Frequently Asked Questions About ADHD Medications

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

The use of medication to treat symptoms of ADHD brings with it many questions and concerns from both parents and adults with ADHD. Some of the frequently asked questions are listed below with detailed answers for each.

Which medication is best for ADHD?

Are medications safe to use?

How do I know if a medication is working?

What are some of the side effects of medication?

Should medications be given on weekends and during the summer?

Which medication is best for ADHD?

There are currently many different medications on the market to treat symptoms of ADHD. The majority of these medications are stimulants. Strattera is the only non-stimulant medication currently approved to treat symptoms of ADHD.

Although many of the medications are stimulants and work in similar ways, there is no "better" medication. Since people metabolize medications differently, each person may react differently to the same medication. That means, while some people may find one medication to be very effective in controlling symptoms of ADHD, other people may find the medication to work marginally or not at all.
For these people, one of the other ADHD medications may work better.

In addition, symptoms of ADHD can be different based on the individual. While one person may struggle with inattention, another may find impulsiveness or hyperactivity to interfere with their daily lives. Based on the individualization of symptoms, treatment must also be based on the specific symptoms of the person being treated. This includes the type and dosage of medication used.

Because of this, finding the correct medication, and the correct dosage, is sometimes a matter of trial and error. Although this process can be frustrating for people with ADHD, it is sometimes necessary to determine the best treatment. Some people have tried numerous medications, at numerous dosages, before finding the most effective treatment.

More information:

Creating a Treatment Plan

The Basics of ADHD Medications

Are Medications Safe to Use?

ADHD medications are one of the most researched group of medications on the market today. This research has shown that these medications are effective in treating symptoms of ADHD and can be used safely.

Some people are concerned that using stimulant medication will lead to later substance abuse. The opposite has actually been found in several studies. The chemical properties of Ritalin are different than those of cocaine. When used properly, and under the supervision of a physician, using Ritalin, or other stimulant medications does not lead to psychosis, addition or dependence. For some people, the use of stimulant medication has been shown to lower the risk of later substance abuse.

Additionally, there have been a number of studies showing a delayed growth rate in children taking stimulant medications, however, these studies have also indicated that the growth rate catches up to other children and is slightly delayed rather than permanent.

More information:

Myth: ADHD Medication is Not Safe

Does Stimulant Medication Lead to Substance Abuse?

Do Stimulants Stunt Growth?

How do I know if a medication is working?

Since there is no physical medical test to determine whether ADHD is present, there is also no physical way to determine if it is improving with treatment. Whether a medication is effective is subjective. Measurement would be based on measuring specific areas of a person's life that may have been impaired by the symptoms prior to beginning treatment.

Completing a chart based on individual symptoms is one of the best ways to determine if a medication is working. To create a chart, list between five and ten major areas where you are experiencing difficulties, for example: forgetfulness, tardiness, losing items, paying attention. Each day, rate each area on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being meeting your expectations and 5 being need improvement. Once you begin to chart your major symptoms, you can begin to see if medication or other treatment is working.

More information:

How Do You Know if a Treatment is Working?

When Treatment Isn't Working - The Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis

What are some of the side effects of medication?

All medications, including over-the-counter medications, have some side effects. The most common side effects from ADHD medications include:

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Headache

  • Stomach upset or nausea

  • Weight Loss

  • Difficulty Sleep

Usually these side effects disappear within a few weeks of beginning medication.

More serious side effects can include increased nervousness or agitation, anxiety, chest pain, increase blood pressure, rash, and fever. For these side effects, you should contact your doctor immediately.

In addition, ADHD medications contain a warning regarding the impact on cardiovascular systems as a result of taking stimulant medications. Since these medications can cause increased blood pressure and increased heart rate, there is the potential for cardiovascular problems, especially in people with underlying heart conditions. Immediate medical care should be sought for anyone exhibiting signs of heart distress, such as:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Weakness on one side of the body

Blood pressure checks should also be a part of ongoing monitoring of medication.

More information:

Side Effects of Commonly Prescribed Medications for ADHD

Heart Check ups Before Taking Stimulant Medications

Tips for
Managing Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Should medications be given on weekends and during the summer?

In the past, less was known about the long-term effects of ADHD medication. At that time, it was believed that taking a "vacation" from medication when children were not in school would provide the opportunity to catch up on weight gain and growth. In addition, ADHD was also thought of as a "school day" disorder. The impact of ADHD on other parts of a child's life, such as social skills and family life had not been considered. For this reason, breaks from medication seemed logical.

Today, research has shown that growth and weight, although considered to be slower while taking medication, is impacted very little over the long-term. Most children will "catch up" to normal growth over time. In addition, more is known about ADHD. It is no longer thought to only create difficulties in school. Children can struggle with relating to friends or have a hard time making friends. They may be emotionally immature and their hyperactivity and impulsiveness may cause them to get in trouble more often at home.

Whether you decide to stop medication during the summer or not is a personal decision and should be based on what is best for your child. If you believe that you will end up correcting your child, telling them "stop" or intervening in arguments between siblings, you may want to consider continuing medication.
For many, medication does not just help with concentration but helps to decrease hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD does not just affect your child's schoolwork but affects every aspect of their life.

It is also important to remember, however, that if you choose to discontinue medication and you find that it is not in the best interest of your child, you can go back to medication without problems.

More information:

ADHD Medication in the Summer

Raising a Child with ADHD: Medication During the Summer Months

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.