Ask the Experts

Is Coffee Really Helping Me Focus Better?

“When I drink coffee, it increases my focus. I also take a stimulant. Is there any basis for caffeine enhancing my focus?”

Studies1 show that adolescents and adults with ADHD consume more caffeine than those without ADHD, but there is little agreement about its efficacy and/or safety for ADHD treatment.

Caffeine arouses the central nervous system by stimulating the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, and by blocking the absorption of adenosine, which induces sleep. Caffeine modestly increases alertness and concentration compared to ADHD stimulants. However, children with ADHD experience mixed results from caffeine; some are calmer, but others experience irregular heartbeat, agitation, increased anxiety, or trouble sleeping. Augmenting stimulant medication with caffeine creates synergy: together, they have more powerful effects than either one has alone, but adverse effects may also be intensified.

A naturally occurring stimulant is not necessarily safer than pharmaceutical stimulants. Caffeine’s social acceptability and reasonable cost make it seem benign. But it should be respected as a drug, with under-studied effects on the physiology of children with ADHD.

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1 Martin, Catherine A., et al. “Caffeine Use: Association with Nicotine Use, Aggression, and Other Psychopathology in Psychiatric and Pediatric Outpatient Adolescents.” The Scientific World JOURNAL, vol. 8, 2008, pp. 512–516., doi:10.1100/tsw.2008.82.