For adults with ADHD, the standard treatment is medication. But experts say
that ADHD therapy -- and other psychosocial treatments -- can play a key role
“I think for many adults with ADHD, therapy is essential,” says David W.
Goodman MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine.
While ADHD medicines are effective, they may not be enough. To use a phrase
popular among ADHD specialists, pills don’t build skills. Even with medication,
These drugs improve ADHD symptoms in about 70% of adults and 70% to 80% of children. They tend to reduce interruptive behavior, fidgeting, and other hyperactive symptoms, as well as help a person finish tasks and improve his or her relationships.
Improvements in behavior and attention span usually continue as long as the medication is taken, although benefits in social adjustment and school performance have not yet been shown to endure over the long term.
Stimulants are not considered to be habit-forming in the doses used to treat ADHD in children and adolescents, and there is no evidence that their use leads to drug abuse. Nonetheless, there is a potential for abuse and addiction with any stimulant medication, especially if a person has a history of substance abuse and addiction.
Common Stimulants for ADHD
There are many stimulants available to treat ADHD: short acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. Common stimulants include:
The short-acting forms of the drug are usually taken two or three times a day and the long-acting ones just once a day.
Newer forms of some stimulant drugs may reduce side effects and relieve symptoms for a longer period of time. They include Concerta (10-12 hour duration), Daytrana patch (7- 10 hours, depending on how long it is worn), Ritalin LA (6-8 hours), Metadate CD (6-8 hours), and Adderall XR (10-12 hours).
How Do Stimulants Work for ADHD?
For someone with ADHD, stimulants regulate impulsive behavior and improve attention span and focus by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which help transmit signals between nerves.
Who Should Not Take a Stimulant Drug?
People with any of the following conditions should not take stimulants:
Glaucoma (a condition that causes increased pressure in the eyes and can lead to blindness)
Severe anxiety, tension, agitation, or nervousness
Treatment with a type of medication called monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as Nardil or Parnate, within 14 days of starting stimulant therapy
People with motor tics or a personal or family history of Tourette's Syndrome
People who are psychotic or have a history of psychosis
What Are the Side Effects of Stimulants?
Common side effects of stimulants include:
Increased blood pressure
These typically resolve after a few weeks of treatment as the body adjusts to the medication.