Medication can help reduce the symptoms of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity in both children and adults with ADD or ADHD.
ADHD medication may help improve the ability to concentrate, control impulses, plan ahead, and follow through with tasks. ADD medication is most effective when combined with other methods of treatment and coping strategies.
It’s also important to understand that medication doesn’t cure ADD / ADHD. It can relieve symptoms while it’s being taken, but once medication stops, those symptoms come back.
Stimulants such as amphetmine and methylphenidate have been around for over 60 years. In the second World War the German army used amphetamines so that the soldiers could march all night and fight all day.
Stimulants used for ADHD work by increasing both blood flow and the levels of Dopamine in the brain, especially the frontal lobes where the brain’s Executive Functions take place. They also enhance the inhibitory systems of the brain by enhancing Serotonin and Norepinepherine levels.
Stimulants, whether Ritalin or the amphetamines such as Dexedrine or ADDerall, all have benefits for children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Stimulant medication for ADHD will increase the brain’s ability to inhibit itself. This allows the brain to focus on the right thing at the right time, and to be less distracted, and less impulsive. Stimulants increase the “signal to noise ratio” in the brain. Stimulants are believed to work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement.a
They will also increase both gross motor co-ordination and fine motor control. For several years the sales brochure for Ritalin simply had pictures of children’s handwriting before Ritalin, and with 10 mg of Ritalin in their system. The changes were dramatic.
For many people with ADD or ADHD, stimulant medications boost concentration and focus while reducing hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.
Stimulants for ADD / ADHD come in both short and long-acting dosages. Short-acting stimulants peak after several hours, and must be taken 2-3 times a day. Long-acting or extended-release stimulants last 8-12 hours, and are usually taken just once a day.
The long-acting versions of ADD / ADHD medication are often preferred, since people with ADHD often have trouble remembering to take their pills. Taking just one dose a day is much easier and more convenient.
Questions to ask an ADD / ADHD specialist
Consulting with an ADD / ADHD specialist or an experienced psychiatrist can help you understand the pros and cons of medication. Here are some questions to ask:
- What ADD / ADHD treatments do you recommend?
- Can my symptoms be managed without medication?
- What medications do you recommend and what are the side effects?
- How effective is medication for ADD / ADHD?
- How long will the medication be necessary for treatment?
- How will the decision be made to stop medication?
Guidelines for taking ADD & ADHD medication
To maximize the effectiveness of medication for ADD / ADHD and to minimize the side effects and risks, it’s important to take the drug as directed. Here are some guidelines for safe use:
- Learn about the medication. Find out everything you can about the ADD / ADHD medication you or your child is taking, including potential side effects, how often to take it, special warnings, and other substances that should be avoided, such as over-the-counter cold medication.
- Be patient. Finding the right medication and dose is a trial-and-error process. It will take some experimenting, as well as open, honest communication with your doctor.
- Start small. It’s always best to start with a low dose and work up from there. The goal is to find the lowest possible dose that relieves you or your child’s symptoms.
- Monitor the drug’s effects. Pay close attention to the effect the medication is having on your or your child’s emotions and behavior. Keep track of any side effects and monitor how well the medication is working to reduce symptoms.
- Taper off slowly. If you or your child wants to stop taking medication, call the doctor for guidance on gradually decreasing the dose. Abruptly stopping medication can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, depression, and headache.
Evaluating Impact of Medication
Many kids and teens with ADD / ADHD don’t take their medication correctly—or stop taking it without talking to their parents or doctor—so if your child is on ADD meds, make sure that he or she understands how to take the medication correctly and why following prescription guidelines are important. Encourage your child to come to you with any medication-related concerns so you can work together to solve the problem or find another treatment option.
Monitoring Medication’s Effects on Your Child
Here is a list of questions you should ask when your child begins medication therapy, changes dosage, or starts taking a different medication.
- Is the medication having a positive impact on your child’s mood and/or behavior?
- Do you think the dosage or medication is working?
- Does your child think the dosage or medication is working?
- Does the dose need to be increased or decreased?
- What was the change in a specific behavior or set of behaviors that caused you to conclude that the medication needed to be evaluated?
- Is your child experiencing any side effects (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, fatigue or sleeplessness, dry mouth, etc.)?
- What is the likelihood those side effects will last? (Ask your doctor.)
- Do any lasting side effects (if any) outweigh the medication’s benefits?
- Do you or your child think a medication or dosage level has stopped working?