Choosing the Right ADHD Medication for Your Child
You have many options in types of medications, doses and treatment strategies.
"You can expect your child to have side effects," Sogn tells WebMD. "But
generally those related to stimulants are easily managed. Most side effects are
mild and transient."
Here is information to help you sort through your options.
Stimulant ADHD Medications
Stimulant ADHD medications work by increasing the levels of brain chemicals,
like epinephrine and norepinephrine, which help transmit signals between
nerves. With these medications, children are better able to focus and ignore
distraction, which can help them control their own behavior. In the classroom,
they may be less fidgety, less emotional, and better able to concentrate. Their
relationships may also improve. They may get along better at school and at
There are two classes of stimulants:
- Methylphenidate-based drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and
Over 200 studies have shown that methylphenidate is effective for the majority
of ADHD children.
- Amphetamine-based drugs such as Adderall and
These ADHD medications provide an option for kids who don't benefit from
methylphenidate, or who are looking for an alternative for other reasons. The
trade names include Dexedrine, Adderall, and Adderall XR.
Both types of stimulant drugs work equally well in improving ADHD symptoms,
according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Individual children,
however, may respond to one better than another.
"There's no inherent advantage of one medication over another," says Steven
Parker, MD, director of behavioral and developmental pediatrics at Boston
Medical Center and senior pediatric consultant for WebMD. "Most doctors start
with the drug they are most comfortable with, and if it's ineffective or if
there are side effects, then we try a different one." The goal is to find the
drug or combination of drugs that works best for each specific child.
These stimulants are generally considered safe medications with few side
effects, the AAP states in its guidelines. The side effects occur early in
treatment and tend to be mild and short-lived. The most common are: decreased
appetite, stomachache or headache, difficulty falling asleep, jitteriness, or
social withdrawal. Most of these symptoms can be successfully reduced by
adjusting the dosage or the time of day the child takes medication. From 15% to
30% of children develop tics while taking stimulants. This is a short-term side
effect that goes away when the child stops taking stimulants.
Perhaps the biggest advance in ADHD stimulants is that newer versions are
available in long-acting form. Here, briefly, are the pros and cons of various
forms of stimulants:
| ||•||Adderall XR||amphetamine||10-12 hours|
| ||•||Concerta||methylphenidate||10-12 hours|
| ||•||Dexedrine spansule||amphetamine||8-10 hours|
| ||•||Methylin ER||methylphenidate||6-8 hours|
| ||•||Metadate ER||methylphenidate||6-8 hours|
| ||•||Metadate CD||methylphenidate||8 hours|
| ||•||Ritalin SR||methylphenidate||6-8 hours|
| ||•||Ritalin LA||methylphenidate||8 hours|
Because the effects of some of these drugs can last up to 10 or 12 hours, a
child can take one pill in the morning, and not worry about taking another at
school. Longer-acting stimulants may also help children get through
after-school activities. Some children, however, may need a second dose or a
shorter-acting form of a different drug if afternoons and evenings are