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Medicines for ADHD

ADHD is a problem that most often affects children. Adults may be affected as well. People with ADHD may have problems with:

  • Being able to focus
  • Being over active
  • Impulsive behavior

Medicines can help improve symptoms of ADHD. Specific kinds of talk therapy can also help. Work closely with your health care providers to ensure that the treatment plan is successful.

TYPES OF MEDICINES

Stimulants are the most commonly used type of ADHD medicine. Other types of medicines are sometimes used instead. Some medicines are taken more than one time a day, while others are taken only once a day. Your provider will decide which medicine is best.

Know the name and dose of each medicine you take.

FINDING THE RIGHT MEDICINE AND DOSAGE

It is important to work with your provider to make sure the right medicine is given at the right dose.

Always take your medicine the way it was prescribed. Talk to your provider if a medicine is not controlling symptoms, or if you are having side effects. The dose may need to be changed, or a new medicine may need to be tried.

MEDICINE TIPS

Some medicines for ADHD wear off over the day. Taking them before going to school or work may allow them to work when you need them the most. Your provider will advise you on this.

Other tips are:

  • Refill your medicine before it runs out.
  • Ask your provider whether your medicine should be taken with food or when there is no food in the stomach.
  • If you are having problems paying for medicine, talk with your provider. There may be programs that provide medicines for free or at a lower cost.

SAFETY TIPS FOR MEDICINE

Learn about the side effects of each medicine. Ask your provider what to do in case of side effects. Call your provider if you or your child notices side effects such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Eating less or weight-loss
  • Tics or jerky movements
  • Mood changes
  • Unusual thoughts
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren't there
  • Fast heart beat

Do not use supplements or herbal remedies without checking with your provider. Do not use street drugs. Any of these may cause your ADHD medicines not to work as well or have unexpected side effects.

Check with your provider about whether any other medicines should not be taken at the same time as ADHD medicines.

MEDICINE TIPS FOR PARENTS

Regularly reinforce with your child the provider's treatment plan.

Children with ADHD often forget to take their medicines. Have your child set up a system, such as using a pill organizer. This can remind your child to take medicine.

Keep a close watch on possible side effects. Ask your child to tell you about any side effects. But be aware that your child may not understand when they are having side effects. Call the provider right away if your child does have side effects.

Be aware of possible drug abuse. Stimulant-type ADHD medicines can be dangerous, especially in high doses. To ensure your child uses medicines safely:

  • Talk to your child about the dangers of drug abuse.
  • Teach your child not to share or sell their medicines.
  • Monitor your child's medicines closely.

References

Prince JB, Wilens TE, Spencer TJ, Biederman J. Pharmacotherapy of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the life span. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 49.

Urion DK. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 49.

Wolraich ML, Hagan JF Jr, Allan C, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2019;144(4):e20192528. PMID: 31570648 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31570648/.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

    Animation

  •  

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Animation

    A lot of kids are what we call high energy. They seem to bounce off walls and find it impossible to sit still. For some kids, though, overactive and impulsive behaviors are severe enough to affect their schoolwork and home life. These kids may have a condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. ADHD is very common. In fact, it's the most common behavioral problem in children. About 3 to 5% of school-aged kids are diagnosed with ADHD. Most of them are boys. So, what causes ADHD? Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes ADHD, though we do know some things that contribute. And we do know that the brain looks different in kids with this condition than it does in kids without the disorder. Most kids with ADHD also have other problems with behavior, depression, sleeping, or learning. How do you know for sure that your child has ADHD? There are three types of ADHD inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. Kids with the inattentive type get distracted easily. You'll find them staring out of the window in class instead of paying attention. They tend to lose their pens and pencils, and can't seem to ever finish their homework. Kids with hyperactivity are the ones who can't sit still. Their feet are always tapping and their mouth is always moving. It's like someone wound them up, but never wound them back down. Kids with impulsivity have trouble controlling themselves. They'll blurt out the answer to a question before the teacher has even finished asking it. They often won't let their friends finish a sentence, or a game, without butting in. In kids with these kinds of symptoms, ADHD can be a tricky diagnosis to make. Sometimes kids are mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD when they're just high energy. Other kids have ADHD and never get diagnosed. To get diagnosed with ADHD, kids need to have at least six symptoms of inattention and six symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity that have lasted for at least 6 months. A pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist can test the child and talk to the parents and teachers to make the diagnosis. How do doctors treat ADHD? Many kids with ADHD respond to a combination of medicines and behavior therapy. The drugs that are used most often for ADHD are called psychostimulants, like Adderall, Focalin, and Ritalin. A nonstimulant drug called Strattera may also be effective. Because these drugs can have side effects, kids should only use them under a doctor's guidance. Talk therapy that involves both the parents and child can help gain more control over ADHD behaviors. Parents can learn how to limit distractions, make sure their child gets enough sleep and eats right, and learn how to set consistent rules, rewarding good behavior and addressing bad behavior. Good sleep, good food, and plenty of physical activity, especially outdoors may help. About half of kids with ADHD eventually grow out of it. If they don't grow out of it, it can lead to problems in adulthood, like drug and alcohol abuse, difficulty keeping a job, and sometimes trouble with the law. Diagnosing ADHD early and addressing it right away can give kids the best chance for a healthy, happy future. So if you see any signs of ADHD in your child, talk to a pediatrician or child psychologist.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

    Animation

  •  

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Animation

    A lot of kids are what we call high energy. They seem to bounce off walls and find it impossible to sit still. For some kids, though, overactive and impulsive behaviors are severe enough to affect their schoolwork and home life. These kids may have a condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. ADHD is very common. In fact, it's the most common behavioral problem in children. About 3 to 5% of school-aged kids are diagnosed with ADHD. Most of them are boys. So, what causes ADHD? Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes ADHD, though we do know some things that contribute. And we do know that the brain looks different in kids with this condition than it does in kids without the disorder. Most kids with ADHD also have other problems with behavior, depression, sleeping, or learning. How do you know for sure that your child has ADHD? There are three types of ADHD inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. Kids with the inattentive type get distracted easily. You'll find them staring out of the window in class instead of paying attention. They tend to lose their pens and pencils, and can't seem to ever finish their homework. Kids with hyperactivity are the ones who can't sit still. Their feet are always tapping and their mouth is always moving. It's like someone wound them up, but never wound them back down. Kids with impulsivity have trouble controlling themselves. They'll blurt out the answer to a question before the teacher has even finished asking it. They often won't let their friends finish a sentence, or a game, without butting in. In kids with these kinds of symptoms, ADHD can be a tricky diagnosis to make. Sometimes kids are mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD when they're just high energy. Other kids have ADHD and never get diagnosed. To get diagnosed with ADHD, kids need to have at least six symptoms of inattention and six symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity that have lasted for at least 6 months. A pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist can test the child and talk to the parents and teachers to make the diagnosis. How do doctors treat ADHD? Many kids with ADHD respond to a combination of medicines and behavior therapy. The drugs that are used most often for ADHD are called psychostimulants, like Adderall, Focalin, and Ritalin. A nonstimulant drug called Strattera may also be effective. Because these drugs can have side effects, kids should only use them under a doctor's guidance. Talk therapy that involves both the parents and child can help gain more control over ADHD behaviors. Parents can learn how to limit distractions, make sure their child gets enough sleep and eats right, and learn how to set consistent rules, rewarding good behavior and addressing bad behavior. Good sleep, good food, and plenty of physical activity, especially outdoors may help. About half of kids with ADHD eventually grow out of it. If they don't grow out of it, it can lead to problems in adulthood, like drug and alcohol abuse, difficulty keeping a job, and sometimes trouble with the law. Diagnosing ADHD early and addressing it right away can give kids the best chance for a healthy, happy future. So if you see any signs of ADHD in your child, talk to a pediatrician or child psychologist.


    Review Date: 1/25/2021

    Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, DLFAPA, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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