ADHD Medications: How ADHD Medicines Benefit Children with ADHD
A minimum of 80 percent of children with ADHD respond positively to at least one of the stimulant ADHD medications available, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Stimulant ADHD medicines are the most frequently prescribed treatments for ADHD kids. Physicians frequently try multiple ADD medications to find the one that offers the best relief of ADHD symptoms with the least undesirable side effects.
Recently, physicians have found success with other types of ADHD medications, such as the non-stimulant drug, Strattera.
Available Stimulant ADHD Medications for Treating Children
Stimulant ADHD medications are divided into two classes: methylphenidate-based formulations and amphetamine-based formulations. Methylphenidate-based ADHD medicines include drugs sold under the brand names Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Metadate. Amphetamine-based ADHD medicines include those sold under the brand names Adderall, Dextrostat, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse.
The most common side effects associated with stimulant ADD medications include:
- anorexia (decreased appetite)
- withdrawal from social activities
These ADHD medication side effects usually do not last long and occur early on in the treatment cycle. Physicians can usually reduce these side effects by adjusting dosage amounts. Many stimulant ADD medications come in extended release or long-acting formulations, allowing one morning dose per day versus the two or more doses per day associated with fast-acting stimulants.
Can Children Become Addicted to Stimulant ADHD Medicines?
Many parents voice concern that their child may become dependant upon stimulant ADHD medicines. Studies have shown that stimulant drugs do not pose a dependency risk when prescribed to children and adolescents to treat ADD. Furthermore, the use of these ADD medications in children and adolescents does not increase potential for drug abuse in adulthood.
That being said, all stimulant drugs, including ADHD medicines, which fall under a controlled substance classification have the potential for abuse. Doctors should not prescribe them to people with a history of substance abuse.
Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications
Physicians now have one FDA approved non-stimulant ADHD drug to add to their arsenal of ADHD medications, atomoxetine, sold under the brand name Strattera. Strattera works to balance levels of norepinephrine in the brain and is effective in reducing ADHD symptoms in children. However, unlike stimulant drugs which affect levels of both norepinephrine and dopamine, patients must take Strattera for a longer period before seeing an improvement in ADHD symptoms.
Strattera does not cause insomnia, nervous tics, headache, or many other possible side effects associated with stimulant ADD medicines. Common side effects include, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and possible mood swings. Most of these subside after one or two weeks of consistently taking Strattera. Some experts have reported concerns that long-term use of Strattera can cause growth delays in children and teens. Physicians should monitor growth and weight of patients taking the drug closely.
Choosing Among the ADHD Medications
Studies have shown stimulant ADHD medications as highly effective in controlling ADHD symptoms in children and adolescents. Parents need not worry about their child developing a dependence on these medications if administered properly in the treatment of ADHD. However, certain children do not respond well to any of the stimulant medications, often because they have other disorders in addition to ADHD. In these cases, a non-stimulant drug such as Strattera, may prove the best and most effective choice. Most mental health practitioners suggest including behavior modification therapy for ADD, ADHD children in addition to ADD medicines for optimal success in managing ADHD symptoms and behaviors.
Last Updated: 10 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD