Shelley has a good post on the biology of ADHD—the lesson, once again, is that the mind is regulated by physical and chemical processes, and we’re learning more and more about how seemingly nebulous, fuzzy, higher level functions of thought can be traced back to relatively simple material causes.
The basic story is that norepinephrine is the molecule behind ADHD, and that what the stimulants given to people do is increase the effective concentration of NE. I’ve never been a victim of ADHD — as a kid, I’d say I was more often characterized as being the extreme opposite of what we see in ADHD — but there’s an interesting comment that stimulants like caffeine can also release more NE … and that coffee addicts may be self-medicating. I confess: I am a coffee addict. Maybe I’ve been making myself worse over the years. Of course, being on the other end of the attention spectrum isn’t stigmatized like ADHD.
Coffee also doesn’t bear the stigma of Ritalin. It’s too bad; human beings have been willfully modifying their brain chemistry for millennia, and we really shouldn’t treat the more precise pharmaceuticals of today like they’re a cause for shame.