Stress Management > ADHD > ADHD treatments > Medication

Medication

There are a number of different types of medications that may be given to someone diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder including; non-stimulants, stimulants and anti-depressants.

Medication should be the last resort for children suffering from ADHD. The long term impact of taking medication to treat ADHD is largely unnknown. Some research has implicated its use with heart conditions. However, drug companies have conducted research and have reported taking prescription medication to treat ADHD is safe and efficient.

Medication treatments are synthetic substances taken to manipulate brain processes and as such should be taken with caution.

Non-stimulants

Non-stimulant medication was approved for treating ADHD in both adults and children in 2003. These medications reportedly have fewer side effects than stimulant treatments. They are less likely to disrupt sleep or cause agitation. Additionally, it is reported that non-stimulant medication is less likely to cause addiction than stimulants, however, as with any medication individuals will react differently and could experience negative side effects. Non-stimulant ADHD treatments can often last up to 24 hours, which is longer than stimulant medication.

Strattera was the first non-stimulant medical treatment for ADHD and is now commonly used by both adults and children. Strattera works by increasing levels of the norepinephrine neurotransmitter within the brain. The medication has been found to improve attention and concentration capacity and suppress hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. However, less prominent side effects have been reported including stunted growth in children prescribed the medication as well as emotional changes such as depression and in some severe cases suicidal thoughts, Jaundice and liver problems have arisen as a result of taking the medication.

Intuniv is another non-stimulant medication approved for use in children aged 6 to 17 diagnosed with ADHD. This medication influences particular neuroreceptors in the brain. Some scientific research has shown that it can increase concentration and attention, suppress impulses and improve working memory. However, Intuniv has been linked to severe health implications such as low blood pressure and heart rhythm changes and is often reported to cause drowsiness, fatigue and headaches.

Stimulants

Stimulants are the best known and most common medical treatment for ADHD. Some stimulant medication requires several doses throughout the day and other long-acting forms need only to be taken once a day. It is reported that stimulant medication improves ADHD symptoms including attention, impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity in approximately 70 percent of adults and between 70 and 80 percent of children shortly after beginning treatment. In addition to reducing symptoms, reports suggest that stimulant medication improves social relationships and activity completion.

Common Stimulant medications for ADHD include:

  • Ritalin
  • Adderall
  • Methylin
  • Vyvanse
  • Dexedrine
  • Concerta
  • Metadate

There are variants of these stimulants that changes how long they remain active within the body and subsequently how many doses per day are required.

The stimulant medication works by increasing the concentration of particular neurotransmitters within the brain. Most stimulant medication for ADHD contains epinephrine and norepinephrine which aid concentration and help suppress impulsive and hyperactive behaviour.

Side effects of stimulant therapy for ADHD include headaches, stomach problems and increased blood pressure. Approximately 80 percent of stimulants users will see their appetite greatly suppressed and will often report weight loss. Children who take stimulant medication commonly show signs of stunted growth as a side effect of the drugs.

Finally, there is an increased chance of addiction and substance abuse with the use of stimulant medication as a treatment for ADHD. Additionally, the long term health implications of using stimulant therapy for prolonged periods of time are largely unknown but some scientific research has connected long-term use with cardiovascular problems, particularly issues such as hypertension and stroke.

Anti-depressants

Anti-depressants particulally Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are sometimes prescribed to people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to help improve memory and the moderation of emotions. Anti-depressants are also used to improve mood as this can be affected by a diagnosis of ADHD.

Anti-depressants are the medicine of choice when treating a patient who has ADHD and shows symptoms of depression. Some schools of thought have highlighted their concern with prescribing anti-depressants to people suffering with ADHD. It is believed by some that this type of medication rather than increasing consentration, simply acts as a suppressant to destructive, ruminative thinking patterns. Subsequently, rather than addressing such thought processes they are left to potentially cause further emotional difficulties.

In 2004, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlighted that in some cases, prescribing anti-depressants to treat ADHD can increase risk of suicide in children and adolescents.