ADHD Medications for Children

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Learning More About ADHD Medications

Despite an earlier study that demonstrates the superiority of medication management in helping children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the usual course of action followed by parents is to first provide the young ADHD patient with behavioral therapy treatment. This is an effort to avoid making children dependent on medications at early ages. However, when the behavioral therapy does not address the ADHD symptoms or when the symptoms become severe, medication becomes the only resort. There exists no single fits-all medication for all patients of ADHD. In fact, there are numerous medications available in the market and many of these are targeted at children within a certain age range. A particular medication may be effective on one child but will have no significant positive effect on another. Thus, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician considers the child personal history before prescribing any medication.

Most medications used on children with ADHD are stimulants. The use of stimulants may seem counter-intuitive when physicians are attempting to address hyperactivity and compulsivity but stimulants have been found considerably effective in working on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has been linked to ADHD. Some of the generic names of stimulants used for children who are three years old and older are amphetamines (such as Adderall) and dextroamphetamines (such as Dexedrin and Dextrostat. For children who are six years old and up, the generic names of stimulants include methylphenidate (such as Concerta, Ritalin and Metadate), pemoline (such as Cylert), dexmethylphenidate (such as Focaline). There is also a non-stimulant ADHD medication known as the atomoxetine (in Strattera). The atomoxetine works on norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter linked to ADHD.

Medications do not necessarily cure ADHD. Some children may continue taking medications until they reach their teenage years, while others still take medications even when they are adults. The use of medications for ADHD, similar to the use of medicines for other illnesses, must be approached in a careful and precise manner to avoid abuse and to lessen side effects. Some of the common side effects are headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, decreased appetite, and increased anxiety. The medications called Cylert should be used with caution because it has serious negative effects on the liver.

The MTA Cooperative Group. A 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Archives of General Psychiatry, 1999;56:1073-1086.