Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD)
Search For A Cure
Scientific Breakthroughs & Caregiver Tips
How is ADHD Treated?
A pop-culture bias is to think that medications are only a “crutch” and that children eventually outgrow ADHD. In fact, imaging techniques reveal significant anatomical and structural differences in the brains of people with ADHD.
In most cases, ADHD can be treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. Finding the right medication often takes a bit of fine-tuning.
Doctors do not completely understand why medications work. However, fMRI brain images [see Brain Science] convincingly show that ADHD medications change brain activity in regions vital to attention and behavioral control.
In laboratories around the world, researchers have begun to identify how stimulant medications work to change brain function and reduce ADHD symptoms. New research points to the role of neurotransmitters in brain circuitry.
In simple terms, medications raise the level of a vital neurotransmitter —norepinephrine — within the brain. Stimulants work by causing the brain to synthesize norepinephrine. A non-stimulant like Strattera slows the rate at which norepinephrine is broken down.
Levels of another key neurotransmitter — dopamine — are also reduced in people with ADHD. Many medications for treating ADHD work by increasing dopamine and stimulating focus. Ritalin and Adderall work by blocking the reuptake of both dopamine and norepinephrine.
Extended-release forms of ADHD medications smooth the “rebound” difficulties that can occur when the drug starts to wear off. Side effects can include moodiness, irritability, anger, nervousness, sadness, crying, fatigue, and even an increase in the severity of ADHD symptoms. Potential side-effects of stimulants include loss of appetite, irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, and restlessness.
Selected stimulant medications:
- Adderall® XR Extended-Release, Adderall® (amphetamine salts)
- Ritalin® (methylphenidate)
- Concerta® (methylphenidate)
- Focalin® (dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride)
- Vyvanse® (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)
- Strattera® (atomoxetine mhydrochloride) is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
- It’s not a stimulant, but it can decrease hyperactivity, improve attention span, and reduce impulsivity.
- Intuniv® or Tenex® (guanfacine) is approved for children age 6-17. Alcohol and sedating drugs can cause very serious interactions. The drug must be stopped gradually.
Although stimulant medications help some children concentrate better, they aren’t always effective, and may not be easily tolerated by some children. Newer non-stimulant medications like Strattera® increase levels of norepinephrine in the brain without the roller-coaster side-effects of stimulants.
Particularly important is the need to find non-drug treatments, given concerns among parents about side-effects and unknown long-term effects on their children’s health from years of daily medication use.
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