When an individual is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they often have concerns about finding the best method of treatment. It is important for patients or the overwhelmed parents of patients to remember that ADHD can be managed. Most symptoms can be managed through ADHD treatment options like medication and therapy.
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Medication is commonly prescribed to help children and adults with ADHD manage their symptoms in daily life. Though medication for ADHD is a suggestion that parents may frown upon, it can be an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms. Medication is an option that may help control some of the behavioral problems that can lead to getting in trouble at school or having problems with family and loved ones.
It is important to let the physician know if the prescribed medications are not effective, too strong or cause additional harmful side effects. It may take a few different prescriptions to determine the appropriate type and dosage of a medication for the individual because everyone responds differently to medications. Medications may also affect children differently, so it is important for parents to communicate with their child’s doctor to find the medication that works best for their child.
Stimulants for ADHD
Stimulants are the most commonly used ADHD medications available. Stimulants are fast acting, which means they don’t take as long to get into your system compared to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) medications. Around 75 percent of children with ADHD have fewer symptoms when they are taking stimulants.
Central nervous system stimulants are the most commonly prescribed class of ADHD drugs. These medications increase the number of chemicals in the brain, dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help improve a patient’s concentration and help with improved focus.
- Adderall: Physicians will frequently treat ADHD with the stimulant medication, Adderall; a name-brand medication containing amphetamine. The stimulant works by making changes to the brain’s chemical balance and allowing the individual to have more distinct focus skills.
- Ritalin: Ritalin is the most commonly prescribed medication used to treat ADHD. How Ritalin works is still not completely understood though experts agree that it affects the midbrain, which controls impulses. Ritalin most likely changes the balance of chemicals in the brain, so that the brain can more selectively respond to impulses. The medication usually remains effective for a period of 4-6 hours.
- Concerta: Concerta is a popular stimulant medication primarily used to treat ADHD in adults and children ages 6 years old and up. Concerta is designed to be effective for 12 hours while Ritalin only lasts about 4 to 6 hours. The longer-lasting Concerta is intended to eliminate the requirement of taking the medication multiple times during the school day. It is important to remember that the only difference is the continued delivery system.
- Vyvanse: Vyvanse is a once-daily, timed-release stimulant primarily used to treat ADHD in individuals ages 6 years old and up. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Vyvanse is a federally controlled substance because of its ability to lead to dependence and the possibility of abuse. Vyvanse is an amphetamine that can improve focus for patients with ADHD, decrease impulsivity and hyperactive behavior.
- Focalin: Focalin is a central nervous system stimulant primarily used to treat ADHD in children and adults. Focalin is intended to improve focus and decrease impulsive and hyperactive behavior. It contains the same active ingredient as medications like Ritalin though is considered a federally controlled substance by the FDA. Focalin can lead to dependence and the development of an addiction
Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications
Non-stimulants were approved by the FDA for treating ADHD in 2003. These drugs do not work as quickly as stimulants, although their effects can last up to 24 hours. The patient’s physician may consider non-stimulant medications after trying stimulants and without a successful experience, like the patient experiencing serious side effects or perhaps the stimulant didn’t work for the individual.
Some non-stimulant medications work by increasing levels of norepinephrine in the brain, which is thought to help with increased attentiveness and retention. Some common non-stimulant medications include Strattera and Clonidine.
- Strattera: Strattera’s purpose is to treat ADHD. It works by changing the way the brain absorbs the chemical norepinephrine and how that chemical reacts in your body. Norepinephrine can affect an individual’s overall mood. By changing how norepinephrine works in your body, Strattera may be able to decrease hyperactivity, improve attention span and reduce impulsive behaviors.
- Clonidine: Clonidine is not typically prescribed for ADHD. However, has been proven to reduce the hyperactivity associated with ADHD in children (ages 6-12), adolescents and adults. Clonidine is occasionally prescribed in combination with stimulant medications. This medication is not a controlled substance and doesn’t have a high risk of abuse or dependence.
Therapies for ADHD
Several therapy options can help children as well as adults with ADHD. Some of the patient’s options include psychotherapy, behavior therapy, family therapy, social skills training and support groups.
Psychotherapy for ADHD
Psychotherapy can be helpful for individuals with ADHD to learn better ways to manage their emotions and frustration. Psychotherapy can be useful for getting a child to open up about their feelings and how they cope with ADHD. Being diagnosed with ADHD may also interfere with peer relationships and authority figures. Psychotherapy can help children and adults better manage these relationships.
Behavioral Therapy for ADHD
Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy intended to teach and strengthen positive behaviors as well as eliminate problem behaviors. Behavioral therapy can include behavior therapy training for parents of a child with ADHD, training for behavior therapy with children or a combination. Teachers can also use behavioral therapy to help reduce problem behaviors in the classroom.
Family Therapy for ADHD
When the patient is a child, it may be beneficial for family members of the individual diagnosed with ADHD to attend counseling to better understand the child or adult with ADHD. During family therapy or parent training, parents learn new skills to help teach and guide their children and to manage their behavior. Parent training in behavior therapy has been shown to strengthen the relationship between the parent and child and to decrease children’s negative or problem behaviors.
Though it isn’t as common, family therapy may also be used for adult patients as well. These types of therapies can be helpful when an individual’s ADHD symptoms begin to affect their personal relationships. Family therapy can teach the family or couples a number of activities that can help improve their communication.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training for ADHD can be especially helpful for children. This training can teach behaviors, like taking turns and sharing. Social skills training may be useful if a child experiences difficulty dealing with social environments. A therapist may try to teach behaviors that include:
- Waiting their turn
- Sharing toys
- Asking for help
- How to manage teasing
ADHD Support Groups
Occasionally, it can be helpful for individuals to attend groups where they feel understood by others who are going through the same struggles they are living with. Support groups of individuals with similar problems and needs can help with acceptance and support. Support groups can also provide additional information about ADHD for children, adults and their families. There are support groups specifically for parents of children diagnosed with ADHD where parents can share their experiences and find support from others going through a similar situation.
Even with treatment for ADHD, teens and adults may find it difficult to deal with their symptoms and may resort to abusing substances. This can be dangerous for a number of reasons, but particularly harmful for someone with ADHD because abusing substances may exacerbate their symptoms.
If you are or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorder like ADHD, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals offers a number of treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.