ADD / ADHD Medication Options

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

ADD / ADHD Medication Options

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two similar disorders. They both affect a person’s ability to focus and concentrate. People with ADHD will also struggle with behavioral issues related to hyperactivity.

ADD and ADHD can affect people at any age, and is typically diagnosed during childhood. Those who do not receive treatment during childhood face cognitive and behavioral issues in adulthood.

Many also suffer from other mental health disorders. Mental health disorders that may develop in people with ADD/ADHD include:

Medication for ADD/ADHD

People with ADD/ADHD are typically treated with medication. The medication used to treat these two disorders are classified as amphetamines.

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs. Stimulant drugs affect the dopamine levels of the brain. Dopamine is a chemical of the brain that serves a critical function. It is responsible for memory, focus and motivation.

When stimulant medication is taken, the dopamine levels of the brain are affected. This affects a person’s concentration and attention.

Stimulant medications are helpful for ADD/ADHD.  They help improve focus and concentration. They also reduce behavioral issues related to impulsivity.

Common medications to treat ADD/ADHD are:

  • Aderall (Mixed Amphetamine)
  • Ritalin (Methylpheniadate)
  • Concerta (Methylpheniadate)
  • Welbutrin (Buproprion)

There are also non-stimulant medication options. A popular non-stimulant medication for ADD/ADHD is Straterra (Atomoxetine). This medication targets norepinephrine levels in the brain.

Norepinephrine is another chemical in the brain. It is similar to adrenaline, and affects the nervous system. Norepinephrine affects your mood and sensitivity.

Straterra helps reduce the activity of norepinephrine in the brain. Reducing the activity of norepinephrine reduces mood fluctuation.

Straterra is effective in increasing concentration, but does not affect hyperactivity symptoms. Unlike stimulant medication, Straterra does not have addictive components.

Addiction and Stimulant Medication

Stimulant medications affect brain chemistry. When taken consistently, it will alter the frequency in which dopamine is produced. This will affect the overall function of the brain.

Without medication monitoring, there is a high risk for misuse, which will lead to addiction. A person may become addicted to ADD/ADHD medication if it is used without a doctor’s supervision.

It is important to be supervised by a doctor when taking ADD/ADHD. A doctor will know how to manage the affected person’s dosage to prevent addiction.

It is not likely that an affected person will develop an addiction to their medication if they are being monitored by their doctor.

There is no identified risk of addiction for non-stimulant ADD/ADHD medication.

Other Side Effects of ADD/ADHD Medication

There are potential side effects of ADD/ADHD medication. If the affected person is suffering from these side effects, they must see a doctor right away. They will likely be advised by their doctor to cease medication use and discuss alternative options. Their doctor may switch medications or change dosages to prevent future side effects.

Potential side effects of medication for ADD/ADHD includes:

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia and related sleep issues
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Irritability
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Change in appetite
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Anxiety

Is it Effective?

ADD/ADHD medication has been found to be effective treatment options for the disorders. It helps with reducing behavioral issues and improving concentration. The medication also helps with reducing other uncomfortable symptoms.

ADD/ADHD medication is effective in treating symptoms, but it does not cure the disorder. It is likely that symptoms will return when the affected person stops taking their medication as prescribed. The symptoms that will likely return include inattentiveness and hyperactive behavior.

Counseling and ADD/ADHD Medication

ADD/ADHD medication will not cure the disorder. That is why it is important to also seek mental health counseling. Therapists and counselors will help the affected person and their family make changes to reduce symptoms.

The mental health professional will be equipped to offer insight for the affected person and their family. They will also be able to provide suggestions for healthy lifestyle changes.

Such insight includes:

  • Home and Family Structure (Chores, routine, responsibilities, praise and punishment techniques)
  • Healthy Habits (Related to exercise, dietary changes and sleep schedules to reduce symptoms)

There is no evidence that ADD/ADHD medication improves issues with:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Emotional Issues
  • Socialization Issues
  • Relationship Issues

These issues may result from ADD/ADHD, but medication alone is not sufficient to treat them. The affected person will need therapy to learn how to address them properly. Common forms of therapy to address these issues include cognitive and behavioral therapies. Behavioral specialists and teachers may also be included in cases with children.

ADD/ADHD medication is effective in reducing and managing symptoms, but it will not cure the disorder. Taking ADD/ADHD medication is not sufficient for proper treatment of the disorder.  The affected person and family members should attend regular counseling sessions.

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