Caregiver Guide to Medications for ADHD

Published: May 07, 2024
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD
By Bridget Betts, PharmD

If your child was recently diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you are not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 10% of children ages 3 to 17 years have this diagnosis.

What is ADHD?
ADHD is a condition that impacts the way children may think, react, and behave. The most common symptoms include:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Hyperactivity such as fidgeting or constantly moving
  • Difficulty paying attention for a long period of time

How do you treat ADHD?
Treatment may include medication or non-medication such as behavioral therapy. These options can be used together or separately. Behavioral therapy is typically provided by a therapist, psychologist, or a psychiatrist, and your doctor can provide a referral.

What are the medications for ADHD?
Medication therapy for ADHD care is divided into two categories based on how they work in your child’s body: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulants can help boost a neurotransmitter called dopamine that helps with focus and attention. The most common stimulants used for ADHD in children include the following:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexadrine)
  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Amphetamine (Adzenys, Dyanavel, Evekeo)
  • Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine (Adderall)
  • Lisdexamphetamine (Vyvanse)

Non-stimulants work by stimulating other neurotransmitters or brain pathways to ease your child’s symptoms. These medications include:

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Clonidine (Catapres)
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv)

What should I know about my child’s ADHD medications?
With some prescribed medications, it might take 2 weeks or more to see significant change in your child’s behavior. It is important to take medications as directed.

Its also important to know that stimulant medications are categorized as controlled substances because they can be abused due to their addiction potential. Be sure the medication is stored in a safe place, away from the access of others (children and adults). You may also be asked to provide identification when picking it up. Your insurance and pharmacy may not allow early refills, and replacement of lost medications can be difficult. It is important to stay organized with these prescriptions and fill them at consistent times each month.

Most medications for ADHD work best when paired with behavioral therapy. It is important that you keep up with the plan that you and your doctor have established to help your child. If you have questions, check in with your doctor or pharmacist.

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