ADHD Medications

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What are ADHD medications?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (often referred to as ADD or ADHD) is a disorder that is characterized by hyperactivity or restlessness, trouble concentrating, and/or trouble controlling one's impulses. It is one of the most common conditions of childhood and adolescence. Most experts agree that this condition affects 8%-10% of school-age children and that more than 40% of children with ADHD grow up into adults with this disorder.

Rather than having any single cause, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) develops from both genetic and life experience risk factors. Individuals with ADHD tend to have problems developing efficient self-regulation skills and decision-making abilities. Biologically, ADHD is a neurochemical and neuroanatomical disorder. People with ADHD have several chemicals in the brain that are not present in the right quantities in the right places at the right times. These chemicals may work sometimes but not consistently, and they are not under the individual's control. This is why people with ADHD have variable performance. Also, some nerve groups seem to be a bit out of position in the brain, causing delays or accelerations of nerve signals.

ADHD medications are designed to increase the ability of the ADHD sufferer to pay attention and manage their impulses and activity level. They also sometimes are used to treat people who suffer from sleep attacks (narcolepsy), chronic fatigue, or to boost the effect of antidepressant medication.

Most ADHD medications increase the amount of two brain chemicals that are used by nerve cells to communicate with one another (neurotransmitters), namely dopamine (DA) and/or norepinephrine. These chemicals have been associated with attention, pleasure, and movement. Although the chemical properties of other ADHD medications like guanfacine (Tenex, Intuniv) and clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay) are known, it is not fully understood how they affect the symptoms of ADHD.

Quick GuideADHD Symptoms in Children

ADHD Symptoms in Children
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