Does Caffeine Make ADHD Worse? (Or Better?)

Updated on August 8, 2023
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
does caffeine really make adhd worse?

Does caffeine really make ADHD worse?

Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be challenging, and many individuals are constantly seeking ways to manage their symptoms effectively. One widely discussed topic is the potential impact of caffeine on ADHD. 

Caffeine is known for its stimulant properties, but does it make ADHD worse or better?

In this article, we will explore the interaction between caffeine and ADHD and examine the scientific evidence surrounding this topic.

Understanding ADHD and Caffeine Interaction

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

On the other hand, caffeine is a natural stimulant nootropic that is commonly found in coffee, tea, caffeinated energy drinks, sodas, and chocolate.

Additionally, you can get caffeine in medically regulated doses from premium caffeine capsules online

We all know what it feels like to clear brain fog with that morning cup of coffee, but how does caffeine really affect the brain? And how does caffeine actually help people with ADHD to focus?

The relationship between ADHD and caffeine is complex and not fully understood. Research on this topic has yielded mixed results.Vázquez, Javier C et al. “Effects of Caffeine Consumption on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Treatment: A Systematic Review of Animal Studies.” Nutrients vol. 14,4 739. 10 Feb. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14040739)) While some individuals treat ADHD with caffeine because it helps them improve focus and concentration, others experience increased anxiety and restlessness and are advised to use other methods.(1)

Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system and increasing dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter responsible for cognitive functions such as:

  • Pleasure and euphoria
  • Focus and attention
  • Energy increases and movement

This mechanism of action is similar to that of stimulant medications commonly used in the treatment of ADHD. 

Dr. DiSalvo states, “It’s keeping the doors blocked while the real party animals of the brain [neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate] do what they love to do.

The amount of caffeine that is considered safe varies depending on age and individual tolerance. The Mayo Clinic recommends a maximum intake of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for adults, which is approximately equivalent to four cups of coffee.

Overall, there is a potential for caffeine to positively affect adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is being researched to further understand how it works as a nootropic to aid in ADHD management.

The Potential Impact of Caffeine on ADHD

The impact of the central nervous system stimulant (CNS) caffeine and ADHD varies among individuals. While some people with ADHD find the nootropic caffeine (trimethyl xanthine) beneficial for ADHD management, others experience a worsening of their symptoms. It's crucial to monitor your body's reaction to coffee or caffeine supplements.

Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if it is beneficial or detrimental to your ADHD treatment.

The impact of caffeine on ADHD symptoms is a topic that has been studied extensively, but the results are mixed. Some studies suggest that caffeine may have positive effects on cognitive function, such as enhancing processing speed and improving memory in adults and the elderly.

However, the data regarding children with ADHD is less conclusive.(2)

Positively, caffeine has shown the potential to improve certain ADHD symptoms, primarily in terms of focus and attention. Research suggests that caffeine acts as a mild stimulant, promoting wakefulness and alertness, which can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD who often struggle with inattentiveness.

Moreover, it has been found that caffeine can enhance cognitive performance and reduce fatigue, leading to enhanced focus and improved productivity in some cases.

However, it should be noted that caffeine's impact on ADHD symptoms can also have negative consequences. Excessive caffeine consumption may exacerbate restlessness and hyperactivity, two common symptoms associated with ADHD.

Some individuals with ADHD may already experience restlessness, and consuming caffeine can intensify these symptoms, making it challenging to manage their impulsivity and maintain a calm state.

Furthermore, caffeine's effects are not universal, and individuals with ADHD might respond differently due to various factors, such as caffeine sensitivity and individual brain chemistry. It is important for each person to monitor their own response to caffeine and make informed decisions about its consumption.

Expert Opinions on Caffeine and ADHD

According to a recent review, caffeine could be an effective active treatment for adult ADHD symptoms like attention deficits, depression, and fatigue. 

The ADDtitude Magazine reports, "The effects of caffeine consumption on ADHD remain largely anecdotal. The stimulant calms some people while increasing anxiety in others. However, many parents and adults with ADHD, (and some studies) report light to moderate caffeine use as a way to help boost focus and concentration."

The therapeutic arsenal for ADHD is limited, and there is controversy surrounding the use of some medications. That's why it's useful to study the efficacy of other substances such as caffeine.

Caffeine treatment has been found to improve attention, learning, memory, and olfactory discrimination in animal models of ADHD without altering blood pressure and body weight.(3)

The data on the effects of caffeine on hyperactivity and impulsivity suggest that it may not be suitable for individuals with ADHD who have these particular symptoms.

However, it could be a potential option for those with attentional deficits.

Caffeine differs from other stimulants used in ADHD treatment in its mechanism of action, and it could provide a safe and beneficial alternative for managing ADHD symptoms in individuals who don't tolerate or benefit from standard medications.

Experts emphasize the need for additional tools in the ADHD treatment toolbox, such as approved medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Dr. Mark Stein says, "For those with subclinical ADHD or mild ADHD symptoms, caffeine could play a role. However, caution should be used in generalizing safety and efficacy data from animal studies to humans with ADHD who have both symptoms and impairment in their functioning."

Interactions Between Caffeine and ADHD Medication

When it comes to combining caffeine with ADHD medication, such as Adderall, caution is advised. Both caffeine and ADHD medication are stimulants that affect the brain and the central nervous system. 

While small amounts of caffeine may not worsen the side effects of ADHD medication, it is not recommended to consume coffee or high amounts of caffeine while taking nootropics like Adderall.

However, some individuals use alternatives to Adderall that are non-amphetamine-based.

In these cases, it is possible to combine your medications with other nootropic stimulants. It's advised that you speak with your doctor if you would like to use caffeine supplements in conjunction with your current ADHD medications. 

Conclusion: Does Caffeine Make ADHD Worse?

The question of whether caffeine makes ADHD worse or better does not have a straightforward answer.

Here are some key points to consider:

  1. While studies suggest that caffeine may have some benefits for managing ADHD symptoms, it is not recommended as a first-line treatment and should be used with caution and under medical supervision.
  2. Further research is needed to better understand the effects of caffeine on ADHD and to determine its efficacy as a treatment option.
  3. The impact of caffeine on ADHD symptoms can vary depending on individual differences and personal factors. While some individuals may experience temporary benefits from caffeine, others may find that it exacerbates their symptoms or leads to unwanted side effects.
  4. Consuming too much caffeine will lead to unwanted side effects, so correct dosage is vital

Ultimately, it is essential to approach caffeine consumption as a medication for ADHD management with caution. Listen to your body and seek professional advice to ensure you understand the correct way to use this nootropic to treat the symptoms of ADHD.