ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

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


  1. John Mav

    Hi, you can call me, Mav

    I have happened to be a heavy caffeinated soda drinker. I probably needed it to counteract my side effects of my psychotrophic medications.

    My mother strongly advises me to quit caffeine. I wanted to do that, but I think I would need to have a doctor to reduce my medication.

    Any comments or ideas?

  2. Hi Mav,

    You need to speak to a doctor about your medications but reducing your caffine intake is a good idea. It can affect sleep patterns which in turn can affect your mental state.

    Try reducing your intake gradually over a number of weeks. Your caffine habit didn’t start over night so don’t expect it to dissappear over night either.


  3. Dawn

    Are there any parents who have tried caffiene as an alternative to prescription medication for ADD? My 8 year old son was recently diagnosed. After a bad experience with meds, we are searching for alternatives and may try caffiene.

  4. Yes, I use it with my 10 year old ADD/ADHD daughter in the afternoons to help with homework. She takes Strattera during the day but it plays out at about 3:00. I tried Ritalin (only in afternoons)but the dosage that helps w/homework and frustration over homework keeps her up at night. I’ve had good luck with caffeine tablets and the neurologist said to use whatever seems to work. I even give it to her on Friday nights when we go shopping and out to eat. She also has a Sensory Processing Disorder and it seems to calm her down for the shopping trips. In addition, I give her caffeine in the morning about 20 minutes before we get her up for school as it helps her to focus on getting ready for school. Hope this helps.

  5. pamela

    I was diagnosed with moderate to severe adhd at the age of 6 in kindegarten by a clinical psychologist and Medical Doctor. I began treatment of adhd with ritalin which caused severe ticks, loss of apetite, and loss of sleep. I took that medication for 10 years, and then switched to adderall. I became much more irritable with adderall, but lost the tick, and was able to sleep and eat better. i stopped taking adderall or any other medication when i was 16 because I felt like i needed to try to control my own life. The withdrawal was severe, and i went through several weeks unable to control my thoughts, or thought patterns. Then i began to regain a little bit of control, and started drinking coffee. i am now in my third year of college, made the deans list last semester, and am doing well with the caffeine treatment method so far. down the road i will probably need medication, but for now 3 or 4 cups a day seems to do the trick! only side effect, i get occasional withdrawal headaches from time to time.

    hope this helped some people!

  6. RyanW

    I am adhd and i was put on ridaline(spl) that stuff is bad. I have been using caffeine for about 11yrs now to slow me down. It works. I can focus. I have a family and it works in about 35-40min with the kids.(mountain dew). They seem to slow down and focus more. There has been a few less injuries between the kids since i have tried. I drink about 40oz of soda a day.
    The only down side is the one listed in the previous post. The headaches. Simple solution to normal caffeine headaches is water. But my life has been much better with those stupid pills. I actually have a life without that stuff. Should have been noticed sooner is all i can say. I shake and bite by nails and have a 5 graders hand writting. Im 23yrs old. caffeine is a better solution.

  7. Anthony

    A comment about the soda intake.. processed sugars are REALLY bad for anyone (they do crazy things to blood sugar levels and can lead to some health and weight issues), and they are especially bad for ADHD sufferers. I think unsweetened coffee would give better results and would be much, much healthier for you. Coffee’s a really great substance all around.

  8. Kay

    Just wondering, Kathy on March 28, how much caffeine you give your 10 year old? Are you using no-doze? I’m wondering about it for myself. I don’t really want to drink pop–carobonation and sugar. I’d like to try the least amount possible that could be effective. I don’t drink coffee either, so I don’t really want to start that.

    Thanks for your input.

  9. Kathleen

    Wow! I never knew, my daughter was recently diagnosed with dyslexia which is closely tied with ADHD, and her specialist recommended caffiene to help her “calm down” I thought she was off her rocker!! But I have a little brother who went through the ritalin horror and was bound and determined no mater HOW bad any of my children ever had it I would NEVER put any of my children through that. I had ADHD (undiagnosed) growing up and life was rough, but I did okay. NOW I’m a mom with kids with a different set of problems and learning about a whole NEW disorder! Caffiene… yes I’m curious how much to start out with, and I like a few others do NOT want to hype my children up with sugary sodas which are bad for other reasons (like the cardonation is BAD for your teeth plus the sugars blah blah blah, let’s just say it’s BAD for you) and I think my 7 yr old is a little young for lattés (plus to sweeten them up to her taste would require sugar… so we’re back to the BAD sugar thing) SO the specialist recommended no-dose as well. Any advice would be helpful!

  10. Naomi

    I have a three 3 and a half year old and I have noticed that when he drinks just a little of my coffee in the morning he seems to be better adjusted. I have been told he exibits symtoms of add I realy dont know alot about it. I know that at his age I dont want him to be labled. I grew up whith dyslexia and have had many obsticals and just dont want my son to go thru the same. He has trouble with language and he wont sit still to read a book or to do anything. I know he is three it just has been getting worse and wonder if I can do something now to help with his hyperactivity. Any suggestions will help

  11. Bobby

    My question is how can one reduce or suppress the effect of adderall. I heard a series of approaches one is to drink warm milk since programs your brain to release melatonin. I also heard for some people caffeine cancels out the effect of adderall; is this true?

  12. Judy

    I was also informed about using caffeine as an alternate to medication for an adhd child. Does anyone have a daily recommended amount? I started my child with the mini cans (8oz) Mountain Dews, last week. Is Coffee or soda better for their stomachs? Either way you have to sweeten the coffee to make it desirable, and I’m not a coffee drinker myself. If coffee gives better results, then what brand is more desirable to kids?
    Any advice is appreciated.

  13. Mr. Brown

    Hey there
    As you probably all know, ADHD Medication reduces blood flow to the brain. I have studied body motabolism for some time now and it has shockingly come to my suprize that prossesed foods such as lunch meats hot dogs canned ham and so on, are so high in preservs bad fats that the body takes to long to digest them and in turn forses the bodies natural alcohol levels to increase thus decreases the bodies abilaty to sinthasize and maintane proper vitamin and oxigen absorption . Simply put, feed your child Quality foods, and you will all see for your selves, a change in your childs behavour. The body is like a machine and if it breakes down you cant just tape it up you need to dig deeper and get to the heart if the problem and fix it, to ensure maximum performance and prevent futer break down.

  14. Mr. Brown

    Hey there
    As you probably all know, ADHD Medication reduces blood flow to the brain, scary huh. Well I have studied body motabolism for some time now and it has shockingly come to my suprize that prossesed foods such as lunch meats hot dogs canned ham and so on, are so high in preservs bad fats that the body takes to long to digest them and in turn forses the bodies natural alcohol levels to increase thus decreases the bodies abilaty to sinthasize and maintane proper vitamin and oxigen absorption . Simply put, feed your child Quality foods, and you will all see for your selves, a change in your childs behavour. The body is like a machine and if it breakes down you cant just tape it up you need to dig deeper and get to the heart if the problem and fix it, to ensure maximum performance and prevent futer break down.

  15. I drink coffee every day. I am 43 and don’t have ADHD. I am addicted to Coffee Mate French Vanilla in my coffee. I accidentally bought sugar free the other day and it doesn’t taste too bad. I came to this sight considering letting my 8 year old son try caffeine instead of drugs. I think he would drink the sugar free version. He loves Mountain Dew but I don’t like the idea of all the sugar either.

  16. betsy

    My son has ADHD 15 1/2 year old he has ADHD FORM then age of 5. Know he don’t want to drink his medication he likes to drink red bull. I want to know is that good for him

  17. Dana LeAnne

    Hi, I was just wondering if you could tell me what would happen if I gave my daughter (who has serious AD/HD) caffeine. I wanted to know if it would actually calm her down,instead of making her more hyper.

  18. Jeremy

    As person with ADHD, there are some very important facts that this article has gotten wrong that need to be clarified. First of all, ADHD medication does not reduce blood flow to the brain. Having ADHD is what reduces blood flow to your brain. In particular, when people with ADHD try to concentrate on a task, blood flow to brain areas involved in concentration decreases, which is what causes the difficulty in focusing and paying attention. Medications, such as methylphenidate, increase blood flow to these areas which is why they are able to improve focus. If you don’t believe it, just think about it for a second. How could your brain function better when less blood is traveling to it? That means it would be receiving less oxygen and other nutrients, so it does not make sense that ADHD medications would do that.

    What is correct is that medication alone is not the answer. Children with ADHD need much more than just ritalin or adderall to be successful, but in addition to other services it can help a lot. Also, there are a variety of ADHD medications that have different reactions in different people, so if the first try doesn’t work, you need to talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose or the medication to find the one that’s right for you. If your cholesterol medication didn’t work the first time you would try another one, you wouldn’t just stop taking it. Furthermore, many people’s ADHD subsides as they get older and they can stop taking medication. As you get older your body responds differently as well so if you do take medication it is likely that it will change during your life. I have had my less than desirable experiences with ritalin as well, so my doctor changed the amount that I took and the problems ended.

    Stimulants have been used since the 1940s to treat ADHD (before it was even called ADHD). It’s your choice to use or not use them to treat your condition, but don’t rule them out because your friend’s friend’s cousin didn’t like it.

  19. myomancy


    Re: Blood flow & the brain

    I suggest you read up on caffeine’s effect on adenosine and adenosine role in dilating or constricting blood vessels. Your understanding of how the brain, caffeine and stimulants work is incomplete.


  20. Holly

    We have not had our seven year old son tested for ADHD, but it is obvious that he has it (though, I think fairly mild). We are extremely hesitant to use medication, and so we thought we’d see what a bit of coffee does for him. So, yesterday morning we gave him a little over 1/2 a cup (with a little milk and about 1/4 tsp. sugar), and he had the best day ever. He was calm, in control and felt great. This morning we thought would be a real test…Sunday School. He always gets himself in “trouble” for not sitting still (well, you all know). He was perfect. Even the kid that normally tattles on him said he was really really good. During story time he actually just sat there and listened, while the other boys were squirming around. This is amazing…his worst times are with other kids in these situations. I am dumbfounded that a bit of coffee can do this…he was even sleepy on the way home! I have always kept caffeine away from my kids. If they drink any soda at all (and that’s about 3 cans a month) it’s always caffeine free. I have noticed that in the past that it never seemed to make him hyper, though. I don’t know how it works exactly, but this is what we are going to keep doing…I’d much rather him have 4-5 oz. of coffee in the morning than ritalin. Just hope it keeps working.
    I’m just waiting for people to ask what’s making the difference and for me to tell them caffeine…they’ll think I’m crazy…You’re giving THAT KID caffeine?

  21. jen

    my son is 8 years old and has severe adhd and has had symptoms of it all his life. he was diagnosed at 6 with it. he has struggled in school with grades and behavior since kindergarten, he’s now in 3rd grade. he also has tourette syndrome and should not be on any stimulant meds for the adhd. the problems got so bad that last month i decided to try him on focolin. it did not work and he was still having behavioral problems and bad grades. i decided to try the coffee on him. all i can say is WOW! it really works! even the teacher can’t believe how different of a child he is now that he is drinking 1/2 cup of coffee with french vanilla coffee mate in the mornings. i put about 2 tbs of the coffee mate in his coffee. he is a different child with this. praise GOd! i’m telling everyone i know about this!

  22. I have ADHD, 23 years old, there’s this energy drink called RockstaR, and all i can say is WoW! its a can of a halve liter (500ml) it contains 80mg caffeine and 1000mg taurine, but man! it knocked me out! i fell asleep for 6 hours straight on! So if you are looking for something to ease have a look at it 😛

  23. melissa g

    Hi Everyone!

    Growing up, I had a severe case of hyperthyroidism. A symptom of that was hyperactivity—I never stopped! I was into everything, according to my parents.(today i would have been labeled ADHD) Because of the hyperactivity, the DR. suggested I be put on a stimulant(like ritalin). My parents absolutley refused, and the Dr. told them to give me coffee instead. They gave me a cup of coffee every morning and it worked. My mother said it worked miracles. This was back in the 70s.I must say though that the side effects of caffeine cannot be as bad as the side effects of some of these drugs. Ijust don’t feel that they are a good thing.

  24. Matt

    I have lived through many agonizing years of ADD with several comorbid conditions- depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. I have experimented with a variety of psychotropic meds, and I have suffered from many of the unpleasant side effects. I am now on an SSRI (antidepressant), which helps to “take the edge off” of the depression, anxiety, and panic with minimal side effects.
    I use caffeine to treat the ADD symptoms. My regimen is as follows:

    -2 10oz. cups of coffee first thing in the a.m.
    -1 10oz. cup of coffee every 4 hrs. after

    I drink my last cup of coffee at least 4 hrs. before bedtime so that it won’t affect my sleep. I always take my dose of caffeine with food to prevent digestive problems.
    Nevertheless, I sometimes get heartburn from coffee, so I substitute with “Stay Awake”, a generic form of “No-Doze” pills. These pills usually have 200mg of caffeine, which is approximately the same amount of caffeine as a 10oz cup of coffee. The pills seem to be gentler on my stomach. The pills usually begin to take effect in about 30 to 45 minutes, while coffee kicks in almost immediately.
    For somebody starting out considering using caffeine medicinally for ADD or ADHD, I recommend using the smallest dose possible, then increasing gradually until the symptoms are controlled. Tea with honey is a healthy option to begin with, as the caffeine amount is lower and honey is a healthy sweetener in moderate amounts. Black tea has more caffeine than white, green, or red teas, while herbal teas have no caffeine at all.
    I strongly recommend minimizing all caffeinated beverages that have refined sugar in them (sucrose/powdered sugar, high fructose corn syrup) because these substances are unhealthy and horrible for a person with ADD. I personally avoid artificial sweeteners as well, because I have heard too many bad testimonies about chronic usage and the long-term effects of such substances. I think it is common sense that “artificial” foods and medicines have a greater tendency to harm the human body than substances closer to their created form (“organic”, “natural”).
    It is critical to remember that caffeine is a diuretic, that is, it causes your body to expel fluids. You need to drink extra water to compensate for the diuretic effect. A general rule is, for every ounce of regular coffee you drink, you need to drink an extra ounce of water. So when I drink a 10oz. cup of coffee, I drink 10oz. of water, along with whatever water I would normally drink with a meal. I drink a LOT of water throughout the day, with meals, to avoid dehydration. Yes, I visit the bathroom a lot, but it is well worth it in order to treat the hellish symptoms of ADD. I recommend drinking the water with meals so that your electrolytes (sodium & potassium) are not depleted. A little gatorade helps with this, too. Gatorade is not the healthiest drink in the world, but the refined sugar content is about 1/3rd that of sodas and it helps to replenish electrolytes during heavy labor and exercise.
    An important afterthought to the issue of medicating for ADD: developing healthy lifestyle habits is also imperative for the ADD sufferer. A regular, complete sleep cycle is a must. Everybody is different, and while some people need only 5 hrs. a night, others need 12! Go to bed about the same time every night, and try to sleep until your body says its time to get up. I have to go to bed at 9pm and get up at 6am for optimal functioning.
    Healthy dietary habits also help with ADD. Use common-sense eating habits such as whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice) and avoid processed grains. “Stone-ground/milled” bread is even better than whole wheat bread. Saturated & hydrogenated fats are unhealthy. Lots of whole fruits and vegetables, healthy oils like extra-virgin olive oil, beans & nuts, and other lean protein sources are all good habits to develop. A few suspicious substances for people with ADD are food colorings (especially red #40), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial preservatives like BHT. These substances may aggravate ADD symptoms.
    At a bare minimum, 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 days a week will help immensely with ADD. I take at least three 30 minute walks around my neighborhood each week, which not only exercises my body but also helps to clear my mind, breathe some fresh air, and enjoy the beauty of nature.
    If you or somebody you love suffers from ADD, my heart goes out to you. My life has been severely impaired by this disorder, but I am determined to rise above it and live my life to the fullest. I hope you were able to wade through this post and find something helpful to you. I pray that God will strengthen you and give you hope in your battle against mental illness and use the struggle for your benefit.

  25. lynn

    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.

  26. Adrian

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

  27. beth

    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.

  28. Tony

    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.

  29. 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!

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