ADHD and caffeine: What parents need to know

By Rae Jacobson, MS

Expert reviewed by Roberto Olivardia, PhD

Updated June 27, 2023

A teen drinks a caffeinated energy drink while playing a computer game.

At a glance

  • Caffeine is not a good way to manage ADHD symptoms.

  • Caffeinated drinks or products can be unhealthy for kids.

  • A glass of water or a healthy snack is a better way to boost focus.

If you have ADHD, the promised benefits of caffeine — feeling more alert, staying focused — can sound like a miracle. But the truth is that for kids with ADHD, caffeine can be more harmful than helpful.

1. Caffeine can be harmful for kids.

Kids may love the rush they get from the sugar and caffeine in soda. But according to FDA guidelines, there is no known safe amount of caffeine for children.

2. The “buzz” can lead to a crash.

Like adults, kids get a buzz from caffeine. But it isn’t a reliable or sustainable way to manage ADHD symptoms like inattention. Too much caffeine can make kids feel jittery. And it can lead to a “crash” in the afternoon when the caffeine wears off.

3. The effects of caffeine can linger, making it harder to sleep.

Many people with ADHD have trouble sleeping — even if they avoid caffeine. The boost that makes caffeine feel helpful during the day can make it even harder for kids to sleep at night. And not getting enough sleep makes ADHD symptoms worse, not better.

4. Too much caffeine can be dangerous.

Using too much caffeine — or using it too often — can be bad for a child’s health. Caffeine can contribute to dehydration, and it can cause headaches for some kids. Too much caffeine can lead to an upset stomach. It can also cause serious issues like high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

Kids with ADHD often struggle with self-regulation, and both the sugary taste and the “boost” they get from caffeinated drinks make it easy for them to drink far too much. This is especially an issue with “energy drinks” and “energy shots,” which are often used excessively by teens and young adults.

5. Caffeine is a stimulant.

When kids are already taking a stimulant medication for ADHD, caffeine can heighten the effects and suppress appetite, leaving them feeling jittery or sweaty. And it can make it even harder for them to wind down at night.

6. Caffeine can be addictive.

Caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs it can be addictive. If your teen has trouble setting limits or is prone to self-medicating, it may be safer to cut out caffeine altogether.

7. Caffeine doesn’t help with ADHD symptoms.

Caffeine is not a good way to manage ADHD symptoms. It should never be used as a substitute for proven treatments like medication and behavioral therapy.

The bottom line: Caffeine won’t help with the symptoms of ADHD. And, though an occasional soda probably isn’t a big deal, caffeine can cause sleep disruptions and unpleasant (or even dangerous) health impacts for many kids. If your child is looking for something to help improve concentration and give them an energy boost, a healthy snack or a glass of water would be more effective.

See how lack of sleep can affect how kids learn. Learn more about trouble with self-regulation. And find out how to help college students with ADHD create a time management system that can help them avoid pulling all-nighters.

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