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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Medications

Medicines are used to help control the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines recommend medicine and/or behavior therapy to treat children who have ADHD.4

Children should be closely watched after they start medicines. The doctor can assess whether your child is receiving the correct dose. Side effects usually decrease after a few weeks on the medicines. Or the dosage can be lowered to offset side effects.

Be sure that medicine for ADHD is taken consistently. You will also need to keep track of the effects of the medicine and communicate closely with your child's doctor.

ADHD: Should My Child Take Medicine for ADHD?

Medicine choices

Medicines to treat ADHD include:

  • Stimulants. These medicines include amphetamine (for example, Adderall or Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (for example, Concerta, Metadate CD, or Ritalin). Stimulants usually reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve focus.
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera). This is an approved nonstimulant medicine for children, teens, and adults.
  • Clonidine (Kapvay) and guanfacine (Intuniv). These are nonstimulant medicines approved to treat aggression, inattention, and impulsivity not controlled by other ADHD medicines.
  • Antidepressants. Certain antidepressants are sometimes also recommended.

Stimulant medicines

Most often, stimulant medicines are used to treat ADHD. These medicines are effective for people of all ages. But more research is needed on how adults respond. In general, stimulant medicines improve symptoms in about 70 out of 100 people who have ADHD.1 There are often quick and dramatic improvements in behavior.

Taking medicine for ADHD doesn't increase the risk for substance abuse later. Some studies have found less alcohol and drug abuse in children and teens with ADHD who had taken stimulant medicines than in those who didn't receive medicine.5

Nonstimulant medicines

If stimulant medicines have bothersome side effects or aren't effective, your child's doctor might recommend a nonstimulant medicine such as atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay), or guanfacine (Intuniv). These medicines may be used alone or in combination with stimulant medicines.

What to think about

Medicines may also be used to treat other mental health conditions that often occur along with ADHD. One condition is anxiety disorders.

If your child is taking medicine for ADHD, consider:

  • All of a child's behavior problems may not be controlled by medicine. And it hasn't been proved that medicine improves the long-term educational, occupational, and social functioning of a person who has ADHD.
  • Stimulant medicines may be related to slower growth in children, especially in the first year of taking the medicine. But most children seem to catch up in height and weight by the time they are adults. Your doctor will keep track of your child's growth and will watch for problems.1
  • Some medicines used to treat ADHD (such as stimulants) can be abused. Make sure that your child knows not to sell or give medicine to other people. An adult should supervise the medicine.
  • Some parents worry about their children becoming addicted to stimulants. Research has shown that these medicines, when taken correctly, don't cause dependence.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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