Neuropsychologist, author and speaker Dr. David Amen says that the effects of caffeine are sometimes unpredictable. This is due to several variables including genetics, individual physiological factors and unique tolerance to the chemical. In general, caffeine has a more subtle effect on alertness than other stimulants such as prescription medication for ADHD. Although its effects are subtle, the most important thing to remember about caffeine, according to Amen, is that “caffeine is not as simple in effects” as other stimulants.
Caffeine Is a Unique Stimulant
Even though caffeine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system, the specific effects are unique to each individual. Children with ADHD are no different in this respect. Although every child with the disorder has specific symptoms in common, each also has his own individual biological make-up. These varying effects of caffeine on children with ADHD are verified in a 2007 report in the “Journal of Applied School Psychology."
Effects on Hyperactivity
The Journal’s report, based on results from 12 extensive research experiments on the effects of caffeine on children with ADHD, supports Amen’s warnings about varying effects. The Journal reports that only four of the 12 research experiments showed the use of caffeine reduced hyperactivity. While one experiment suggested that caffeine improves reaction time and decreases sluggishness in children with ADHD, the results from another suggested it decreased reaction time.
The Journal’s review also revealed a wide variation in unwanted side effects. Supporting Amen’s claim that caffeine can have varying effects, the side-effects identified were not consistent across the 12 experiments reviewed. Among the various side-effects noted in the research were mild to moderate anxiety, nervousness, stomachaches, nausea, insomnia depression, tremors, and anxiety. Although rare, some children experienced seizures. These side effects were reported in some children in some of the experiments, but not in others. Additionally, other children in the experiments tolerated the chemical well with no noticeable side-effects.
Caffeine and Medications
When compared to prescription medication, the Journal reports that caffeine was less effective at reducing symptoms of ADHD in most children. Some children, however, experienced improved focus and problem solving skills.The Journal’s review revealed that in some children caffeine decreased the effectiveness of stimulant medications, and in other cases, caffeine, when combined with stimulant medications, actually decreased symptoms more effectively than the medications alone.
Dr, John Carlson, one of the authors of "Methylphenidate, Atomxetine, and Caffeine: A Primer for School Psychologists," concludes that the effects of caffeine on children with ADHD remains unclear and warns about the detrimental effects associated with caffeine in children with ADHD. In light of this, it is wise to consult a physician about your child's caffeine consumption.