The research findings on whether caffeine makes an ADHDer’s day better or worse, are so varied, that ultimately only you can tell whether your coffee/tea is helping you.

Caffeine increases dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine keeps us focussed, energetic, motivated and happy. The most common ways we consume caffeine is in energy drinks, coca cola, chocolate (white has the least, dark has the most), coffee and many teas. It’s considered that up to 4-5 cups of coffee per day is safe for consumption (for adults) without it increasing heart rate, causing sleep problems, bowel problems, migraines, irritability and restlessness. So, let’s assume that is what we’re talking about as a starting point and let’s put the unhealthy levels of sugar found in some of these drinks to one side for now – there’s only so much we can cover in one post, after all!

Then we add in neurotype. Some neurodivergent people, ADHDers in particular, find that a safe level of caffeine consumption helps us to focus – hurrah for that! It is thought that caffeine, as a stimulant, replicates a similar effect to prescription drugs given to treat the more negative symptoms of ADHD, such as inability to focus, anxiety and hyperactivity. So that’s a definite potential benefit.

Then, however, we have to add in individual differences. Let’s not forget that we are only as alike as any two neurotypical people. So what works for one may be detrimental to another. Some ADHDers just couldn’t imagine getting through the day without caffeine unless they were going to accept that chaos would finally reign unchallenged. Some find it makes no difference whatsoever. Some find that the sleeplessness they incur just isn’t worth the gain in increased attention. Others, like me, have about a thirty minute window of hyperfocus, after one tea or coffee, then a feeling of sedation, followed by an overwhelming need to sleep, followed by actual sleep!

Finally, we need to consider whether we are already on prescription drugs, either for ADHD or to treat conditions such as depression. If we are, adding caffeine to the equation can cause a dangerous cocktail. The similarity between caffeine and ADHD drugs mean that we’re effectively receiving double our prescribed dose. That means potentially double the heart palpitations, double the tremors, the insomnia, the restlessness, the headaches. Anxiety drugs, such as Sertraline, come with the warning to avoid caffeine, as it can completely wipe out the positive effects of the anxiety medication.

Other ways of increasing dopamine levels

If we are already on medication, prescribed for ADHD, it is only sensible to speak to our prescribing clinician to ask their thoughts on whether adding caffeine to the mix has potential for good or bad. If we’re undiagnosed, self-diagnosed, hooked on caffeine already, I suppose the best way to test this is to try (if we can) to have days with and days without, and see whether we notice a difference in our productivity and feeling of calm. Alternatively, we can increase our exercise regime – exercise also increases dopamine levels, as do certain foods (nuts, dark chocolate and eggs, for instance), massage and meditation. All of these are worth experimenting on on different days to our caffeine experiments!

It’s a really interesting area of research as it’s counterintuitive and there is no one solution for all of us. I’d love to have your experiences on whether caffeine plays a positive role in your life, particularly as if you are an ADHDer. You can send me an email via the Share page.