ADHD medication can help reduce symptoms of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, formerly known as ADD. However, ADHD medications don’t cure ADHD. If you stop taking the medication, your symptoms will return. They can also come with side effects and risks—and they’re not the only treatment option for managing your symptoms.
Whether you’re the parent or the patient, it’s important to understand the facts about ADHD medication so you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you or your child.
Understanding medication for ADHD
The first thing to understand is exactly what ADHD medications can and can’t do.
ADHD medication may help improve your ability to concentrate, control impulses, plan ahead, and follow through with tasks. However, it isn’t a magic pill that will fix all of your or your child’s problems.
Even when the medication is working, though, some symptoms may persist. A child with ADHD might still struggle with forgetfulness, emotional problems, and social awkwardness, for example, or an adult with disorganization, distractibility, and relationship difficulties. That’s why it’s important to also make lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms, including regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep.
It’s also important to remember that each person responds differently to ADHD medication. What works for one person may not work for you or your child, and the effectiveness can also vary. Some people experience dramatic improvement while others experience only modest or minimal gains.
There are so many different ADHD medications available, finding the right one can often seem overwhelming. It may require patience and some trial and error with your doctor to find the specific drug and dosage that works best for you or your child.
Since the effects of ADHD medication can vary so much, its use should always be personalized to the individual and closely monitored by a doctor. When medication for ADHD is not carefully monitored, it may be less effective and more risky.
Stimulant medications for ADHD
Stimulants are the most common type of medication prescribed for attention deficit disorder. They have the longest track record for treating ADHD and the most research to back up their effectiveness. The stimulant class of medication includes widely used drugs such as:
- Ritalin, Concerta (methylphenidate)
- Adderall (dextroamphetamine and amphetamine)
- Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
- Dexedrine, ProCentra, Zenzedi (dextroamphetamine)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
- Evekeo, Adzenys, Dyanavel (amphetamine)
How stimulant medications work
Stimulants are believed to work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement. For many people with ADHD, stimulant medications boost concentration and focus while reducing hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.
Short-acting vs. long-acting stimulants
Stimulants for 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 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.