ADHD & Caffeine

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you'll learn the definitions of ADHD and caffeine. You'll learn the benefits and risks of consuming caffeine with ADHD and the similar properties of caffeine and ADHD medications.

What Is ADHD?

Samuel, a sophomore in high school, has a high intelligence quotient (IQ) and can get good grades without much effort or application. However, Samuel has difficulty paying attention in school. His backpack, locker, and desk are disorganized. He quickly loses focus when the teacher is lecturing and squirms in his seat. He gets frustrated with class assignments that require him to think and has difficulty following instruction, and he blurts out answers and often gets scolded for speaking out in class.

Samuel has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurodevelopmental disorder involving problems with inattentiveness and hyperactivity that affects daily functioning and development. There are three forms of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined inattentive-hyperactive-impulsive.

As of 2011, 11% of children in the United States were diagnosed with this disorder - a whopping 64 million kids! As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported, 60% of those children go on to have ADHD in adulthood, and an estimated 4% of the adult population has the disorder.

What Is Caffeine?

Many people start their morning with a cup of coffee due to one potent ingredient that jumpstarts their day: caffeine. In fact, about 90% of adults in the United States consume caffeine daily. Caffeine is a plant product found in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao that acts as a stimulant to the nervous system. Caffeine increases:

  • Blood flow and pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Body temperature
  • Production of urine

Caffeine can have several health benefits as well as drawbacks.
Health effects of caffeine

Relationship Between Caffeine Consumption and ADHD

Caffeine consumed too close to bedtime can cause insomnia - an inability to fall or stay asleep. Without sufficient sleep, a person with ADHD can experience intensified symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty focusing or sitting still, decreased memory, and moodiness.

However, caffeine consumption in the morning or early day can be beneficial for a person with ADHD. People with this disorder have low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with good memory, attention, behavior, cognition, mood, and learning. Caffeine actually increases dopamine levels, thereby easing the symptoms of ADHD. But for those without ADHD (and normal dopamine levels), consuming a couple cups of coffee can lead to a racing heartbeat and jitters.

Consuming coffee has been shown to ease the symptoms of ADHD in some people, allowing them better concentration.
Coffee while working

Caffeine and Children with ADHD

Some adults self-medicate their ADHD symptoms with caffeine, and some even give caffeine to children with the neurodevelopmental disorder. You might have heard news stories about a mother who was looking for a more 'natural' cure for her 7-year-old son's ADHD and turned to caffeine. However, doctors generally warn against giving children caffeine due to potentially harmful side effects.

Caffeine increases the heart rate, which can be dangerous for small children. Also, if children's bodies get used to regular caffeine consumption, they could experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches when they don't get their usual dose. And many caffeinated beverages are loaded with sugar, which can lead to obesity and diabetes.

Caffeine Reactions With ADHD Medications

One of the problems with ADHD is an overactive brain. It's been shown that people with ADHD have a reduced functioning of inhibitory signaling in the frontal cortex. This creates too much signaling in the brain, making it very difficult to focus and stay on task. ADHD medication restricts blood flow to the brain by making the blood vessels thinner, so that the brain is less active.

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