Upon receiving an attention deficit/hyperactivity diagnosis (ADHD), your doctor will recommend a handful of medications for your child. Naturally, not all parents are keen on such medication – particularly due to the negative side effects they can produce. Therefore, some question what is the medication for ADHD in children and how will it affect my child.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into ADHD medication, its potential side effects, as well as how to properly dose a child. We’ll then further this discussion with alternatives for ADHD medication in children. At the end, we invite you to ask more questions.
Stimulants: The Most Common ADHD Medication
In 80% of children with ADHD, stimulants prove to be one of the most effective forms of medication. ¹ For this reason, a doctor will likely recommend such upon diagnosis.
There are two types of stimulant medication commonly used for ADHD: ²
- Immediate-Release – Taken every 4 hours, will have an instant and short-lasting effect on the child.
- Extended-Release – Taken once in the morning, will act intermediately throughout the day.
Between these two types of medication, your doctor will also discuss the type of stimulant that’s best suited for your child. These come in two classes: ³
The key difference between these two classifications is amphetamines are stronger than methylphenidates. Therefore, if a child is experiencing mild symptoms, methylphenidate will be recommended. Whereas if a child is experiencing severe symptoms, amphetamines are the go-to.
In order to further clarify the differences between these medications, you can refer to this list of ADHD medication for children:
|Type of Medication||Brands||Duration|
|Short-acting amphetamines||Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat||4 to 6 hours|
|Short-acting methylphenidate||Focalin, Methylin, Ritalin||3 to 5 hours|
|Intermediate-acting methylphenidate||Metadate CD, Ritalin LA||6 to 8 hours|
|Long-acting amphetamines||Adderall-XR, Dexedrine Spansule, Vyanuse||10 to 12 hours|
|Long-acting methylphenidate||Concerta, Daytrana, Focalin XR, Quillivant XR||8 to 12 hours|
Best Medication for ADHD in Children
In order to find the best medication for ADHD in children, you must consider your child and their needs. Admittedly, this process is usually determined by a medical professional. However, the more insight you have into your child’s mental health, the more you can help to determine the best treatment path for them.
When initially given medication, your child will likely need to undergo a few rounds of varying types. This is for medical professionals to get a better idea of your child’s situation as well as determine which is the best medication for their situation.
While you go about these rounds, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
- Dosage – How much medication is your child receiving? Is this amount based on weight or symptom severity? Do you believe the medication would be more effective if provided in larger or smaller doses?
- Schedule – When does your child receive medication? Do you think they’d perform better if they received it at an earlier or later time?
- Effectiveness – Is the medication effective in diminishing symptoms? Have you seen improvement since your child began taking medication?
By answering these questions, it’s much easier to determine whether or not one type of medication is working for your child.
Stimulant Side Effects
Naturally, one of the biggest concerns for parents with children on ADHD medication is the side effects. Luckily, if side effects are apparent in a child, you’ll be able to tell early on. Furthermore, the risks of side effects are fairly minimal.
While varying in how common they are, stimulant side effects include: ⁴
- Delayed growth
- Sleep problems
- Social withdrawal
- Transient muscle movements (i.e. tics)
- Weight loss (decreased appetite)
- Withdrawal from medication (bad mood)
In order to relieve side effects, medical professionals may adjust the dosage or schedule of medication. Furthermore, if side effects are severe, another medication will be recommended.
While your child undergoes ADHD medication, it’s key to keep close contact with your pediatrician. This will ensure that the medication is working properly and your child is not experiencing any negative outcomes.
Do Children Get “High” Off ADHD Medication?
Currently, there’s no evidence to suggest children get “high” off stimulant medication.
This concept has been perpetuated by others taking ADHD medication as a means of receiving a “high.” However, since those individuals don’t struggle with ADHD, the effects they’re receiving are greatly different compared to someone with ADHD. ⁵
Can a Child Become Addicted to ADHD Medication?
When taken at a therapeutic dose, the risk of becoming addicted to stimulants is minimal. However, when taken at a larger dose, the risk of addiction increases. ⁶
Natural Treatments for ADHD Children
Some parents may prefer to offer their children over-the-counter medication or herbal remedies, such as Pine Bark or Lion’s Mane. In mild cases of ADHD, this may be helpful. However, in more severe cases, pharmaceuticals are the best option.
Still, no matter what type of medication you offer your child, it’s always important to make sure your child’s doctor knows exactly what they’re taking. In many cases, herbal remedies for ADHD can have identical negative side effects that can result in a worsening of your child’s condition.
If you’re looking for a more natural solution for ADHD, here are your options:
- Diet – When a child receives a balanced diet, they’re more likely to improve their mental health without the need for medication. ⁷ Since different diets will have different effects on people, you can check out our Diet Plans for People with ADHD guide for more information.
- Exercise – Research reveals that exercise helps to improve mood and attention, potentially helping children with ADHD. ⁸
- Sleep – If your child has poor-quality sleep, they’re likely only hurting their condition. Studies show that the right sleep habits can improve ADHD symptoms. ⁹
- Essential Fatty Acids – Some children may show improvement in ADHD symptoms when given essential fatty acids, such as omega-3. ¹⁰
While giving your child ADHD medication isn’t ideal, it’s something that may help to drastically improve their quality of life. For this reason, it’s important to discuss the treatment options with your doctor along with what’s the best ADHD medication for your child’s circumstances.
If you plan to offer natural remedies to your child, it’s just as important to discuss these with a doctor. In many cases, herbal remedies simply can’t compete with the therapeutic benefits offered by pharmaceuticals.
Still have questions about the medication for ADHD in children?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Treatment of ADHD
² Psychiatry (MMC): Short-acting versus Long-acting Medications for the Treatment of ADHD
³ Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews: The pharmacology of amphetamine and methylphenidate: Relevance to the neurobiology of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other psychiatric comorbidities
⁵ Postgraduate Medicine: The potential for misuse and abuse of medications in ADHD: a review
⁷ PLOS ONE: Diet and ADHD, Reviewing the Evidence: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses of Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials Evaluating the Efficacy of Diet Interventions on the Behavior of Children with ADHD
⁹ Journal of Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: A Clinical Overview of Sleep and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents
¹⁰ Journal of Lipids: Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD?