ADHD Medications for Children

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition that is commonly characterized by symptoms such as lack of concentration, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. These symptoms are usually first picked up in early childhood, especially once children start school. Medication is often prescribed after an accurate diagnosis. This diagnosis should be done by a specialist who is trained and experienced in ADHD, like a pediatrician or psychiatrist. The best results are obtained by careful diagnosis and a thoughtful treatment plan.

 What ADHD Medications Are Available for Children?

Medications are used to treat and relieve the symptoms, such as improving the concentration and controlling impulses. They will not cure ADHD. It is also important to know that some children will have drastic improvements whilst others not so much. Therefore, treatment and dosages should be controlled by a doctor.

ADHD medications for children are divided into 2 categories:

Stimulant Medicines

They are most commonly used to treat ADHD. They have been used the longest and therefore have the most research to support their use. Stimulants work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Optimum levels of dopamine in the brain are associated with pleasure, motivation, movement and attention. Thus, stimulant medicines increase concentration and motivation but decrease the impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Examples include Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine.

This group of ADHD medicines for children can be further subdivided into long-acting stimulants and short-acting stimulants. Short-acting medicines have to be taken 2-3 times a day because blood levels of the drug peak after a few hours. Long-acting drugs are release more slowly into the bloodstream and need to be taken usually only once a day.

Non-Stimulant Medicines

This type of ADHD medications for children can include some types of antidepressants and even some blood pressure medicines. These are considered when the stimulant-type of medicine has failed to improve symptoms of ADHD or if the side-effects are not well tolerated.

  • An example of medicine in this class is Strattera

The active ingredient in Strattera is a chemical called atomoxetine. It is a long acting medication with some antidepressant effects, which is a great choice if there is some anxiety and depression that occurs with the ADHD.

Other non FDA-approved (they are not approved for the treatment of ADHD) medicines that are sometimes considered when the Strattera and stimulant drugs are not useful, are:

  • Hypertension medicines: they help reduce the hyperactivity, aggression and impulsiveness. They do not help with the attention problems, however. Examples: clonidine (Catapres) and guanfacine (Tenex).
  • Antidepressants: tricyclic antidepressants and bupropion (Wellbutrin) are often considered. The latter drug affects both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This group of ADHD medication for children is considered especially if there is depression as a co-existing condition.

 Side Effects of ADHD Medications for Children

Most of the common side-effects are:

  • Poor appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pains
  • Drowsiness

Ways to alleviate the side-effects:

  • Drowsiness during the day can be alleviated by giving the dose at night. Speak to your doctor about possibly decreasing the dosage or dividing the dose so that smaller doses are given twice a day.
  • If the ADHD medicine decreases your child’s appetite, give the dose after breakfast so that the child is able to eat a good breakfast. Towards dinner-time, the effects of the medicine should begin to wear off, so give the child a big dinner. In between, serve healthy snacks. If the child is still losing weight, consult your doctor about reducing the dosage or taking breaks from the treatment regimen.
  • Abdominal pains can be reduced by giving the medicine either with food or directly after a meal.
  • Sleep disturbances can be curtailed by taking the medicine earlier in the day or taking a shorter-acting medicine. Speak to your doctor about reducing the dosage to help your child sleep better.
  • Mood swings should be carefully observed. Speak to your doctor if you notice any suicidal thoughts or decreased emotional expression.
  • Cardiac disturbances are very rare. If there is a family history of heart problems, be sure to mention it to the doctor so that the child can be monitored closely.

Other Ways to Manage ADHD

Although many parents choose ADHD medications for children, some parents opt for alternative methods of controlling symptoms of ADHD to minimize any side-effects. Speak to your doctor before stopping or reducing any medication.

Usually non-drug therapies in combination with medication can be a great strategy in the overall treatment of ADHD.

  • Behavior management can be successful if parents and teachers play a positive role in helping the child recognize his behavior and make some adjustments. Encourage the child to sit quietly for short intervals and reward for good behavior. An adult can also help with organization of books, homework, etc.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is carried out by a qualified therapist who will try to change the way your child feels and thus change his behavior positively.
  • Practice good sleep habits by having a regular and consistent bedtime that is followed strictly, even at the weekends. Develop a winding-down process to help the child to relax and unwind. Remove all electronics from the bedroom so that there are no external distractions.
  • Exercise helps the child focus and improves concentration. Activities like swimming can help the child relax and calm down.
  • Meditation has been shown to increase awareness and self-control in children with ADHD.
  • Music therapy, although not fully researched, can help the child focus and the brain to switch between different tasks. Listening to music you like is thought to release dopamine in the brain increasing focus.
  • Offer the child a nutritious, balanced diet and cut down on sugar and processed foods.
  • Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids is believed to relieve symptoms of ADHD. Omega-3 is found in foods like walnuts, salmon, green leafy vegetables, etc.
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