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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Treatment Overview

Treatment of ADHD helps control the ADHD symptoms, including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Consistent ADHD treatment can improve the ability of the person with ADHD to function better in school, at work, and in social situations.

Treatment for ADHD is multifaceted. It consists of ADHD medications or behavioral modification therapy or both. ADHD treatment should be tailored to meet the unique needs of the child or adult who has ADHD as well as the needs of the family.

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If your child is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- a common disorder that makes it difficult to pay attention, stay focused, or control behavior -- your lives can change: Your child will need medication, regular doctor visits, and therapy. You may also need to learn different parenting techniques to help your child. You may feel overwhelmed if your child is then diagnosed with a second, related condition, complicating matters further. But it's common for people with...

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What kind of treatment for ADHD is recommended for children and adolescents?

Studies have established the safety and effectiveness of using stimulant medications, other drugs, and behavioral therapy. These treatments do more than simply relieve the symptoms of ADHD. They also improve the child's ability to follow rules and to improve relationships with peers and parents.

There are two treatment strategies that have been shown to be effective for elementary-school-aged children with ADHD. The first is a closely monitored medication treatment program. The second is a program that combines medication with intensive behavior therapy. In a large study, nine out of 10 children improved substantially with one of these two treatment strategies.

The most effective approach to treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD is a multidisciplinary approach. This approach includes multiple elements that work best together and support each other. The components of a multidisciplinary approach to treating ADHD include:

  • Education for both parents and child or teen about diagnosis and treatment
  • ADHD medication
  • Behavior management therapy
  • School teacher involvement
  • School counselor involvement

Which medications are used to treat ADHD in children?

The primary ADHD medications include stimulants, nonstimulants, and antidepressants.

Stimulants are the most common treatment for ADHD in children and adolescents. They include methylphenidate -- Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta, Quillivant XR, and Daytrana -- or amphetamines, including Dexedrine, Dextrostat, and Adderall. A newer drug, Vyvanse, is a type of amphetamine that’s formulated to last longer and to be less conducive to abuse or dependence than other stimulants.

Other FDA-approved drugs for ADHD in children and adolescents include the nonstimulants Strattera and Intuniv. Strattera works on levels of the brain chemical norepinephrine and is quite effective at treating and controlling ADHD symptoms. Intuniv affects certain receptors in the brain and also improves concentration and impulse control. Both of these drugs pose a much lower risk of abuse or dependence than stimulants.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin has been shown to be beneficial in treating ADHD. Wellbutrin can be an alternate treatment when tolerance or abuse of a stimulant is a problem.

Antidepressants have a positive effect on all three of the major components of ADHD: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. They are another option for children whose response to stimulant medication has been inadequate. They also are used as an alternative for children who experience unacceptable side effects, such as tics or insomnia, from stimulant medication.

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