How to Treat ADHD With Caffeine

white cup with coffee beans
White cup and coffee beans. (Image: Roman Rybaleov/iStock/Getty Images)

If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be looking for an alternative treatment to drugs. While it seems a bit counter-intuitive?after all, people with ADHD have more than enough hyperactive energy, while coffee drinkers often want more of it?caffeine is being touted as an effective treatment for ADHD.

Step 1

Take moderate amounts of caffeine in the morning?perhaps a cup of coffee, black or green tea, or cola?along with a protein drink, such as a whey, soy, rice or hemp protein shake. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that reduces blood flow to the brain and affects the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps people focus. According to the ADHD Information Library, a caffeine-and-protein treatment is effective for kids, teens and adults with ADHD. However, it recommends other dietary changes to complement it, such as removing dairy, junk food, processed foods, fish, fruit juices and yellow foods from the diet, and cutting sugar and chocolate intake by 90 percent.

Step 2

Monitor the amount of caffeine being taken. According to the ADHD Information Library, 100 mg of caffeine is approximately equivalent to the low therapeutic dose of 5 mg of Ritalin, a common drug for treating ADHD. Both caffeine and Ritalin are absorbed into the bloodstream within about 45 minutes and wear off after 3 or 4 hours, but caffeine may be a more attractive choice for people who don’t want to take prescription medication. An 8-oz cup of coffee has 135 mg of caffeine, black tea has 60 mg, green tea has 30 to 40 mg, most caffeinated sodas have 35 to 55 mg and Red Bull energy drinks have 80 mg.

Step 3

Continue to drink plenty of water during the day, as caffeinated beverages do not fulfill your body’s need for hydration. At least four glasses of water for kids, and up to eight for teens and adults, is recommended, or 50 to 75 percent of your body weight in ounces. For instance, if you weigh 100 pounds, you should consume 50 to 75 ounces of water daily—on the high end of the scale if you're very active, and on the low end if you're not.

Things You'll Need

  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea or cola

  • Protein drink

  • Wholesome, non-processed foods

  • Drinking water

Warning

Do not drink large amounts of caffeine, which has addictive properties if taken in excess. According to pediatrician Rajeshree Singhania, MD, founder of the Singhania Children Clinic in Dubai, “The health risks for long-term caffeine are similar to those of Ritalin. Mild levels of caffeine consumption?up to 400 mg for an adult male, 300 mg for an adult female and 2.5 mg per kilo (2.2 pounds) for a child?is considered safe.” Too much caffeine can cause nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, disorientation, headaches and gastrointestinal issues, and children are more susceptible than adults to these side effects.

If caffeine doesn’t seem to work for you, and you or your child would still like to consider taking prescription medication instead, talk to your doctor about it. Options may include dextroamphetamine, known under the brand name Adderall, or methylphenidate, known as Ritalin. If you decide to go that route, be sure to look into the possible side effects, as well as the benefits, of the drug.

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