Stimulant Therapy for ADHD

Stimulant therapy is one of the most popular treatments for adults and children with ADHD. You’ve probably heard of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall; these psychostimulants help regulate impulsive behavior and improve attention span in adults, adolescents, and children with moderate to severe ADHD.

So what do psychostimulants do? They help your brain increase levels of chemicals like epinephrine and norepineprhine — these chemicals transmit signals between nerves. The end result is that you can focus better, pay attention longer, and rein in those impulses. Stimulant therapy works in approximately seventy percent of adults and up to eighty percent of children. The improvements — reduced impulsive behavior, increased task completion — come shortly after treatment begins and last as long as the medication is taken consistently.

Side effects are typically mild and go away as your body adjusts to the medication. Common side effects include headache, upset stomach, and increased blood pressure. More severe symptoms include appetite loss and weight loss, nervousness, and sleeplessness.

One drawback to stimulant therapy (for any condition) is the risk of abuse and addiction. ADHD medications are not considered habit forming, but there is always a chance that a substance abuse problem may develop.

Since 2002, doctors have been able to prescribe a nonstimulant treatment for ADHD as well. The drug is called Strattera, and it works in a similar way: it increases the amount of norepinephrine in the brain. The advantage to using nonstimulant treatment is that it lacks the potential problems that come with overuse of stimulant drugs. The side effects are minimal — upset stomach, decreased appetite, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and mood swings — and people tend to be less likely to abuse Strattera.

Strattera got a lot of press in 2005 for increasing suicidal thoughts in those who take the nonstimulant therapy for ADHD. However, no suicides have been reported in children taking Strattera.

Read more: ADHD: To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

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