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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Choosing the Right ADHD Medication for Your Child

You have many options in types of medications, doses and treatment strategies.

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Short-Acting Stimulants:

  Ritalin amphetamine 3-4 hours
  Focalin amphetamine 3-4 hours
  Adderall amphetamine 4-5 hours
  Dexedrine amphetamine 4-5 hours
  Dextrostat amphetamine 4-5 hours

These are usually taken at three- to four-hour intervals -- usually about 30 minutes before the earlier dose wears off. This means that children have to take the pills at school, either at lunchtime or another time during the day. At some schools, this is not always easy to coordinate. Often there is not a school nurse on site to give the medication, and children are not allowed to keep their own pills.

But short-acting drugs do help control many children's ADHD symptoms. Often, children might take a short-acting stimulant in the afternoon -- after the longer-acting stimulant wears off - so they can participate in after-school activities or have quieter evenings at home.

Side Effects of Stimulant ADHD Medications

Loss of appetite and weight loss are common side effects of stimulant ADHD medications. Concern for growth delay has been raised, but studies have found little or no significant delay. Children usually catch up later on. Most doctors believe in "drug holidays" during summers, although no studies have looked at this.

Stimulants are not considered to be habit forming when used to treat ADHD in children and adolescents. Also, there is no evidence that their use leads to drug abuse. However, there is a potential for abuse and addiction with any stimulant medication -- especially if that person has a history of substance abuse.

Nonstimulant ADHD Medication

Individual children respond to drugs differently; a child may benefit from one drug but not another. Because some children don't benefit from stimulant drugs, doctors have turned to other medications to treat ADHD.

Atomoxetine

Sold under the trade name Strattera, this is the first nonstimulant ADHD medication approved by the FDA. Like the stimulants, Strattera works on the norepinephrine brain chemicals. And also like stimulant drugs, Strattera is effective in treating and controlling ADHD symptoms. However, this medication is not a controlled substance and children are less likely to abuse the drug or become dependant on it.

Strattera is given in a single dose either in the morning or afternoon. Effects last until the next dose. It may be taken with or without food. However, some evidence shows that taking it with food will decrease any stomach upsets.

Side Effects of Strattera

Overall, Strattera is well tolerated with minimal side effects, according to the AAP. It doesn't cause many of the potential side effects linked to stimulants, such as sleeplessness. The most common side effects: upset stomach, decreased appetite, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and mood swings. Generally these side effects are not severe, and only a very small percentage of children in clinical trials testing Strattera stopped this ADHD medication due to side effects.

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