ADHD and Caffeine

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ADHD and Caffeine: a Treatment Option

For many years our ADHD diet has promoted the use of moderate amounts of caffeine in the morning, along with a protein drink supplement and the nutraceutical medicine Attend, as a part of the program. Parents have reported success using the program, both with their ADHD children as well as in their own lives.

Caffeine is a mild CNS stimulant that can be used with ADHD children, teens, and adults, if used purposefully and in moderation. All stimulants are vaso-dilators, meaning that they allow the blood vessels to increase in size and increase the blood flow in the brain. One of the primary physiological problems causing ADHD seems to be a lack of blood flow to certain regions of the brain, and stimulants help to improve blood flow and reduce symptoms caused by this problem, at least temporarily.

It is estimated that 100 mg of caffeine is equivalent to 5 mg of Ritalin, which is the lowest therapeutic dose, and the usual starting dose for children. It is similar to Ritalin in that caffeine is absorbed and begins working in about 45 minutes, and the benefits wear off after about three to four hours. And, of course, caffeine can have the same kinds of side effects as other stimulants.

There may be times when it would be advantageous to have caffeine available for someone with ADHD who is successfully using stimulant medication, such as to avoid the “rebound” or “trough” effects of the stimulants, or on weekend outings, etc.

Also, if 5 mg of Ritalin is a successful therapeutic dose, parents and physicians should at least talk about using caffeine instead.

Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world, with about 80% of the world’s population drinking down caffeine every day. The average daily consumption of caffeine among American adults and teens is about 260 to 300 mg per day, but about one person in four consumes more than 600 mg each day. And yes, caffeine in large amounts, over a long period of time, is addictive.

How does America get its caffeine? Here’s a pretty good list:

  • Coffee, 8 oz cup has 135 mg
  • Instant coffee, 8 oz cup has 95 mg
  • Expresso, 1 oz shot has 50 mg
  • Tea, 8 oz cup has 60 mg
  • Green Tea, 8 oz cup has 30-40 mg
  • Coca-cola, 12 oz has 35 mg
  • Diet Coke, 12 oz has 45 mg
  • Dr Pepper, 12 oz has 40 mg
  • Mountain Dew, 12 oz has 55 mg
  • Pepsi cola, 12 oz has 37 mg
  • Sunkist Orange, 12 oz has 40 mg
  • Red Bull, 8.5 oz has 80 mg
  • Full Throttle, 8.0 oz has 70 mg
  • SoBe No Fear, bottle has 160 mg
  • Pain Relievers such as Excedrin, Bayer max strength, Midol have 60-65 mg

Drinking sodas, coffee, “energy drinks,” and other beverages with caffeine, should never replace drinking water. The human body, and specifically the brain, needs an adequate supply of water ever day in order to function optimally. Drinking a diet Pepsi is not a substitute for water. So make sure that your ADHD child or ADHD teenager is still drinking 4 to 8 glasses of water per day, depending on their body size, how hot it is outside, how active they are during the day, and so on.

Go to the ADHD Diet Information site to get the full ADHD diet in eBook PDF format, including our UPDATES for 2016. We also have the full 21 minute information video on our ADHD eating program.

Of course, whenever possible we would recommend using our ADHD diet recommendations and our specific treatment strategies for ADHD, including Attend, and other alternative treatments for ADHD, in lieu of Ritalin or stimulant medications.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., M.S. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Tehachapi, CA who has been a skillful counselor to children, teens, and adults helping them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life since 1989. He served on the medical advisory board to the company that makes Attend and Extress from 1997 through 2011, and he is the Editor of the ADHD Information Library online resource. His weekly ADHD Newsletter goes out to 9,500 families. Visit his website at for more information on achieving greater health, personal growth, Christ-centered spirituality, stress management, parenting skills, ADHD, working out the stresses of being a care-giver to elderly parents and also being a parent to teenagers, or finding greater meaning in retirement years, Dr. Cowan can be a valuable resource to you.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., MFT
27400 Oakflat Dr.
Tehachapi, CA 93561
(661) 972-5953

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