Caffeine is perhaps the most popularly consumed psychoactive substance in the world, according to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. While caffeine is widely available in coffee and a variety of other drinks and foods, Ritalin is a prescription drug reserved for diagnosed illnesses. These substances have surprisingly similar effects. For questions about how caffeine or Ritalin can address your symptoms, speak to your physician or another qualified health professional.
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Ritalin, whose generic name is methylphenidate, is a widely-prescribed central nervous system stimulant. It is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and narcolepsy, a condition characterized by attacks of sleepiness at inappropriate times. While the exact mechanism by which it improves ADHD symptoms is not completely understood, scientists believe that Ritalin impacts neurotransmitters having to do with hyperactivity and impulse control. Physicians have been using psychopharmaceutical stimulants such as Ritalin to treat ADHD since 1937, according to a 2010 article in the journal "Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders."
The benefits of caffeine for ADHD and other psychiatric disorders are underestimated, contends Diogo Lara of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in a 2010 paper. Naturally present in coffee, tea, chocolate and guarana and other plants, caffeine is the most popular mood-altering substance worldwide. Lara states that in addition to promoting wakefulness, caffeine increases attention, alertness and cognitive function, qualities that are impaired in patients with ADHD. Yet, caffeine is rarely prescribed for ADHD symptoms. Lara urges researchers to perform experimental studies to establish its role in the treatment of ADHD and related conditions.
Cautions and Considerations
Like other bioactive substances, both Ritalin and caffeine may cause adverse effects. Taking Ritalin in excess can lead to agitation, tremors, nausea, convulsions and a fast heartbeat. Very high doses of caffeine can cause similar symptoms. Additionally, Ritalin is contraindicated for people with certain health conditions, including glaucoma, severe hypertension and a personal or family history of tics.
Ritalin and Caffeine Combination
The combination of Ritalin and caffeine can have an additive effect, doubling the possibility of nervousness, sleeplessness and other signs of overstimulation when taken together. While an occasional caffeine-containing cup of coffee, soft drink or chocolate bar is not contraindicated for patients taking Ritalin, Ritalin should not be combined with high caffeine doses such as those found in caffeine tablets or high-power energy drinks. If you are taking Ritalin, ask your physician what constitutes a safe level of caffeine consumption for you.
- Drugs.com: Methylphenidate
- "Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders"; The History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; K.W. Lange, et al; Dec. 2010
- "Journal of Alzheimer's Disease"; Caffeine, Mental Health, and Psychiatric Disorders; D. R. Lara; 2010
- Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center: Information about Caffeine Dependence