What medications are used to treat ADHD?

A group of drugs called psychostimulants has been found to be the most effective treatment for childhood ADHD. The two most commonly used medicines in this class are methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®, Focalin XR®, Ritalin LA®, Daytrana®, Quillivant XRTM, Metadate CD) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall XR®, Vyvanse®). These medicines help children to focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. Stimulant medicines are effective in 70% to 80% of patients.

Non-stimulant medicines include atomoxetine (Strattera®,) guanfacine (Intuniv®), and clonidine (Kapvay®). They are often used as additional therapy, or can be used on their own if the doctor decides.

Here is a current list of ADHD medications:

STIMULANTS

Methylphenidate

  • Short-acting: Ritalin, Focalin, Methylin Chewable, Methylin Solution
  • Long-acting intermediate release: Ritalin SR, Methylin, Metadate ER
  • Long-acting extended release: Concerta, Aptensio® XR, Metadate CD, Metadate ER, Ritalin LA, Focalin XR, Daytrana, Quillivant XR (liquid)

Amphetamine

  • Short-acting: Dextrostat®, Dexedrine Tabs, Evekeo®, Zenzedi®, Adderall, ProCentra®
  • Long-acting intermediate release: Adderall, Dexedrine Spansule
  • Long-acting extended release: Vynase, Adderall XR, Dyanavel® XR, Adzenys® XR-ODT
NON-STIMULANTS
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv)
  • Clonidine (Kapvay)

ADHD medicines are available in short-acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. It might take some time for a doctor to find the most effective medicine, dosage, and schedule for a person who has ADHD.

There is no reliable way to predict which medicine(s) will work. The only way to know that a medication will be helpful for a child with ADHD is to prescribe it.

ADHD drugs sometimes have side effects, including appetite suppression, trouble sleeping, or irritability. Side effects are often mild and short-lived, and usually happen early in treatment. If side effects continue or interfere with the child’s life, the doctor will probably change the medication or lower the dose of the medicine used. A good rule is to compare the benefit of medicine to the side effect—if the benefit outweighs the side effect, it is often helpful to manage the side effect.

What behavioral treatments are used to treat ADHD?

Behavioral treatments for ADHD include the following:

  • Behavior modification: The child’s behavior is analyzed, and strategies are designed to increase appropriate behaviors and decrease inappropriate behaviors.
  • Behavioral parent training: This trains parents to respond to a child’s behaviors in ways that will strengthen growth and development and encourage a positive parent-child relationship. Parent training often occurs at the same time as behavior modification or social skills training for the child.
  • Social skills training: This teaches social skills that will improve the child’s ability to act positively and effectively in school, at home, and with peers. It also provides a setting to practice the skills in a safe, accepting atmosphere.
  • School interventions: A specialist can work with your child’s educational team to conduct an evaluation (multi-factored evaluation, or MFE) to create an IEP, 504 plan, or classroom-based interventions.
  • Organizational skills training: It’s often helpful to teach older children skills that will help them improve time management and organization skills and increase efficiency at home and at school.

What alternative treatments for ADHD are available?

Parents should use caution when considering alternative treatments. Very few alternative or complementary treatments have been shown to be helpful for ADHD.

The program Cogmed® is effective in training working memory, which is often a problem with children who have ADHD. Other studies have shown mild benefits for omega-3 supplements, massage therapy, and mindfulness training. Mindfulness training is proving to be a real asset in many therapies, including ADHD.

Other alternative treatments for ADHD that have not been proven useful in controlled scientific studies, or may even be harmful, are:

  • Allergy treatment
  • Megavitamins
  • Herbal supplements
  • Biofeedback
  • Restricted diets
  • Movement therapy
  • Anti-motion sickness treatment
  • Eye movement training

Though many claims are made for other complementary and alternative treatments for ADHD, such as Brain Gym® and Lumosity®, few have been found to be effective.

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