ADHD and Caffeine

Do you start every morning off with a cup of coffee? Do you then have a second cup or maybe a soda or tea a few hours later as an afternoon pick me up? A lot of us do. Caffeine comes in all sorts of delicious beverages and foods, and it greatly improves attention during the work day. However you consume it, caffeine is a common staple in most of our diets, so much so that a lot of people feel as though they can’t get through the day without it. There seems to be a Starbucks on every corner for a reason!

As most people know, too much caffeine intake isn’t great for our bodies. There’s normally a sweet spot of consumption that we have to attain in order to feel alert and not sick or overly stimulated. But how does caffeine affect people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? If you have ADHD, is it a good idea to consume caffeine at all? These questions are important to explore in a world that relies heavily on caffeine.

Caffeine and Dopamine

Caffeine is a stimulant, which causes it to increase the brain’s production of dopamine. Because stimulants are prescribed to people with ADHD to calm symptoms due to low dopamine levels in the brain, researchers have often questioned whether or not caffeine helps with the treatment of ADHD. While some studies and medical hypotheses have found that caffeine, namely in tea consumption, can strengthen concentration in patients with ADHD, caffeinated beverages alone are not as effective as prescription medications specifically for ADHD such as Adderall and Ritalin.

Caffeine may mimic some of the effects of stronger amphetamine and dextroamphetamine stimulant drugs, but overall, it is not considered an effective ADHD treatment method. In addition, caffeine consumption is generally safe for adults, but too much can actually harm children and teens. This is yet another reason that caffeine is not a viable treatment option as it could be helpful in regards to adult ADHD, but it would leave out a large portion of the population that is affected by ADHD overall.

Caffeine’s Stimulant Effects

As a stimulant, one of the main side effects of caffeine can be sleep disturbances or even insomnia, especially in those who already have trouble sleeping. Sleep deprivation can elicit symptoms that are similar to ADHD symptoms such as irritability, increased forgetfulness, inattention, trouble sitting still and difficulty controlling emotions. Lack of sleep can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD that those who have it may already experience even after a good night’s sleep.

This isn’t to say that people with ADHD shouldn’t consume caffeine at all, more so that they, along with everyone else, need to be mindful of how and when they’re consuming it. It is recommended that people with ADHD only have caffeine in the morning and that they also avoid coffee, tea, soda energy drinks, and even chocolate in the evening and at night.

Overconsumption Risks

According to the Mayo Clinic, heavy caffeine use or what would be considered too much caffeine is four or more cups of coffee a day, or 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine. For anyone, not just those who have ADHD, consuming too much caffeine can cause issues such as anxiety, jitteriness, an increased heart rate, muscle shakes or tremors, irritability, headaches, and a range of digestive issues. Similar to caffeine and sleep deprivation, the symptoms caused by over-consuming caffeine may be heightened in those with ADHD.

In addition, medication combinations are difficult to control. Someone who takes a prescribed amphetamine or dextroamphetamine medication for ADHD and also consumes caffeine can essentially experience a double dose of side effects from both the caffeine and/or ADHD medication. To quell these symptoms whether you are on ADHD medication or not, it is recommended to always consume caffeine with food in your stomach.

Do What Works for You

Having ADHD doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to completely cut out all forms of caffeine, and caffeine does have some positive effects on our minds and bodies. As with anything else, the amount of caffeine you should consume depends on you, your body and your lifestyle. While there are general guidelines as to how much caffeine is too much along with how and when we should consume it, whether or not you should consume caffeine if you have ADHD depends on multiple factors.

  1. Be on the lookout for symptoms. If you start to experience health problems such as increased or abnormal levels of anxiety, jitteriness, muscle shakes, irritability, headaches, a rapid heart rate or an upset stomach, it may be a sign that you’re consuming too much caffeine.
  2. Always be careful when mixing stimulants. If you’re on any type of medication for ADHD, you may have to consider cutting down your caffeine intake.
  3. Consult a healthcare provider. If you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms or you begin a new medication, talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not caffeine consumption is okay for your given situation. The best solution is always to work with a professional to determine what works best for you.

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