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Pharmacological Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorders

  Since medication is frequently used in the treatment of ADHD, it is important to have reasonable expectations regarding its effectiveness and to be aware of potential side effects.

General Medication Information:

  • Each person responds uniquely to medication.
  • Medications are very safe. More studies have been done about children taking stimulant medications than any other medications, including nonprescription drugs. Medication should be prescribed in minimal, small doses. Prescribed correctly, they are not addictive. Individuals do not have a physical craving for medication. When medication is out of the blood stream, the individual goes back to exhibiting full-blown ADHD symptoms.
  • The dosage for optimal learning in school may be different than the dosage needed for behavior improvement.
  • Both hyperactive and non hyperactive individuals can benefit from medications.
  • Medication is effective for 54% of non hyperactive children and 80 to 90% of hyperactive children.
  • Non hyperactive children are more apt to respond positively to lower dosages and negatively to higher dosages.
  • Non hyperactive and normal children have similar response to medication.
  • Medications are prescribed for ADHD adults in the same small dosages given to children.
  • When taking the appropriate dosage, medication usually doesn't effect the personality.
  • Medication does not cause psychosis but can precipitate a psychosis in susceptible individuals.
  • Dosages should never be changed without discussion with the prescribing doctor.

Medication Does Not:

  • Cure ADHD
  • Teach the ADHD individual how to cope and compensate for difficulties.
  • Imply a "magic pill."
  • Just treat hyperactivity. Medication also helps with impulsivity and attention difficulties.
  • Cause addiction. Long term studies show that children who have taken stimulant medication are not more prone to substance abuse.
  • Have a permanent effect on a child's growth, if carefully monitored.
  • Sedate children.
  • Lead to aggressive, dangerous behavior.
  • Create personality changes.
  • Cause seizures or Tourette's Syndrome.

Medication Does:

  • Treat ADHD symptoms.
  • Influence long-term progress and prognosis of ADHD children, when utilized in conjunction with treatment modalities specific for ADHD.
  • Stimulate the attention center of the brain to function more normally.
  • Affect impulsivity, attention and behavior positively. More specifically, stimulants can increase attention span, concentration and compliance; improve handwriting and fine motor skills; and allow improved peer relationships. Also, a decrease in impulsivity, aggressiveness and hyperactivity can occur.

  There are other medications and chemical, herbal products that have been tried or are being investigated for their use in the treatment of ADHD symptoms. A physician who is familiar with the treatment of ADHD in children, adolescents and adults should be consulted before making medication decisions.

Nancy L. Eisenberg, MSW, LMSW, LMFT, Jay Tarnow, MD

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