Caffeine and ADHD: Effects, Connection, and Tips

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

Hello there 👀

Today, we’ll be talking about


Is it an evil potion made to sap your life force away with every sip? Is it a magic concoction that gives us strength and one extra reason to exist? 

Well, the answer will vary depending on who you are. But we are here to discern the TRUTH with SCIENCE. 🤓

And most importantly…we will try to figure out if coffee is any good if you have ADHD or if you should avoid t? 

It’s all a bit more complex than that, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. 

In today’s article, you will learn:

  • The Basics: What caffeine and ADHD are, and how they interact.
  • The Effects: How caffeine impacts the brain and body, particularly its potential influence on ADHD symptoms.
  • The Safe Levels: How much caffeine is considered safe and how this might vary for individuals, especially those with ADHD.
  • The Research: What current studies say about treating ADHD with caffeine and how it compares with traditional ADHD medication.
  • The Conclusion: Our final thoughts on ADHD and caffeine, including pros, cons, and key considerations.

Grab your cup of coffee (or tea, or decaf—no judgment here!), and let's start this caffeine-fueled journey. Buckle up—it's going to be a stimulating ride!

[Effects of Caffeine]How Does Caffeine Generally Affect the Body and Mind

Before we delve deep into the ADHD mines, let’s talk about caffeine in general and the specific mechanisms through which it works.

Because, let’s be honest here, most of us think that it’s just some bean juice that turns us from very eepy to not eepy, but there’s actually chemistry, science, and stuff behind all of that. 

And it’s not just to make this article more boring, I promise! 

Understanding the baseline of caffeine effects will help us explore why it sometimes works not as expected for us ADHDers. 

The Science Behind the Magic

Here's the science. When caffeine enters our bloodstream, it messes with a neurotransmitter called adenosine. It builds up throughout the day, promoting sleep and relaxation.

But when caffeine shows up, it sneaks into the adenosine receptors without activating them. It effectively blocks adenosine's access, preventing it from doing its job and thus warding off feelings of tiredness.

Caffeine is just playing a bit of a ruse here. It’s not literally giving you energy, per se, like a good night of sleep would. Instead, it makes your brain “think” that it’s not sleepy.

This is a good thing in the right circumstances and dosages, but you shouldn’t use it as a substitute for actual rest. 

The FDA suggests that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine daily - roughly equivalent to four cups of brewed coffee - is safe for most healthy adults. However, individuals' sensitivity to caffeine can vary greatly. Some people can gulp an espresso after dinner and sleep like a baby, while others will find themselves tossing and turning all night after an afternoon latte.

While caffeine is largely safe in moderate amounts, too much can lead to unpleasant side effects like:

  • restlessness, 
  • insomnia, 
  • fast heartbeat, 
  • muscle tremors,
  • nausea,
  • dehydration,
  • headaches

In other words, while caffeine can be a helpful tool, it's not something to be overused or misused.

Is It ADHD or Something Else?

And speaking of overusing caffeine. Those who lean onto its magical properties a bit too much can soon find themselves suffering from sleep deprivation. Whether it’s drinking coffee a bit too close to bedtime or just throwing your sleep schedule in a loop because of caffeine binges, sleep deprivation can lead to such symptoms as:

  • irritability,
  • forgetfulness,
  • jittering, inability to sit still,
  • emotional dysregulation

So if you’re still new to all this ADHD stuff and not quite sure if you have it or not, reach out to the professional for a proper diagnosis first. 

[Caffeine's Effect on ADHD]The Intriguing Dance: Caffeine's Impact on ADHD

Quick Refresher on ADHD and Its Symptoms

For those just tuning into the world of ADHD - first of all - welcome. 

Second of all, let’s do a quick jog down memory lane to remind us of what’s it all about. 

ADHD, short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting children and adults. Characterized by symptoms such as:

  • difficulty maintaining focus, 
  • impulsivity, 
  • hyperactivity, living
  • emotional dysregulation,

…and a lot more! Like a lot. While the majority may think that ADHD is just “you no sit good one place” syndrome, it’s a complex condition that can affect people differently. 

In fact, it’s so complex that we have an entire article dedicated to ADHD symptoms across ages and genders. 

So, check it out if you have a minute. 😉

But in any case, living with ADHD can feel like a constant battle with a chaotic whirlwind of thoughts and impulses. Some people might find their ADHD barely noticeable, while others may struggle with significant impairments in their daily life.

Caffeine's Role in ADHD

Okay, then. So what about caffeine? 

Well, if we assume that ADHD is “about the inability to sit still,” then it might seem like drinking coffee is inherently bad, right? 

It would be…if that’s everything that ADHD is. 

Instead, ADHD is a slushie of complex chemical reactions, and one of them concerns dopamine levels

You see, caffeine stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting signals in the brain that regulate movement, emotion, and feelings of pleasure. 

People with ADHD often have lower dopamine levels and trouble focusing and controlling their impulses. By boosting dopamine levels, caffeine can enhance attention and focus, helping to manage some of the symptoms of ADHD1.

But, oh, if it were so simple. Another study decided to get straight to the point with a curious hypothesis: if caffeine positively influences ADHDers, then it means that ADHDers who consume caffeine regularly should have a higher level of psychological well-being than those who don’t. 

Their results were…inconclusive. Ultimately, they found no correlation between psychological well-being and usage of caffeine. 2

So, the answer is: eh? 🤷

It seems that the more we begin to understand ADHD, the clearer it becomes that this thing is…it’s really complex, alright? Like, did you know that women experience ADHD differently than men? And because we haven’t realized that for quite a long time, many women with ADHD have lived their whole lives undiagnosed. 

Suffice to say, it will take some time for science to catch up to these revelations and newfound understandings of the condition. So, don’t expect a clear-cut answer anytime soon.

But what about anecdotal evidence, straight from the horse's mouth 🐴 if you will? 

The Anecdotal Evidence

Well, it says a lot of things! 

Looking at Reddit’s ADHD communities, it seems that ADHDers disagree about the magical properties of coffee. 

While some are eager to sing it praises to the high heavens…

…whereas others say that coffee makes them sleepy? 🧐

That sounds almost surprising! But then again, stimulants having different effects on ADHDers and non-ADHDers is not new. It’s like ADHD medication, like Adderall, which has quite a different effect on these two groups3

Whereas ADHDers will say that medication made them feel “normal” and at ease for the first time in their life, those without ADHD treat it as a kind of stimulant to give them extra focus, like their name is Bradley Cooper. 

And speaking of stimulant dosages and the interplay between ADHD meds and caffeine…

[ADHD Meds and Caffeine]Sifting Through the Research: ADHD Medication and Caffeine

Caffeine vs. ADHD

Let's delve into a more nuanced discussion in ADHD management - how do caffeine and ADHD medication stack up, and what happens when they interact?

Caffeine perks us up when we feel sluggish and boost our focus when the brain fog descends. However, it's vital to highlight that caffeine isn't in the same league as ADHD-specific medications despite its perks.

The pharmaceutical champions in this field, like Ritalin or Adderall, are crafted meticulously to tackle ADHD's complex symptoms. Their modus operandi is targeted and potent, designed to impact specific pathways in the brain to alleviate symptoms.

Caffeine has a more generalist approach. Its effects fan out across the brain, lacking the laser-focused precision of ADHD medications. It's like comparing a floodlight (caffeine) illuminating an entire area to a spotlight (ADHD medications) pinpointing a specific location.

What Happens, Then, When Caffeine And Adhd Medication Team Up?

Interestingly, some people with ADHD have found benefits in combining caffeine with their regular medication regimen. They use caffeine as an auxiliary tool for managing milder symptoms or during the periods when their medication's effects are on the wane.

But before you start brewing another pot of coffee, you must talk with your healthcare provider. Adding caffeine into the mix could lead to increased side effects, and given the uniqueness of each person's body chemistry, what works for one might not work for another.

Research on caffeine's interaction with ADHD medication is like an unfinished puzzle - we have some pieces in place, but the whole picture is yet to emerge. Personal reactions to both caffeine and ADHD medications can be as varied as our morning coffee orders, emphasizing the need for treatments tailored to individual needs.

So, where do we go from here? Be it medication, caffeine, or both, remember that the route to managing ADHD is deeply personal and should be traveled with the guidance of your healthcare provider. 

[Numo, ADHD Companion App]Making Sense of it All with Numo, ADHD Companion App

As we delve further into this topic, it seems like the best refuge for answers are fellow ADHD “enjoyers” that struggle with the same things that you do. 

And that is why we’ve created Numo.

We created Numo as a hub where fellow ADHDers can share and exchange their experiences, tips, and coping strategies. Living with ADHD can sometimes be isolating. Stigma and stereotypes might make it seem like no one truly gets you.

But it doesn’t have to be that way

Designed with the understanding that no two ADHD stories are the same, Numo is a comprehensive platform that equips you with tools and community support. 

Here’s what you’ll find inside this app:

  • ADHD Planner: It’s more than just an ordinary planner – it’s a tool that guides you through the day, helping you conquer tasks one at a time.
  • Noise Generator: For those days when the world's volume just doesn’t feel right, our noise generator lets you curate the perfect soundscape.
  • Squads and Tribes: Perhaps the most important of all of Numo’s features, squads and tribes are tightly-knit communities where you can connect with others who understand your journey, sharing experiences, advice, and celebrations. And, who knows, maybe one of fellow Numoians (I’m still workshopping the name, don’t @ me) will help you figure out your personal caffeine ADHD conundrum.
  • Knowledge Repository: A wealth of wisdom and insights about managing ADHD is at your fingertips.

While you will find your good ol’ reliable tools for managing ADHD here, we wanted to make it something more meaningful and impactful. To create a community that exists to enrich and learn from one another.

So, come along if you’d like 🤗

We will be happy to have you! 

[Conclusion]Bringing It All Together: The Bottom Line on ADHD and Caffeine

Well, that was a long trek, wasn’t it? 

I wouldn’t blame you if you had to grab a cup of coffee in the middle of reading 😉

So, just as a quick reminder, let’s look at the things we’ve learned today: 

  • Despite its stimulating properties, caffeine doesn't possess the targeted potency of ADHD-specific medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall.
  • Combining caffeine with ADHD medication could potentially aid in managing milder symptoms or periods when medication effects wane, but it must be approached with caution and medical guidance.
  • The research on caffeine's interaction with ADHD medication is still in progress - we have some insights, but the whole picture is yet to emerge fully.
  • The responses to caffeine and ADHD medications vary greatly among individuals, underlining the need for personalized treatment plans.
  • Including caffeine in your ADHD management strategy is a personal decision that must be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, considering your unique symptoms, needs, and responses.

Caffeine may be a familiar companion in your daily life, but when it comes to ADHD, it's not a magic wand. It could help manage some ADHD symptoms - yet, that's a big "could." Your experience with ADHD is unique, just like yours. What works wonders for one person might not do the trick for another.

Choosing to include caffeine in your ADHD management is a personal decision, one to be made in consultation with your healthcare provider. Remember, your ADHD journey isn't a race; there are no shortcuts. It's about understanding your needs, having patience, and being open to trial and error.

In the grand adventure that is ADHD and caffeine, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. But that's okay. As we keep exploring, researching, and learning, we're not just finding answers—we're also finding a community, a sense of understanding, and a place to be ourselves.

So, as you sip your next cup of coffee, consider this: It's not just about seeking a universal answer but discovering what works best for you. And whatever you discover, know that you don’t have to be alone on this journey. 

Whether you want some encouragement or have some extra secret hacks and strategies about mastering ADHD, you’d like to share - Numo will be happy to have you either way 😌

See you around 👋

1 - Nutrients. Effects of Caffeine Consumption on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Treatment: A Systematic Review of Animal Studies
2 - Frontiers in Psychiatry. Self-Medication of ADHD Symptoms: Does Caffeine Have a Role? 
3 - Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects - PMC (
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