How do they work?

Stimulants regulate impulsive behavior and improve attention span and focus by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, primarily dopamine, which transmit signals between nerves.

What should I tell my doctor before starting stimulant therapy?

When taking stimulant therapy for ADHD, be sure to tell your healthcare provider:

  • If you are nursing, pregnant, or plan to become pregnant.
  • If you are taking or plan to take any prescription drugs, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, or nonprescription medications.
  • If you have any past or present medical problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, seizures, heart disease, glaucoma, or liver or kidney disease.
  • If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse or dependency, or if you have had mental health problems, including depression, manic depression, or psychosis.
  • If you have a history of suicidal thoughts or if anyone in your family has tried to commit suicide.

What should I be aware of if my child is being given stimulants?

If you miss a dose, just go back to the regular prescribed dosage schedule - don’t try to catch up by taking additional doses. The following are useful guidelines to keep in mind when giving your child stimulants for ADHD:

  • Always give the medication exactly as prescribed. If there are any problems or questions, call your doctor.
  • When starting stimulant therapy, do so on a weekend so that you will have an opportunity to see how the child responds.
  • Your doctor will probably want to start the medication out at a low dose and increase gradually until symptoms are controlled.
  • Try to keep to a regular schedule, which may mean that doses will have to be given by teachers, nurses, or other caregivers.
  • Children usually respond better to continuous medication use, but "medication vacations" may be planned for a day or more for children who are doing well when activities permit.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/23/2016.


  • Patient Education documents from Lexi-Comp Online, Lexi-Drugs Online, Hudson, Ohio: Lexi-Comp Inc.;2013, January 2013.
  • Carenotes from Micromedex Healthcare Series [Internet database]. Greenwood Village, Colo: Thomson Reuters (Healthcare) Inc. Updated periodically.
  • Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach by Joseph T. Dipiro, Robert L. Talbert, Gary C. Yee, Gary R. Matzke, Barbara G. Wells, and L. MIchael Posey Chapter 65 Childhood Disorders pp. 1029-1040. Seventh Edition McGraw Hill Medical Copyright 2008.

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