Although no treatment eliminates ADHD completely, many helpful options are available. The goal of treatment is to help children improve social relationships, do better in school, and keep their disruptive or harmful behaviors to a minimum. Medication can be very helpful, and it is often necessary. Drug treatment by itself is rarely the answer. Medication and psychotherapy together usually have the best results. For example, a behavioral program may be put in place where structured, realistic expectations are set.
Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and forms of amphetamine (Dexedrine), have been used for many decades. They are relatively safe and effective for most children to help them focus their thoughts and control their behavior. With the development of long-acting forms of stimulants, one dose in the morning can provide a day-long effect.
Despite their name, stimulants do not cause increased hyperactivity or impulsivity. If the disorder has been properly diagnosed, the medication actually has the opposite effect. Common mild side effects are decreased appetite, weight loss, stomachaches, sleep problems, headaches and jitteriness. Adjusting the dose can often help eliminate these problems. Stimulant drugs are associated with some serious concerns and side effects.
Since such risks vary widely depending on the individual, it is important to discuss the potential benefits and risks of each treatment with your doctor.
Another potential problem, which is not strictly speaking a side effect, is that stimulants can find their way to people other than the person being treated for ADHD. Called "diversion," it is fairly common among adolescents and young adults. The drugs are most often taken to improve academic performance. Some individuals do take stimulants to get high.
Other non-stimulant medications are also available to treat ADHD. Atomoxetine (Strattera) is as effective as stimulants for treating ADHD. It works by a different chemical mechanism than stimulants. Atomoxetine is relatively safe, but carries a rare risk of liver toxicity. The antidepressant, bupropion (Wellbutrin), is helpful in some cases. It is also generally well-tolerated, but it should not be given to people with a history of seizures.
Other treatment approaches, used alone or in combination, may include:
Because many children with ADHD also are troubled by poor grades and school behavior problems, schools may need to provide educational adjustments and interventions (such as an individualized educational plan) to promote the best possible learning environment for the child.
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