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Medications for Treating ADHD

Medications for Treating ADHD

What are the benefits and risks?
When does use become abuse or overuse?

You have probably heard of Ritalin (methylphenidate), a medication that is used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is a condition that makes it hard for a person to pay attention, sit still, or think before acting. Students with ADHD are often described as having a short attention span or being hyper and fidgety. The main treatments for ADHD are psychotherapy and medications, used either alone or together. Children with ADHD may also need special help in the classroom. Ritalin and medicines like it help people with ADHD gain better control over their symptoms. back to top

What are the benefits and risks?
Stimulants increase nervous system alertness by prompting the brain to make more of two key brain chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine. When taken at high doses, medications for treating ADHD have an arousing effect. When taken at the right dose, though, the medications have the opposite effect. Many studies have found that these medications can help young people with ADHD settle down and focus better.

These medications are safe when used as directed by a health care provider. Like all medications, however, they can cause unwanted side effects. The most common ones are lack of appetite and trouble falling asleep. Other possible effects include stomachaches and headaches, especially during the first few days of treatment. When these side effects don't go away, they can usually be handled by lowering the dose. Some health care providers also believe that the medications may temporarily slow the growth of children. back to top

When does use become abuse or overuse?
There is a big difference between using a medication correctly and abusing it. Stimulant abuse is a problem among teens and adults who take high doses of these medications in an effort to get high. When stimulants are abused this way, they can be very dangerous. The result may be high blood pressure, heart and blood vessel damage, nervous system damage, or behavior problems. People who abuse these medications can also become addicted to them.

Another concern is that health care providers may prescribe stimulants too often. Indeed, stimulants are the most widely used kind of medication for mental disorders in young people. Health care providers sometimes give these medications to very young children, who may stay on the medicine for many years. More studies are still needed to find out how safe the medications are when used by children and teens for long periods. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/11/2001
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