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Caffeine and Attention Deficit Disorder

By Ashley Miller ; Updated August 14, 2017

While it may seem counterintuitive, some believe that caffeine can have a positive effect on symptoms of attention deficit disorder, or ADD/ADHD. Like prescription medications typically prescribed for children with ADD/ADHD, caffeine is a stimulant. However, instead of becoming stimulated and hyperactive from caffeine, many children with ADHD who are treated with caffeine may actually experience a reduction in their symptoms, according to a review by Marjorie Roth Leon published in the April 2001 "Journal of Attention Disorders."

ADD/ADHD Facts

The name attention deficit disorder, also referred to as simply ADD, was changed in 1994 to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, according to Teens Health. ADHD results in a broad range of symptoms in the categories of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Different children are affected by the disorder in different ways. Common signs may include difficulty completing tasks, problems paying attention in school or at home, losing things easily, frequent forgetfulness, excessive talking or fidgeting, blurting out answers in class or problems with organization. While the causes of ADHD are not totally understood, ADHD causes changes to the production of certain neurotransmitters responsible for attention, such as dopamine. ADHD is typically treated with behavioral therapy, educational interventions and, in many cases, stimulant medications.

Caffeine and ADHD

Caffeine belongs to a class of compounds known as methylxanthines, which act as central nervous system stimulants. These methylxanthines occur naturally in coffee, tea, cocoa and cola. In moderate doses, caffeine can cause an increase in alertness and decrease drowsiness and mental fatigue. Caffeine promotes your brain's production of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter known as dopamine in the same way that prescription medication drugs for ADHD do. According to a study published in the September 2009 "Journal of the American Medical Association," low dopamine receptor availability is associated with symptoms of inattention in participants with ADHD.

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Considerations

According to Roth Leon's study, children with ADHD who were treated with caffeine experienced more benefits than children who were treated only with a placebo. Children treated with caffeine showed a reduction in symptoms of inattention and improved executive functioning/planning capabilities. However, the benefits were not as great as for those treated with stimulant drugs. Roth Leon suggests that a combination of stimulants and caffeine may provide greater benefits than treatment with either stimulant medication or caffeine alone.

Warning

Although caffeine may provide some benefits for children suffering from ADHD, more research is required to validate its effects. According to a June 2001 article in "Monitor on Psychology," a publication of the American Psychological Association, caffeine use can produce serious side effects such as attention problems and anxiety in normal children. If you're not sure if your child is suffering from ADHD, it's important to obtain a professional diagnosis, especially if you're considering increasing your child's intake of caffeine.

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