I went to the grocery today, and I found a new product with eye catching labels- diet pepsi MAX, billed as an “invigorating cola”.  Trying to figure out what this is, since Pepsi is always putting something weird into their normal drinks to try to make them new, when they were fine the old way, I looked a little further on the label.  Only by very careful inspection do you find out that there’s 69 mg of caffeine per 12 oz. serving. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a chart about caffeine content in food and beverages.  Comparitively, Diet Coke only has 46.5 mg,  regular Pepsi 37.5 mg, and Mountain Dew, 55.5 mg per 12 oz serving.  8 oz of regular coffee gives you about 135 mg. caffeine by comparison.  My all time favorite soda, Tab, has 47 mg.

One of my favorite books of all time is Mind Hacks- Tips and Tools for Using Your Brain by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb.  In this book, Hack #92 discusses caffeine.  In a nutshell, Caffeine chemically hacks your brain’s reward system, and is often referred to as creative lighter fluid, which sort of explains the appeal of an odd Red Bull/Woody’s cooler (vodka & soda- like beverage) drink I tried this weekend.  Within 20 minutes of drinking a caffeinated drink, the caffeine has diffused through every cell in your body, and the neurotransmitters in your brain aren’t far behind.

Caffeine manages to upshift the dopaminergic system in your brain, not unlike other stimulants, right in the areas involved in feelings of pleasure and reward.  Studies have even shown that regular use of caffeine results in better mental functioning, making it not only pleasurable but performance enhancing as well.  The hack even quotes Paul Erdos who said “A mathemetician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.”  After this weekend in PAB, I am becoming convinced that Podcasters are devices for turning coffee into New Media solutions. (and this has nothing to do with the toaster….)   The hack then even shifts into a discussion about operant conditioning, taking about how we get trained to like our caffeine delivered in a specialized format (insert the name of your Starbucks order here), so that the ritual of preparing to consume the caffeine is almost as powerful as the actual buzz 20 minutes later on.

For full disclosure, I’ll tell you my whole caffeine story.

Starting in high school, I began a life long love affair with caffeine.  My friends refer to me as the Tab queen, because I always had the diet soda around, or was found drinking large glasses of ice tea.   Later on, I developed a pretty interesting espresso drink habit, that went on until I actually developed an eye twitch that only went away after I cut back on the caffeine and opted for a bit more sleep instead.

A few years ago, my kids were diagnosed with ADHD.  I sat in their psychiatrist’s office, and I actually asked whether or not a double latte was a decent enough substitution for the meds, and was told that “caffeine was such a dirty drug”, and that really, the meds would not only even out the dose of stimulant, but could be , well, measured.  hmmmm. This became prescient of events to come.

About 2 years later, and after the eye twitch episode, I began to realize that perhaps I also had ADHD and had simply been self-medicating with caffeine, LOTS,  daily, for years.  I went for testing, and sure enough, I joined the ranks of the clinically distracted in our family.

So the purpose of this story is really to ask whether the Starbucks on every corner, selling legally addicting yet socially acceptable stimulants, is a sign or symptom of cultural and perhaps actual ADHD in many people.   Do we need to encourage self-medicating behavior by simply adding more and more caffeine into our diets through things like Diet Pepsi Max?  (Which tastes ok by the way- I’ll try it iced down a bit more, and give a more detailed review later on.)

Choosing to treat my ADHD formally rather than by the hap-hazard manner I had adopted on my own, was incredibly helpful to me.  I was no longer reliant on episodic dosing variations in my oral caffeine intake- ie lattes, soda, etc. and I have gotten a heck of a lot more productive and organized.  It’s been simply amazing.

And I probably won’t end up like the resident on my husband’s service a few years ago who actually went into ventricular fibrulation (heart palpitations requiring an electric shock to get back into rhythm), leading his friends to give him a Starbucks t-shirt with two big burn marks where you would put the paddles to shock someone.  Ah, friends.