Can Dehydration Increase ADHD Symptoms?

by | Aug 9, 2018 | ADHD Symptom Control | 11 comments

dehydration increase ADHD symptoms

While I was waiting for a Berry Blast Smoothie at my favorite juice bar, I made a startling connection: dehydration may increase ADHD symptoms.  

I noticed a small poster on the wall listing the negative effects of dehydration. Not far down the list was what they called Brain Fog – feeling forgetful and spacey, along with difficulty thinking and concentrating.

Wow….Brain Fog. That sounds a lot like Attention Deficit, doesn’t it?

So, I did a bit of research on dehydration and brain functioning.

How Dehydration Affects ADHD Symptoms

Seems those wise guys at Kings College in London have tested the effects of dehydration on brain function.

They made some healthy, non-ADHD adolescents exercise and didn’t give some of them water. They then gave the kids MRIs and had them take a problem solving test.

The Results? The dehydrated kids had to think harder to solve the problems than the non-dehydrated kids.

Remember, these are kids who don’t have ADHD. They suffered ‘Brain Fog’ because of dehydration.

Here’s what the study’s authors concluded in official terms: “Given the limited availability of brain metabolic resources, these findings suggest that prolonged states of reduced water intake may adversely impact executive functions such as planning and visuo-spatial processing.” (References: 1. Kempton KJ, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human Brain Mapping 24 March 2010)

So my twist on dehydration and ADHD? You have to drink enough water. Because if dehydration makes it harder for a non-ADHD brain to do what it needs to do, the impact on the ADHD brain will likely be even worse.

Your ADHD Brain Needs a Water Reminder

Now you know that dehydration may increase ADHD symptoms. The tricky part is translating the knowing into doing.

Thinking we’ll remember to drink water doesn’t work. Just like we often don’t notice when we’re hungry, we don’t notice when we’re thirsty. The ADHD brain needs reminders.

Though I often recommend reminder systems, having a message pop up to drink some water will become annoying and before long, you’ll delete the thing entirely.

In my experience, I’ve found ADHD adults find it easier to remember certain tasks if they think in terms of hooks, instead of reminders.

By hooks, I mean attaching – hooking – the behavior or habit you want to another action. A hook is essentially a mini-routine that leads you from one activity to another.

Easy Tips for Drinking More Water

A Hook for drinking water looks like this:

  • Refill your coffee cup. Pour a cup of coffee, drink a glass of water
  • Get up in the morning – drink a glass of water
  • Go to the bathroom – drink a glass of water
  • Eat a snack – drink a glass of water
  • Walk by a drinking fountain – drink some water

See the pattern?

Of course you need to have a glass near a sink or a water bottle on hand. Remember, it has to be easy, or your won’t do it if you have ADHD.

You’ll have more success if you keep it simple.

ADHD adults can remember to drink water by hooking it to some other activity you are sure to do throughout the day. Give your brain all the help you can. Drink more water and stay hydrated so you don’t increase your ADHD symptoms.


  1. Mary

    I have been wondering about this from personal experience. Thank you!

  2. Wesley

    Great advice. I have always struggled with borderline dehydration and now understand way I sometimes feel brain fog. Thanks Again, I’ll focus on hydrating my body and brain.

    • danarayburn

      You’re welcome. We’ve got to squeeze every ounce of brain functioning we can from our grey matter. Drinking water is an easy step. All best!

  3. Danny

    I used to be dehydrated constantly, but now I’m usually pretty well hydrated. The only thing that has ever worked for me is using an app called Plant Nanny, where you raise anthropomorphic plants. When you drink water, you log it in the app and it waters the plant. The plants are super cute and you get to name them, choose which pot they’ll be planted in, etc. When a plant is done growing, you move it out into your garden outside, where it lives with all your other mature plants, and get to raise a new plant. I’ve used this app for over a year and I’ve been hydrated almost every day since then!

    I may try to add in hooks too. That could be useful.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Danny! Thanks for the app suggestion. I tried using a different app but it wasn’t as much fun. I know letting a plant I’ve named die would be traumatic. Be well, Dana

  4. Rocky

    Hi I’m and adhd adult I have had two very bad episodes in my life. Where my emotions are ruing rampant my anxiety is thru the roof I’m lost scared and don’t no where I’m at it is terrifying One time when I was young and and this time as I am writing this I am recovering . Both time no one could finger out what was wrong with me several dr and no luck No one knew What it was both time I was severely dehydrated So be careful if you are adhd. Dehydration my be. The last thing you think of when you at having panic attacks or can not sleep but in my experience you my just not be drinking enough water For me it Is extreme because I have a bad case of adhd So now I know when I start felling this way to stop and drink Hope this helps some one else

    • Dana Rayburn

      Rocky – Those severe panic attacks sound terrifying! Thank you for the recommendation about drinking enough water. It’s important to keep our brains hydrated. I wish you all the best going forward, Dana

  5. Minttu

    Hi! Great to see someone else draw the physiological connection. I kept wondering why my ADD child sometimes got fits of anger that could not be reasoned with, before I thought of giving them a glass of water when this happened. They would calm down pretty quickly, and when asked tell they hadn’t been drinking anything for some time. The “experts” we worked with only explained this with the psychological soothing effect of stopping to focus on drinking. I just knew this wasn’t the whole truth. Thank you also for the hook tips!

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Minttu, you are welcome. Happy this helped. When my ADHD starts swirling, the first thing I do is drink some water. Dana

      • Shane

        I was wondering this myself, and noticed that lack of hydration brings on symptoms . I have bought a water bottle with a shoulder strap, and it goes with me everywhere at work. Or exercising/ walking. I noticed when I feel The symptoms is ask myself when was the last time I drank?
        The water bottle is becoming as important as taking your wallet to work for me now.

  6. Shane

    Furthermore, I am on Ritalin and originally took dexies as a child. I found that the medication can lead to a loss of appetite. And I wonder if this is also true with not getting thirsty? Since ensuring I drink enough water by having a bottle handy, it reduces my likelihood of getting frustrated with things. And that foggy spaced out feeling other commenters have posted goes away. I sometimes use hydration packs as a get me up to speed in the morning. It was a relief to hear similar stories on this site.


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