also seemed to make the kids with ADHD happier than it did the kids who didn’t have ADHD. Stereotypes exist of both people with ADHD and people who use caffeine bouncing off the walls, but if you’re experiencing other ADHD symptoms and you find caffeine has more of a calming and focusing effect on you than an energizing effect, that could be worth looking into, says Barkholtz. Caffeine affects everyone differently, but particularly those with ADHD, so consult with your doctor to see if caffeine use is appropriate for you or your child. If you are already using caffeine or stimulant medications, do not stop either without talking to your doctor, as withdrawal symptoms may occur. Nootropics Claim to Boost Cognitive Function, But How Legit Are They? 18 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Mitchell DC, Knight CA, Hockenberry J, Teplansky R, Hartman TJ. Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. Food Chem Toxicol. 2014;63:136-142. Nehlig A, Daval JL, Debry G. Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1992;17(2):139-170. Broderick P, Benjamin AB. Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2004;97(12):538-542. Cappelletti S, Piacentino D, Daria P, Sani G, Aromatario M. Caffeine: cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug? Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(1):71-88. Papakonstantinou E, Kechribari I, Sotirakoglou Κ, et al. Acute effects of coffee consumption on self-reported gastrointestinal symptoms, blood pressure and stress indices in healthy individuals. Nutrition Journal. 2016;15. Echouffo-Tcheugui JB, Conner SC, Himali JJ, et al. Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures: The Framingham Heart Study. Neurology. 2018;91(21):e1961-e1970. Liu K, Liang X, Kuang W. Tea consumption maybe an effective active treatment for adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Adhd). Med Hypotheses. 2011;76(4):461-463. Katzman MA, Bilkey TS, Chokka PR, Fallu A, Klassen LJ. Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry. 2017;17. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3 Eileen OC. A SIP into dangerous territory. Monitor on Psychology. Leon MR. Effects of caffeine on cognitive, psychomotor, and affective performance of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Atten Disord. 2000;4(1):27-47. doi:10.1177/108705470000400103 Schnackenberg RC. Caffeine as a substitute for Schedule II stimulants in hyperkinetic children. Am J Psychiatry. 1973;130(7):796-798. doi:10.1176/ajp.130.7.796 Franke B, Faraone SV, et al. The genetics of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults, a review. Mol Psychiatry. 2012;17(10):960-987. Blum K, Chen ALC, Braverman ER, et al. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2008;4(5):893. Daubner J, Arshaad MI, Henseler C, et al. Pharmacological neuroenhancement: current aspects of categorization, epidemiology, pharmacology, drug development, ethics, and future perspectives. Mangel SC, ed. Neural Plasticity. 2021;2021:1-27. Kessler RC, Adler L, Barkley R, et al. The prevalence and correlates of adult adhd in the united states: results from the national comorbidity survey replication. Am J Psychiatry. 2006;163(4):716-723. Biederman J. Pharmacotherapy for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) decreases the risk for substance abuse: findings from a longitudinal follow-up of youths with and without ADHD. J Clin Psychiatry. 2003;64 Suppl 11:3-8. Meredith SE, Juliano LM, Hughes JR, Griffiths RR. Caffeine use disorder: a comprehensive review and research agenda. Journal of Caffeine Research. 2013;3(3):114. doi:10.1089/jcr.2013.0016 Barry DG, Christopher DW, Sloman L. Responses to methylphenidate and varied doses of caffeine in children with attention deficit disorder. Can J Psychiatry. 1981;26(6):395-401. doi:10.1177/070674378102600602 By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for ADHD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.