At a glance
ADHD medication can be very effective for many kids.
It’s not a cure, but it can help the brain function more efficiently.
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean a child has to start taking medication.
ADHD medication can be a game-changer for many kids. But parents often have concerns about it. Some may worry that these drugs are addictive. Others may worry that taking them will change their child’s personality.
Here are five common concerns about ADHD drugs for kids.
How does ADHD medication work?
To understand how ADHD medication works, it’s important to know how the ADHD brain works. Imagine a baseball game. Picture two brain cells (neurons). One is the pitcher, and the other is the catcher. The baseballs are the brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that get passed from one brain cell to the next (or from the pitcher to the catcher).
Neurons in the brain have to pass information along to each other for the brain to function properly. ADHD can impact the brain’s ability to do this. For many people, ADHD medication helps these brain cells work together more efficiently. It also helps the cells communicate better with other parts of the brain. And that helps reduce ADHD symptoms.
Learn more about how ADHD medication works in the brain.
Is ADHD medication addictive?
Studies have shown that the proper use of ADHD medication appears to reduce the risk of substance abuse, not increase it. One theory is that the medication helps kids feel more in control of their lives. And as a result, they feel less need to self-medicate.
Proper use of ADHD medication is also linked to lower relapse rates in kids and adults who are in recovery for drug or alcohol addiction. ADHD drugs help kids with impulse control and with managing their emotions. They also help kids get important stuff done. This leads to success and higher self-esteem.
The risk of getting addicted to ADHD meds is very low, especially when medication is being used as prescribed.
Do kids with ADHD need to take medication?
The short answer is no. Getting an ADHD diagnosis does not mean a child has to start taking medication. In fact, there are non-medication treatments that can help kids with ADHD symptoms. A common one is behavior therapy, especially for young children. Going outside, exercising, and practicing mindfulness are a few options.
Exercising increases brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which kids with ADHD are often low on. Research has found that just 30 minutes of exercise can improve kids’ focus. It’s also a great way for kids to use up any built-up energy.
Adjusting kids’ diets is another way to help their ADHD. When kids eat food that doesn’t make them feel good, it can affect their behavior and worsen their ADHD symptoms.
Will ADHD medication change my child’s personality?
This is a common misconception. But it’s based on what can happen if a dose is too high. Too much medication can make kids feel “off” or irritable for most of their day. This is why it’s important to partner with your child’s doctor to find the right medication and dosage.
Finding the best fit for your child can be a bit of a trial-and-error process. Your child’s doctor may want you to spend some time trying a certain drug at a specific dose before making any adjustments.
Be sure to tell the doctor if your child is feeling “off” or if they don’t have much of an appetite. Keep a journal or use a medication log to help you and the doctor look for patterns in your child.
What are the limitations of ADHD medication?
ADHD medication is not a cure-all. It can help lessen symptoms, but it can’t make challenges like getting organized or planning things just go away.
ADHD meds are also not very helpful to kids who don’t have ADHD. These drugs are often referred to as “performance enhancers.” But they don’t have nearly as big an effect on people who don’t have ADHD.
Finding the right treatment for your child’s ADHD can take time. Work with your child’s doctor or health care provider to find the best approach, whether it’s medication or another treatment — or both.
Learn about the types of ADHD medication. Read about common questions to ask your child’s doctor about ADHD medication. Hear more about ADHD treatment in this episode of Understood Explains.
Finding the right ADHD medication for your child can be a trial-and-error process.
There are other treatment options that may help some kids with ADHD symptoms.
Work with your child’s doctor or health care provider to find the best treatment approach.
About the author
About the author
Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.
Roberto Olivardia, PhD is an expert in the treatment of ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). He also focuses on issues facing students with learning disabilities.