Common ADHD Medications for Children

Learn more about medications commonly prescribed for child ADHD, including types of medications and potential side effects.

young smiling boy

Up to 90% of ADHD sufferers experience improvement by taking medication. But ADHD medication is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. The treatment that's right for you will depend on factors such as your age, your symptoms, your medical history, and your tolerance for side effects.

Two main categories of ADHD medication are available—stimulant and nonstimulant. You should discuss the risks and benefits of each of these treatment options for ADHD with your doctor.

Stimulants

Psychostimulants: These medications—which include methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, and amphetamines -- are the most common kind of ADHD medication. They help ADHD sufferers feel calm by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These medicines can also improve concentration and focus and decrease impulsivity. Stimulants are available in both short- and long-acting forms.

Nonstimulants

Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors: This type of medication works by increasing brain levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that's in short supply in people who have ADHD. The increase in norepinephrine improves attention span and reduces impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Antidepressants: These medications, which include tricyclics, SSRIs and other antidepressants, alter brains levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. While they are rarely used alone to treat ADHD, they are sometimes used to treat children who have another problem along with ADHD, such as anxiety or depression.

Older antihypertensives: Certain medications originally developed for the treatment of high blood pressure may help. Some old-school drugs, which are now rarely used to manage hypertension, are still prescribed to treat ADHD. In fact, one older high blood pressure drug, called clonidine, was later approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a non-stimulant treatment for children with ADHD. Antihypertensives may improve cognitive function, decrease impulsivity and help control other undesired behaviors in people with ADHD—possibly by increasing brain levels of norepinephrine.

Research the Side Effects

Each type of ADHD medication comes with its own unique set of potential side effects. Some of these side effects may be mild, while others could prove dangerous. So it's important to discuss with your child's doctor the risks and the benefits of any medication you're considering. The more information you have, the better equipped you'll be to make an informed decision for your child and to spot any problems moving forward.

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