Five cans of energy drinks.
People with ADHD should avoid energy drinks because they can enhance symptoms.

ADHD and Energy Drinks

If you have ADHD, you should avoid energy drinks because they will make your symptoms worse. Research from 2015 shows energy drinks might exacerbate symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity.

Energy drinks do have some benefits, such as increased energy. However, all research done so far confirms that energy drinks are more harmful than beneficial. As of 2011, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age 18 should never consume energy drinks.

In this article we take a look at ADHD and energy drinks, the relationship between them and if people with ADHD really should avoid these drinks.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder. ADHD is technically a psychiatric disorder because it affects executive function. However, ADHD does not have the potential to make someone delusional compared to other psychiatric disorders.

Executive function is your ability to:

  • Focus, sustain focus, shift focus.
  • Manage emotions.
  • Manage time.
  • Remember things.
  • Decide what action to take.

As a result, many of the common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Easily being distracted.
  • Saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
  • Reckless decision making.
  • Unintentional social blunders.
  • Poor time management.
  • Mental or sensory overload.

How Do Energy Drinks Affect Someone With ADHD?

When you begin to think about how energy drinks affect ADHD, caffeine is the missing piece of the puzzle. It’s what puts the “energy” in energy drink. While they do contain sugar, it is not as powerful as caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning its effects are similar to most ADHD prescription stimulants. Stimulants increase blood flow and dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain responsible for motivating behavior. It motivates you to keep doing things you find interesting, curious, challenging, or urgent.

If something is boring to you, your brain won’t be generating much dopamine. Because energy drinks contain caffeine, they increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. This could explain why students reporting consumption of energy drinks are 66% more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms.

Wait, I Thought Stimulants Helped ADHD…

Stimulants are used to lessen hyperactivity and inattention symptoms. This can only be achieved with the right dosage using the right medication. ADHD medication comes in a form that is easy to consume. Furthermore, its dosages are precise due to legal requirements.

Energy drinks are not easy to consume, and their dosages are not as precise as a medication’s. Because of this, energy drinks are, at best, an inferior form of medication, and at worst, a poison disguised as a beverage.

This means if you are drinking energy drinks when you have ADHD you are at risk for potentially lifelong side effects.

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How Energy Drinks or Prescription Stimulants Can Worsen ADHD

If you want to know how harmful energy drinks are to people with ADHD, or even how prescription stimulants can be just as bad, this study will be an eye opener for you.

The researchers studied 18 never-medicated ADHD adults and did PET scans on them before the trial and one year later. They compared the 18 never-medicated ADHD adults to 12 normal control subjects, who were also scanned at the beginning of the study and then one year later.

The ADHD subjects treated with Ritalin (a prescription stimulant) showed a 24% average increase in dopamine transporters, while the control subjects showed no increase in transporters.

This means that if someone with ADHD stops taking their Ritalin stimulant medication, they will be worse off. How? Due to the increased amount of dopamine transporters, the dopamine their brain generates will be “sucked up” too fast by the transporters to take effect.

Many ADHD medications work by blocking dopamine from being used or absorbed. The more dopamine transporters someone has, the faster it gets absorbed. Although prescription stimulants were used in this study, the consumption of energy drinks likely has far worse effects.

Caffeine Is a Stimulant, but Prescription Stimulants Are Effective and Safer

There are decades worth of studies backing up the safety and effectiveness of prescription medication to treat ADHD. However, caffeine is far less regulated, especially when put in energy drinks. There is a growing concern about caffeine’s side effects in the scientific community.

Side effects of caffeine include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Heart complications.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.

In 2011, the number of emergency department visits related to consumption of energy drinks exceeded 20,000.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes large amounts of caffeine may cause serious heart and blood vessel problems.

Additionally, excessive energy drink consumption may disrupt teens’ sleep patterns and may be associated with increased risk-taking behavior. A single 16-ounce container of an energy drink may contain 54 grams to 62 grams of added sugar. This exceeds the maximum amount of added sugar the average person should eat in one day, let alone one serving.

Beverage or Dietary Supplement?

What makes the situation worse is that popular energy drinks (except for Red Bull) are labeled as dietary supplements, not beverages. This means the Food and Drug Administration does not hold energy drinks (such as 5 Hour Energy, Monster, Rockstar) to the same standards as a typical beverage, like soda or orange juice.

After multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and adults under age 24. Data indicates one-third of people who are 12 to 17 years old in the U.S. consume at least one energy drink per week. Also, 34% of people ages 18 to 24 consume at least one energy drink per week. The most popular users of energy drinks are children, teens and young adults ages 18 to 24.

Ironically, those are the age groups who have an excess amount of energy thanks to their youth. So, why are they drinking energy drinks? One thing is clear: energy drink makers are targeting young consumers. These are the people who are less likely to question the danger energy drinks pose to their health.