PM Pediatric Care Logo
Teacher high fiving a student in a classroom

ADHD Medication: An Overview

Parents of children diagnosed with ADHD face many questions and decisions. How can I support my child? What treatment plan will be the most effective? Medication may be the best option to help children with ADHD thrive. However, the process of understanding, choosing, and adjusting to medication can feel overwhelming. Read on to find out all you need to know about ADHD medication for children!

What is the goal of ADHD medication?

The primary aim of ADHD medication for kids is to achieve balance in their behavior, gain control of their bodies and actions, and help them focus. These medications help children manage their impulses, concentrate better, and regulate their behavior, so they can navigate social interactions and tasks without constantly risking getting in trouble and losing privileges. The goal is not to restrain or change their personalities, but to empower them to function more smoothly in their everyday lives, fostering their ability to engage and thrive without the constant fear of consequences.

What are the different types of ADHD drugs?

ADHD treatment often begins with stimulants as the go-to solution, although they are not necessarily right for all kids right away. For younger patients who are super impulsive but don’t need intense focus yet, non-stimulants may be more suitable. These medications help slow down hyperactivity and impulsiveness, especially for kids darting into the street or struggling to settle. However, when school starts, many still require stimulants for sitting in class and concentrating on tasks.

Stimulants come in two types: immediate release and extended release. The immediate one works fast and stays in the system for around for 3-4 hours, while the extended takes longer to start working but can last 7-9 hours. For school-aged kids, extended release is often preferred—it keeps them focused through the school day. Some, though, struggle with extended release due to side effects like appetite loss or sleep troubles. So, it’s about finding the right balance: adjusting doses or using immediate release as a backup when needed. This tailored approach helps each child find their best way to manage ADHD, whether for regular days or special times when a little extra focus is necessary.

What factors affect prescription decisions?

When choosing which ADHD medication is right for a patient, mental health professionals typically look at multiple factors to find the right fit. These are the common considerations when selecting drug type and dosing:

Age and level of need

When a young child gets diagnosed with ADHD, they might not need the same level of support as an older person would. They might also need a prescription that targets different executive functioning skills. For example, a 6-year-old patient might need help with controlling impulsivity, whereas a 14-year-old might benefit from support with focusing in school.

Lifestyle needs

It all comes down to the function and purpose of ADHD medication; what is it trying to accomplish for the patient’s particular lifestyle? For instance, college students with an irregular class schedule might benefit more from immediate, not extended, release stimulants to get them through a class and subside for the rest of the day.

On the other hand, high school students might be more suited to an extended release medication taken once and be covered for the rest of the day. If they have afterschool activities, they might need an immediate release booster in the afternoon – again, it all depends on the patient’s lifestyle needs.

Personal tolerance

It is no secret that ADHD medication may come with side effects that could potentially affect the patient’s experience. Changes in appetite, sleep concerns, and anxiety are possible when taking stimulants. Some children have a higher tolerance of these side effects than others. It is the goal of their mental health provider to find the most comfortable medication option.

Health history

There is a black box warning on stimulants in regard to cardiac events. This means that any patient who has had a heart murmur or any sort of cardiac issue when they were younger, will need to get an EKG and approval from their pediatrician. Prescribing professionals also examine family heart health history in order to predict potential points of concern with specific drugs. It’s important to note that ADHD medication does not pose any heart health risks in and of itself. This consideration is merely a precaution doctors keep when adjusting a patient to a new drug.

ADHD medication is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and finding the right drug type and dosing is a careful and crucial process. It’s okay to feel hesitant about choosing to start ADHD medication for your child because it may cause many important changes in your family’s life. However, remember that medication can be the most effective and beneficial treatment for a person with ADHD. Its safety and efficacy are backed by extensive research and supported by the majority of healthcare professionals.

How can I support my child’s transition into ADHD medication?

Parental support plays a crucial role when a child with ADHD begins medication. Their encouragement, vigilance in maintaining routines, and ensuring the child takes their medication regularly are essential. Additionally, being attuned to changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or physical well-being is vital.

Dealing with stigma at school can present another challenge for kids. Feeling different because of medication isn’t always easy. However, providing guidance to children about understanding their needs and not worrying about others’ opinions can help. Encouraging them to focus on themselves, reminding them that many kids may be dealing with similar challenges, and suggesting that seeking help is perfectly okay, can empower them to navigate this with confidence.

Most importantly, parents should understand that ADHD medication is not a magic pill that will make children motivated and well-behaved overnight. However, it may help them lead more successful and enjoyable lives, have control over their bodies, and foster a higher self-esteem.

If you or a family member needs behavioral and/or mental health treatment, but aren’t sure where to start, read more here or call 888-764-4161. We’re here to support!

About the Expert

Dr. Nicole Mavrides is the Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for PM Pediatric Care. She is quadruple board certified in pediatrics, adult and child psychiatry, and consultation liaison psychiatry. Her specialties include working with medically complicated patients as well as children, adolescents, and young adults who suffer from ADHD, anxiety, depression and mood disorders.