After a child is diagnosed with ADHD,
doctors may prescribe medicine to treat it. Medicine doesn't cure ADHD. But it does
help boost the ability to pay attention, slow down, and have more self-control.
Why Do Kids Need ADHD Medicine?
Not every child with ADHD needs medicine. But medicine can help most kids with
ADHD stay focused longer, listen better, and fidget less.
Kids also benefit from behavioral therapy to learn and practice skills like staying organized
or waiting their turn without interrupting. Medicine isn't a shortcut — kids still
need to work on mastering these skills. The benefit of medicine is it helps kids stay
focused as they learn them.
How Does ADHD Medicine Work?
ADHD medicines improve attention by helping normal brain chemicals work better.
The medicines target two brain chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals
affect a person's attention and concentration.
How Do People Take ADHD Medicine?
Kids and teens with ADHD can take different medicines. All ADHD medicines need
Kids and teens usually take ADHD medicines once or twice a day, depending on the
These medicines include methylphenidate (brand names include Ritalin, Concerta,
Daytrana, Focalin), and amphetamines (e.g., Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse).
Stimulants work as soon as a child takes them. How long they last depends on the
Short-acting formulas last for about 4 hours.
Long-acting formulas stay in the body for about 10 or 12
hours. Long-acting stimulants can be helpful for older kids and teens who have a long
school day and need the medicine to stay focused for homework or after-school activities.
These medicines include atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay), and guanfacine
(Intuniv). Non-stimulants can take up to a few weeks to start working. They work for
Before prescribing medicine, the health care team
will ask if your child is taking any other medicines. That includes over-the-counter
medicines and supplements (like vitamins or herbal medicines). The care team will
also want to know about your family's medical history, especially if any family members
have (or had) heart disease.
Doctors usually start by prescribing a low dose of a stimulant medicine. If your
child is taking a new ADHD medicine or dose, the doctor will want you to watch and
see if the medicine helps. The doctor will change the dose and how often your child
takes the medicine based on how much it helps and if your child is having side effects.
Kids respond differently to medicines. If the first
medicine doesn't seem to work, even at the highest dose, then a doctor may try a different
medicine. Some kids need to take more than one ADHD medicine to get the best result.
How Can Parents Help?
Let your child's doctor know if you notice any
from the medicine.
You may need to go for several visits with the doctor. It might take weeks or months
to find the right medicine and dose for your child. After that, the care team will
want to see your child every 3 to 6 months.
Take your child to all of the follow-up visits. It's important
that the care team checks your child's height, weight, and blood pressure. The care
team will also look for side effects. They may adjust the medicine dose, especially
as your child grows.
To help your child and prevent problems, always do these things when giving your
child ADHD medicine:
Give the recommended dose.
Give each medicine at the right time.
Talk to a doctor before stopping the medicine or changing the dose.
Keep all medicines in a safe place where others can't get to them.
Medicine is one part of treatment for ADHD. Treatment also includes therapy,
and school support.
Medicine works best when parents, teachers, and therapists help kids learn any social,
emotional, and behavioral skills that are lagging because of ADHD.
Are There Any Risks?
Like any medication, ADHD medicines can have side effects. Not everyone gets side
The most common side effects are loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Other ADHD
medicine side effects include jitteriness, irritability, moodiness, headaches, stomachaches,
fast heart rate, and high blood pressure.
Side effects usually happen in the first few days of starting a new medicine or
taking a higher dose. They often go away on their own after a few days or weeks as
the body adjusts to the medicine.
If a side effect doesn't go away, a doctor may decide to lower the dose or stop
that medicine and try another. ADHD medicines only stay in the body for a few hours,
so the side effects wear off as the medicine leaves the body.
Your child's health care team will give you more information about possible side
effects for the specific medicine they prescribe. If you notice anything that worries
you, talk to your child's doctor right away.
Some parents don't like the idea of giving their child medicine for ADHD. But the
right medicine can make a big difference for most kids. Talk to your child's doctor
about your concerns. Ask questions. Your child's health care team can help you decide
if trying a medicine is right for your child.