Drug Therapies

Treatments of ADHD can be broken down into roughly two categories: medication and behavioral or cognitive-behavioral treatment with the individual ADHD child, parents, or teachers. Traditional psychotherapy and play therapy have not been found to be effective in the treatment of ADHD. Stimulant medications have been used in the treatment of ADHD since 1937. The most commonly prescribed stimulant medications are methylphenidate (Ritalin), pemoline (Cylert), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). Behavioral improvements caused by stimulant medications include those in impulse control and improved attending behavior. Overall, approximately 75 percent of ADHD children on stimulant medication show behavioral improvement, and 25 percent show either no improvement or decreased behavioral functioning. The findings related to academic performance are mixed. It appears that stimulant medications can help the ADHD child with school productivity and accuracy but not with overall academic achievement. In addition, although ADHD children tend to show improvement while they are on a stimulant medication, there are rarely any long-term benefits to the use of such medications. In general, stimulant medication can be seen as only a short-term management tool.

Antidepressant medications (such as imipramine and Prozac) have also been used with ADHD children. These medications are sometimes used when stimulant medication is not appropriate (for example, if the child has motor or vocal tics). Antidepressant medications, like stimulant medications, appear to provide only short-term improvement in ADHD symptoms. Overall, the use or nonuse of medications in the treatment of ADHD should be carefully evaluated by a qualified physician (such as a psychiatrist). If the child is started on medication for ADHD, the safety and appropriateness of the medication must be monitored continually throughout its use.

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