ADHD treatments aim to relieve symptoms, thereby reducing hyperactivity and inattentiveness. ADHD treatments can be roughly divided into two categories:
- ADHD drugs (such as RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® or StratteraÂ®)
Often, the best results occur when ADHD medication is combined with psychotherapeutic treatments.
ADHD treatments are not a cure. Ideally, treatment helps to put the condition in remission and helps children learn to compensate for ADHD in the classroom and in life.
The most commonly-prescribed ADHD drugs are stimulants such as RitalinÂ® (methylphenidate), which improve the ability to focus and concentrate. RitalinÂ® and other stimulants help the brain’s nerve centers communicate by influencing the action of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin.
RitalinÂ® and other stimulating ADHD medication, when used correctly, can be very effective ADHD treatments. Between 70 percent and 80 percent of children treated with this family of ADHD drugs show significant symptom improvements.
Concerns that RitalinÂ® and related stimulants are addictive are, for the most part, exaggerated. When abused as a street drug, RitalinÂ® can be very addictive, due to methods of ingestion and street doses. Children taking ADHD drugs should be taught never to share medication, in spite of peer pressure. Teenagers should be supervised carefully to ensure that they stick to the prescribed dosages. When used as prescribed ADHD treatments, RitalinÂ® and other ADHD drugs are not considered addictive.
RitalinÂ® is not the only such ADHD medication. FocalinÂ®, MetadateÂ® and MethylinÂ® are similar ADHD drugs. Stimulant ADHD medication is available in both short-acting (three to six hours) and intermediate forms, lasting six to eight hours. Intermediate ADHD drugs include Ritalin SRÂ® and Ritalin LAÂ®.
Methylphenidate Side Effects
RitalinÂ® and other methylphenidate-based ADHD drugs are generally well tolerated, but as with any medication, side effects can occur. Side effects associated with methylphenidate include:
- abdominal pain
- growth delays
- low appetite
- weight loss.
AdderallÂ® and Adderall XRÂ®
Like RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® is a stimulant used for ADHD treatment. Unlike RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® belongs to the family of medications known as amphetamines. AdderallÂ® and DexedrineÂ® (another amphetamine ADHD medication) increase attention and reduce restlessness in children with ADHD.
Like RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® is available in a long-acting form known as Adderall XRÂ®.
Common side effects associated with AdderallÂ® and other amphetamine treatments include:
- dry mouth
- emotional overreactions
- irregular heartbeats
- mood swings
- shortness of breath.
Secondary ADHD Drugs
RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® and other stimulants are generally the first ADHD treatments prescribed after a diagnosis. If the patient proves unresponsive, other ADHD medications are available.
Atomoxetine (StratteraÂ®) is a non-stimulating norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, which acts on the neurochemical norepinephrine. StratteraÂ® has the advantage of being a long-acting medication, requiring only one dose a day. However, StratteraÂ® takes longer to relieve symptoms than Ritalin.
EffexorÂ® is an antidepressant that is sometimes used in ADHD treatments accompanied by anxiety disorders.
WellbutrinÂ® and tricyclic antidepressant medication are other antidepressants sometimes used as ADHD treatments. Tricyclic antidepressants are not FDA-approved ADHD treatments, but are sometimes used when RitalinÂ®, AdderallÂ® or other medications prove ineffective. Tricyclic antidepressants are more toxic than most other ADHD drugs and can have serious side effects.
In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered special labeling for package inserts, Web sites and physicians’ manuals warning about the link between EffexorÂ® and suicide in children and teenagers. Other antidepressants such as ZoloftÂ®, PaxilÂ® and ProzacÂ® are also subject to this requirement.
Psychotherapy and ADHD Treatments
ADHD medications alone are often not enough for successful ADHD treatment. Psychotherapeutic interventions can help children and parents alter ADHD behavior, improving functioning in the classroom, at home and in other areas of life.
Psychological ADHD treatments vary in their objectives and methods. Psychotherapy helps children accept their ADHD and develop strategies to cope with ADHD at home and in the classroom.
Behavior therapy teaches children and parents how to replace undesirable ADHD behavior with more acceptable alternatives. Cognitive behavioral therapy uses both behavior therapy and psychotherapy to teach children how to set goals and stay focused.
ADHD treatments may also include social skills training, support groups, parent training (teaching parenting skills aimed at the ADHD child) and teacher training (instructing teachers on how to use goal setting and reinforcement in the classroom).
Controversial ADHD Treatments
None of the ADHD treatments listed above cure ADHD. The hunt for curative ADHD treatments has gone down some controversial paths. Most of these ADHD treatments were developed out of sincerely held beliefs that the treatment would work. Others, sadly, were developed to prey on parents’ desire for a quick, effective cure for ADHD.
Controversial and unproven ADHD treatments include:
- anti-motion sickness drugs
- anti-yeast medications
- applied kinesiology (realigning skull bones)
- chiropractic manipulation
- dietary restrictions
- ECG biofeedback
- herbal ADHD treatments
- megavitamin therapy
- optometric vision training
- sensory integrative training.
Be especially suspicious of unproven ADHD treatments claiming to cure ADHD. These so-called ADHD treatments are often sold online and make grand, sweeping claims without scientific backing.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2001). ADHD. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from the AAP Web site: http://search2.aap.org/search?site=Search_all_sites