There is no magic pill that cures ADHD. Rather there are prongs of treatment that when combined can help manage the unwanted aspects of ADHD. I talk a lot about the non-pharmaceutical treatments on this blog however this article is about prescribed medication.
There are 3 types of medication that can be prescribed to help ADHD: Stimulants, non-stimulants and antidepressants. When thinking about ADHD Meds, stimulants are the ones that automatically spring to mind. However, if they aren’t effective or they can’t be prescribed because of another medical condition, then non-stimulants and antidepressants can be prescribed.
Stimulant medications are the most effective medication for treating ADHD. About 75% of adults find them to ‘work’. As a result, they are the most prescribed medication and the most studied.
It might sound counter intuitive for a person who has ADHD to take a stimulant. However, if we remember that ADHD is a neurological condition, it makes more sense. ADHD problems stem from the deficiency of neurotransmitters in certain parts of the brain.
Neurotransmitters are like postmen or women who deliver messages between neurons. The brain has hundreds of different neurotransmitters and they help with everything from sleep, heart rate to fear and anxiety, to mood and temperature. The important neurotransmitters for ADHD are norepinephrine and dopamine because they are responsible for attention and activity.
ADHD medication stimulate (hence their name!) certain brain cells to make more of the neurotransmitters they were missing for optimum brain function. In addition, they act by blocking dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake, so there is more of the neurotransmitter in the synapse.
The two main types of stimulant medications are:
All brand name ADHD drugs available derive from them. For example:
- Adderall and Dexedrine come from Dextro-amphetamine
- Ritalin and Concerta come from Methylphenidate
One of the reasons why ADHD medication gets confusing is that whenever a drug company makes a drug using a different format, either the way it’s consumed (capsule, tablet, etc.) or how its released (short or long acting, etc.), they are required to give it a different name. For example:
- Ritalin is short acting
- Ritaline SR is intermediate acting
- Concerta is long acting
- Daytrana Patch comes as a skin patch
However, they are all stimulants from the Methylphenidate family.
If you would like to have a visual of the different ADHD drugs, WebMD created a useful table.
Is the medication working?
Some people wonder how they will know if the medication is working for them. You will notice that it your focus is improved and it’s easier to attend to just one thing. If you are hyperactive, then you will notice that has been reduced. Everyone’s experiences are slightly different. One person reported that she realized the medication was working when she went shopping and only bought exactly what she had written on her list. She couldn’t believe how fast the trip was because the products that weren’t on the list didn’t catch her attention or distracted her from her mission.
Medications can have side effects; and for some people, they dislike the side effects so much that they stop taking the ADHD meds. Though, the side effects often wear off after about 2 weeks, as your body gets use to them.
Some of the side effects are: loss of appetite, insomnia, and an increase in heart rate or blood pressure, dry mouth, etc. If you are experiencing side effects, talk to your doctor. Often, they can be reduced by changing the dose, release length or stimulant family.
Finding the right therapeutic dose for you requires working closely with your doctor. Usually, you start with a lower dose and gradually increase it until you feel the medication is helping you, without causing a racing heart or feeling jittery.
Having a close relationship with a knowledgeable doctor is very helpful. Pharmacists are also a wealth of information. You can also empower yourself with information by doing some reading on the topic of ADHD medication.
I love how you explain how stimulants work. That’s an explanation easy for many to understand, and removes the fear of getting “high” taking stimulants. Thanks for sharing that!
Author of “What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD” and “Boy Without Instructions”
Parent of 2e preteen with ADHD, autism, and LDs