Caffeine and ADHD

A look at the pros and cons of using caffeine to help manage the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is typically treated with medication and counseling, but parents uncomfortable with stimulant treatments should know that alternative options for easing symptoms do exist. One option that has created a lot of confusion is caffeine.

Some points to consider from

  • Caffeine is less effective at reducing ADHD symptoms but it can improve focus and problem solving.
  • Caffeine acts differently on every person, children with ADHD included. While kids with ADHD may experience the same symptoms at times, caffeine’s affects will vary. It is not a certain option for everyone.
  • Caffeine may decrease the effectiveness of stimulant medications, but when combined with stimulants, can improve symptoms better than the use of medication alone.
  • Caffeine can produce unpleasant side effects, such as anxiety, stomachaches, and nausea, to name a few.

Parents may worry caffeine is the reason for their child’s hyperactive behavior, a theory that some research supports. According to Food Cures, a study done at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found that 20 first graders who were given caffeinated cola had  much higher scores on an ADHD rating scale than when decaffeinated soda was consumed, even when researchers accounted for the drinks’ sugar content.

According to, stimulant medications (like Ritalin or Adderall) present different concerns, like dependence and abuse, and also side effects that may include weight changes, appetite changes, insomnia, and nervous tics. Read “Use Herbal Remedies for ADHD” for more information on herbal options.

The bottom line: No one treatment will help all children with ADHD and no cure for ADHD exists. Alternative treatments for ADHD are available and parents need to work with a physician who is familiar with their child to develop the best approach to managing symptoms.

Learn more about stimulant medications by visiting the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sources: Food Cures,,

Originally Published in Reader's Digest