If You Have ADHD, What You Should Know About Caffeine

Affecting over 8% of children and 2.5% of adults, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by three main symptoms: impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, according to the American Psychiatric Association. While the cause of the disorder is not entirely known, scientists believe it's likely that ADHD is genetically linked or influenced by certain external factors during pregnancy.

Standard treatment for both children and adults with ADHD is behavioral management and prescription stimulant medications. Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo told mindbodygreen that the way stimulant medications work for ADHD is they boost the level of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain by slowing down its reabsorption, and thereby promote increased focus.

If stimulant medications can enhance mental focus for people with ADHD, is it possible that foods and beverages high in caffeine, a chemical that stimulates the central nervous system (per WebMD), can do the same? Before you consider that fresh brewed coffee and chocolate, here's what you'll need to know first.

Caffeine may worsen ADHD symptoms in these cases

According to nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo via mindbodygreen, "Modest amounts of caffeine have been shown to help improve focus, stimulate the mind, and clear brain fog." Still, experts caution that caffeine may exacerbate ADHD symptoms in people who are diagnosed with ADHD and another mental health disorder like anxiety. 

Furthermore, consuming caffeine while taking prescribed ADHD stimulant medications could cause health issues from overstimulation, including heart palpitations, tremors, or insomnia (per Vista Pines Health). And yet, Verywell Mind reports that some ADHD stimulant medications may prove effective in combination with caffeine, so it's always best to consult with a doctor first.

In addition to mental health comorbidities and medications, age plays a role when it comes to caffeine consumption and ADHD. While consuming caffeine is generally considered safe for adults with ADHD, it can be dangerous for children and adolescents (via Healthline).

Lastly, if you're an adult diagnosed with ADHD and coffee seems to be making your condition worse, try switching to tea. A 2011 study published in Medical Hypotheses found that caffeine from tea boosted alertness and concentration in adults with ADHD.