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Coffee for ADHD

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Updated June 04, 2014

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  • A story about a mom who is giving her child with ADHD coffee is getting some attention.

    The treatment, along with the diagnosis, was the mom's idea.

    Not surprisingly, giving a child coffee instead of a prescription drug is getting some support from other parents.

    It is important to realize that caffeine is a drug too though. It is well known to be addictive and to cause withdrawal symptoms in many people. It is even prescribed for premature babies who have apnea and bradycardia. A drug related to caffeine, theophylline, was until recently commonly used to treat asthma.

    Interestingly, theophylline and caffeine are both members of the methylxanthine class of drugs.

    Giving children with ADHD caffeine isn't even a new idea though.

    A 1975 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at caffeine, methlyphenidate (Ritalin), and d-amphetamine (Dexderine), and found that while caffeine was not better than placebo in treating children with ADHD, both prescription drugs did provide significant improvement over both placebo and caffeine.

    All together, it looks six controlled studies were done on the effects of caffeine in children with ADHD in the 1970s, and they did not show convincing evidence of benefit.

    An article in Experimental & Clinical Psychopharmacology even suggested that "Caffeine appears to slightly improve vigilance performance and decrease reaction time in healthy children who habitually consume caffeine but does not consistently improve performance in children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder."

    Should you try the coffee treatment for your child's ADHD? Besides the fact that studies have shown it isn't effective, the whole idea of addiction to coffee and caffeine should make you think twice. As someone who drinks (needs) three oversized cups of coffee day, I can attest to the draw of coffee.

    My oldest son stopped taking his ADHD medicine when he was in seventh grade, as he didn't seem to need it anymore. If he had been drinking two cups of coffee a day since kindergarten, I doubt it would have been as easy to stop his ADHD treatment as simply not giving him a pill one morning.

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