What Is The Best Medication To Treat ADHD In Children?

Daniel Sieberg, Done Team

The adage remains true: there is no one-type-fits-all treatment for ADHD. The same is especially true with children and as they differ from the ADHD experience with adults.

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD (often by elementary school) or you suspect they have ADHD then there are medications to consider after consultation with a medical practitioner. Broadly speaking it comes down to stimulants and non-stimulants. And the reality is that adult medications for ADHD are similar in nature to medications for children. Of course it’s critical to receive an accurate and authoritative diagnosis before proceeding with any medications; many experts believe medications are widely considered the cornerstone to treatment for ADHD with children and especially need to be taken orally. But it may take some trial and error to find the right fit.

Even with medical supervision and guidance there are still risks associated with any medications. And while the current roster of medications for children - generally stimulants - are considered safe, it’s vital for parents to monitor for side effects and any complications with other drugs, which can be dangerous. A doctor or medical practitioner will be best positioned to evaluate the combination of treatments. The greatest risk can be associated with cardiac issues though a doctor should be checking for any concerns.

Medications for children diagnosed with ADHD typically last from 8-12 hours (some are immediate release and some are extended) and should treat most symptoms with the right dosage (depending on weight, age, and other factors). A trial period at the beginning is common. It’s also vital to watch for any suicidal thoughts or other psychological issues that could develop and ensure there’s constant monitoring for any major changes in behavior.

Stimulant options

The impact of stimulant medications is usually fast (sometimes optimally taking effect in less than an hour), safe, and usually without major complications. Researchers believe that boosting levels of dopamine and norepinephrine results in better connections of messaging between different parts of the brain and the body. Some side effects can include a loss of appetite, headaches, emotional changes, or difficulty falling asleep. 

Researchers continue to debate whether these medications have a long-term effect on the development of a child (primarily height and weight). Doctors will usually start with a smaller dosage to detect significant changes in mental, emotional, and physical development and adjust to a second type of stimulant as needed.

Nonstimulant options

Side effects of nonstimulant options vary depending on the medication and the child (naturally speak to a healthcare provider to identify any risks). They are similar to side effects from stimulant medications and can include dry mouth, low appetite, weight loss, headaches, insomnia, irritability, and dizziness.

Ultimately the right medications can help any child perform more effectively in school, manage their time and activities, and better engage with people socially. Generally speaking the side effects and risks are minimal compared to the opportunities to manage a child’s ADHD and provide them with the means to move forward in life. And it’s always worth exploring medications in tandem with therapy.

For children who have difficulty swallowing pills, there are other options available including a patch on the skin, liquid versions, chewable tablets, and capsules that can be opened and sprinkled on food. It may also be worth taking an occasional break from medications to better gauge the efficacy and effectiveness.

A mix of treatments

Remember that combining healthy behaviors like minimal screen time, regular physical activity, mindfulness practice, and healthy socialization with friends and family can also help to alleviate the effects of ADHD. Medication doesn’t cure ADHD in a child but over time it’s possible that a child may no longer require treatment as they enter adolescence or adulthood. The benefits from the right treatment for children can ultimately be life-changing for the patient and revelatory for families.

Below is a list of the most popular medications prescribed for children with ADHD:

  • Adderall XR (amphetamine)
  • Concerta (methylphenidate)
  • Evekeo (amphetamine)
  • Focalin XR (methylphenidate)
  • Quillivant XR (methylphenidate)
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Strattera (atomoxetine hydrochloride)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)

If your child is taking any existing medications - like for asthma - there is always a chance for complications. Always share your child’s complete medical history and routine. Be sure to ask your medical practitioner for more information and start by taking the Done. 1-minute assessment test to learn more.






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