Overtime, many of my clients diagnosed with ADHD have asked me whether it is a good idea to drink coffee. Some of them claimed that coffee and other caffeinated drinks help them calm down, focus, and concentrate. So, before giving any advice, I decided to look at some data and research regarding this issue. And this is what I found.
In general, caffeine is one of the most widespread psychotropic substances in the world. Research shows that caffeine exerts multiple effects on the brain and thereby has been found to modulate aspects of cognition, including attention, in animal models and in healthy human volunteers. (1)
So what happens in your brain when you have your cup of coffee? In simple words, caffeine is a stimulant. It stimulates the body’s central nervous system, and boosts the brain’s production of a neurochemical known as dopamine, which controls the ability to focus and maintain concentration. If you are struggling with ADHD symptoms, your dopamine levels are likely to be too low, so adding stimulants, such as caffeine, can get the levels just right. Dopamine is also involved in regulating pleasure and movement, giving you that lovely feeling of excitement, such as when you smell a delicious food. (2) In addition, caffeine stimulates the production of the hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline signals your body to be on alert and ready for action. As a result, you feel more awake and alert to your surroundings (3).
However, there are also other facts not to be ignored, especially if you are using caffeine as an alternative to medication. Based on research findings published on PubMed (a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics), there are trials comparing caffeine to other simulative drugs typically used in a treatment of ADHD.
In one comparison, 20mg of methylphenidate (Ritalin) was found to be superior to 160mg of caffeine. In another trial, seventeen children who had positively responded to stimulant drugs were trialed on placebo, or two different doses of caffeine. Caffeine didn’t have any statistically significant effects on behavioral measures. In a trial comparing amphetamines to 600mg caffeine daily, plus amphetamines, caffeine was reported to provide incremental benefit, but side effects were noted. A double-blind crossover examination of caffeine, methylphenidate, and dextroamphetamine in 29 children concluded that while the two stimulants had meaningful effects, caffeine was indistinguishable from placebo. (4)
However, other research suggest that the doses of caffeine may have been too low to have a consistent effect. In other words, if caffeine proves useful, it “would represent a qualitative increment over the traditional repeated use of psychostimulants, which can have severe side effects if repeatedly used in children.” (5)
So, what can we safely conclude. Caffeine appears to be beneficial for some adults and even children with ADHD. Some people find that caffeine helps to manage their symptoms, while others find that it doesn’t offer any benefit at all, or even makes their focus worse. Pay attention to your body and your response. If your cup of coffee seems to calm you down and help you focus, then by all means use it as an effective treatment. However, you must keep in mind, that it is still an addictive stimulant and be very cautious, especially if given to children.
Some rules to follow:
- Even if caffeine seems effective for you, don’t replace therapy with it. You still need to learn good, effective coping skills to help you manage your symptoms. If in doubt, consult your physician. If you are currently taking psychotropic medication, don’t quit and replace your meds with coffee. You must be very careful about reducing or coming off your medication and always consult on this with your doctor.
- Always buy organic! Conventional coffee beans are full of pesticide and herbicides. Also, ideally you should purchase whole beans, not ground. Whole beans stay fresh longer while retaining their nutrients.
- Don’t overdo it. Drinking too much coffee may trigger anxiety, irritability, and jitteriness as well as disrupt your sleeping patterns. As a general rule, you should stop drinking coffee after 2:00 pm to avoid sleep disturbances. Coffee is also highly acidic and can upset your GI tract if drank in high amounts.
- Try to avoid creamers and sweeteners, or only use very limited amounts. Sugars and chemicals cause inflammation in the body and brain.
Sources for this article:
- Ioannidis, Chamberlain, Müller. Ostracizing caffeine from the pharmacological arsenal for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder–was this a correct decision? A literature review. J Psychopharmacol. 2014 Sep;28(9):830-6. PubMed: 24989644
- “National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drug Facts: Cocaine” Link Here
- “is Coffee Good or Bad for You?” Link Here
- “Caffeine for ADHD” Link Here
- Cunha, R. A. et al. Potential therapeutic interest of adenosine A2A receptors in psychiatric disorders. Current Pharmaceutical Design, Vol. 14, 2008, pp. 1512-24.