ADHD Treatment in Children

Treatment can help your child with ADHD in school, social situations, and at home. The right plan can help with all three of the major components of ADHD: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity control. The goal of treatment is to help your child follow rules, concentrate, and have good relationships with parents, teachers, and peers.

These treatment options are all considered safe, but no two children are alike, and what works for some kids may not work as well for yours.

Together with the doctor, you’ll develop a plan that meets your child’s specific needs. It may take time to figure out what works best. The plan may include medications, behavioral therapy, or both.

Medications

The main medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants and nonstimulants. Sometimes antidepressants are also used.

Stimulants are the most common treatment in children and teens. This is usually the type of medication a doctor may try first. Stimulants have been used for a long time and are well-tested. They help the brain control impulses and control behavior and attention.

Kids with certain medical conditions shouldn’t take stimulants. Make sure the doctor knows your child’s medical history before he prescribes any medication.

Stimulants include:

  • Amphetamine (Adzenys XR-ODT)
  • Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin, Quillivant XR)
  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin, Focalin XR)

If the first drug the doctor prescribes doesn’t seem to help with symptoms, she may raise the dosage, suggest a different medication, or suggest your child take another drug along with the stimulant.

Nonstimulants aren’t as well tested. They work in different ways than stimulants, but they can help with concentration and impulse control. For some kids, they may be a better option than stimulants, but they’re often used along with stimulants.

These nonstimulants are FDA-approved for ADHD in children and teens:

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Clonidine ER (Kapvay)
  • Guanfacine ER (Intuniv)

Antidepressants aren’t specifically approved to treat ADHD, but they can help with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. They’re an option for children who haven’t done well on a stimulant alone. Taking an antidepressant along with a stimulant seems to work well for children who have ADHD along with a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety.

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There are several types of antidepressants.

Tricyclic antidepressants. These affect chemicals in the brain.

Examples of tricyclic antidepressants include:

  • Nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofrane)

Bupropion (Wellbutrin). The doctor may prescribe this if your child doesn’t do well with stimulants.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for people with depression. These have been tried for ADHD:

  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

Venlafaxine (Effexor). This drug also affects chemicals in the brain. It helps improve mood and concentration in children and teens.

Side Effects

All these drugs can cause side effects. They usually happen when a child first starts treatment. They’re usually mild and go away fairly soon. Before your child starts any new medication, talk to his doctor about what to expect.

If you become concerned about side effects while your child is on a medication, call the doctor. Don’t make changes in the treatment without talking to him.

Behavioral Therapy

This type of therapy uses positive reinforcement for good behavior and negative reinforcement for unwanted behaviors. A mental health professional -- a psychologist, social worker, or family therapist -- works with you and your child's teachers to set up a program to improve your child’s behaviors.

Behavioral therapy is often used along with ADHD medications, but it can also be used alone.

Other Treatments

Some studies have shown that omega-3 supplements may be helpful for some children with ADHD. In fact, there are prescription omega-3 supplements available. Some kids with ADHD may benefit from changes in diet, such as going gluten-free or avoiding certain food dyes and additives. Talk to your child’s doctor about the best options for him.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 21, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Resource Center on AD/HD: "Behavioral Treatment for Children and Teenagers with AD/HD."

National Resource Center on AD/HD: "Complementary and Alternative Treatments."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "ADHD: What Parents Should Know."

National Resource Center on AD/HD: "Managing Medication for Children and Adolescents with AD/HD."

National Resource Center on AD/HD: "Managing Medication for Adults with AD/HD."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "ADHD Medicines."

Medscape: “Once-Daily Guanfacine Approved to Treat ADHD.”

Intuniv web site.

Attention Deficit Disorder Resources: “Medication Management for Adults with ADHD.”

Strattera web site.

National Institute of Mental Health: “Questions Raised about Stimulants and Sudden Death.”

HelpGuide.org: “ADD & ADHD Medications.”

News release, Pfizer.

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