Stimulants and ADHD

The most common type of medication used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is called a “stimulant.” Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication considered a stimulant, it actually has a calming effect on children with ADHD.

Many types of stimulant medications are available. A few other ADHD medications are non-stimulants and work differently than stimulants. For many children, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Medication also may improve physical coordination.

A one-size-fits-all approach does not apply for all children with ADHD.
What works for one child might not work for another. One child might have side effects with a certain medication, while another child may not. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding one that works for a particular child. Any child taking medications must be monitored closely and carefully by caregivers and doctors.

Stimulants are not only available as pills.
Stimulant medications come in different forms, such as pills, capsules, liquids, or skin patches. Some medications also come in short-acting, long-acting, or extended release varieties. In each of these varieties, the active ingredient is the same, but it is released differently in the body. Long-acting or extended release forms often allow a child to take the medication just once a day before school, so they don’t have to make a daily trip to the school nurse for another dose. Parents and doctors should decide together which medication is best for the child and whether the child needs medication only for school hours or for evenings and weekends, too.

What are the side effects of stimulant medications?
The most commonly reported side effects are decreased appetite, sleep problems, anxiety, and irritability. Some children also report mild stomachaches or headaches. Most side effects are minor and disappear over time, or if the dosage level is adjusted.

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health for a list of medications and their approved age for use.

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