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ADHD Medications

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Medication is the single most effective treatment for ADHD. According to the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD (MTA Study, 2009), about 80% of people with ADHD respond to medication. About 600 children were included in the MTA Study from six different research facilities in the United States and Canada ( The results from this 14-month MTA study demonstrated that medication was the single most effective treatment. However, the most effective, overall treatment strategy was a combination of medication with psycho-educational, and behavioral treatments. Some examples are social skills training (the ability to make and keep social relationships) and anger management training.

medicationProfessionals consider the MTA results groundbreaking. This is because the study yielded data across time, and demonstrated that medication is not the only option for people with ADHD. Instead, the study found that combination therapy yielded the best result.

Despite the effectiveness of medication, it is important to note that these drugs are not a cure for ADHD. Instead, they minimize the negative impact of ADHD symptoms on a person's life. For example, children who struggle to concentrate cannot complete their school work. Grades may plummet as they advance through each grade level and performance expectations increase. Medication can make it possible for these children to increase their ability to concentrate. This in turn increases their ability to learn the material and raise their grades. In fact, medication can be a life changer for people with ADHD. However, when medication is stopped, symptoms usually return.

Types of ADHD medication (drugs):

There are two basic categories of ADHD medication:

1. Stimulant drugs; and,
2. Non-stimulant drugs (primarily anti-depressant drugs).

Most people use some combination of drugs. Both stimulant and non-stimulant medications are primarily prescribed to control the symptoms of ADHD. Stimulants are prescribed more often than other types of medication. One of the most desirable qualities of stimulants is that they work quickly. Beneficial effects begin within 20 minutes of dosing and last up to three or four hours. The extended release versions of these drugs last even longer.

ADHD drugs target different symptoms. Some target neurotransmitters, which are thought to play a role in ADHD. LINK Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain. Most researchers believe that low levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, and norepinephrine, play a key role in ADHD symptoms. Dopamine is important because it suppresses stimuli that cause distractions. Meanwhile, sufficient levels of norepinephrine improve the signal transmission about whatever the person is trying to pay attention to.