Caffeine and ADHD

Can caffeine be used as a natural alternative to ADHD medication?

The active part of caffeine is methylxanthine is a mild stimulant that activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter. Dopamine plays a part in motor control and a low dopamine level is believed to be the cause of Parkinson’s disease which effect patients ability to control their movement. Another notable effect of caffeine is that it reduces the blood flow in the brain. This is similar to the effect of ADHD medications, such as Ritalin, that are stimulants, effect dopamine levels and cerebral blood flow. The cognitive effects of caffeine are also similar to ADD / ADHD medication. It makes users better a rapidly processing information and paying attention.

Studies on non-ADHD school children and caffeine are mixed. A 1987 study on Kindergarden children found no noticeable effect where as a 1994 on prepubertal children found that it did improve attention and manual dexterity. On children with ADD / ADHD the results are bit more promising. A 1973 pilot study used two cups of coffee a day as an alternative for medications and the results were promising. In 1981 caffeine was used as an alternative and as a supplement to medication. It found that caffeine in low dosage had the same effect as 10 mg of methylphenidate.

The health risks for long-term caffeine used are better understood that those of Ritalin. Mild levels of caffeine consumption, up to 400 mg for an adult male, 300 mg for a adult female and 2.5 mg per kilo for a child, is considered safe. There is evidence of a dependence on caffeine for heavy users with symptoms such as headaches when withdrawing from it. Very large amounts of caffeine can induce heart attacks and is associated with hand tremors.

For guidance, in a cup of coffee (5 US fluid ounces) there is 85 mg of caffeine for ground coffee, 60 mg for instant and 3 mg for decaffeinated. In the same sized cup of tea there is 30 mg. Cola’s have 18 mg per 6 US fluid ounce serving. A can of Red Bull contains 80 mg. As a comparison, many of the studies reference in this article used 250 mg of caffeine, the equivalent to 3 cups of fresh coffee.

It is likely that trying to replace large doses of ADHD medication with similar large doses of caffeine is likely to produce undesirable side effects. As a replacement for moderate doses of ADD / ADHD medication, caffeine may have some value. Caffeine’s effect does seem to be dependent on the user (a feature of ADHD medication as well) so your mileage may vary. Be aware that there is also large amounts of hidden caffeine in soft drinks, sweets and cold medicines so it is worth monitoring your current caffeine intake.

Previously on Myomancy
Stim Nation: Forget Ritalin, Drink Coffee
ADHD and Obesity
ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 1
ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 2

ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 3

Effects of methylphenidate on regional brain glucose metabolism in humans: relationship to dopamine D2 receptors
The acute effect of methylphenidate on cerebral blood flow in boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Caffeine and human cerebral blood flow: a positron emission tomography study.
The effects of caffeine on two computerized tests of attention and vigilance
Effects of caffeine on classroom behavior, sustained attention, and a memory task in preschool children.
Caffeine effects on learning, performance, and anxiety in normal school-age children.
Caffeine as a Substitute for Schedule II Stimulants in Hyperkinetic Children
query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=7028238&dopt=Abstract”>Responses to methylphenidate and varied doses of caffeine in children with attention deficit disorder.
Caffeine consumption.
Effects of caffeine on human health


  • Chip Russell says:

    My 8 year old grandson had been on one of the newer Class II amphetamine drugs and had experienced rapid heart beat, a symptom of that drug. We had some XS Energy root beer drinks and started to give this to him in the morning with his breakfast. It has Protein sourced from freeform amino acids along with caffeine, ginseng and NO sugar.

    His behavior at school and grades has improved noticeably! We are so pleased as the Dr. wanted to discontinue the drug (which we were relieved) so we substituted the energy drink instead. It is helping and he is no longer on the powerful drug. It was such a concern and we are so happy he is off the drug!!! Here is a link if you would like to try it.

    Hope it helps your situation as it has helped my grandson!

  • Tony says:

    In my experience, caffeine is effective in low doses for children. There are a few exceptions to this, if you or your child have bipolar disorder, caffeine and ritalin combined or alone can induce mania. Sometimes Wellbutrin (bupropion) can be helpful. There is a small risk of seizures with wellbutrin, but usually for someone with ADHD and Bipolar Disorder combined, an anti-seizure drug combined with bupropion can be helpful.

  • beth says:

    i am doing my senior project on the positive effects of caffiene on people who suffer from ADD/ADHD. if you have any proven information that you can share with me you could email me at

    please provide the website or place you got your info from..thank you.

  • Adrian says:

    Caffeine is the active chemical in coffee. Caffeine is a methylxanthine along with similar chemicals. Correct your little mistake and have a nice day. 😉

  • lynn says:

    I have poured over these articles and I am amazed at how many of you out there have the same challenges.
    Caffiene? My 8 year old son is now on his 4th different med for adhd combined with odd and he has terrible neck jerk-like tics. The peadiatrician thought the risperidaone would calm the concerta side effects down. It did for about 3 weeks but he is now suffering again.
    I am going to definitly try coffee with coffee mate or something to make it palatable for my son!! The meds just don’t help him!
    I’ll keep you all posted.

What are your personal experiences with ADD / ADHD, autism or dyslexia?