ADHD Medications – The Basics

November 23, 2008

I recently delivered a teleconference for ADDA, the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Association, on ADHD Medications and wanted to share with you some of the common questions. “Dr. Cerulli, how do I know if I need medication?” My response: First know that medications should not be used as the only treatment intervention for ADHD, but rather as part of an integrated approach to care. When deciding on medication, ask yourself if your ADHD symptoms are getting in the way in your life at home, at work, at school or in your relationships. Are you meeting your personal goals? Are your unique abilities, talents, and wonderful attributes being expressed or getting lost among your ADHD symptoms? If others are noticing more about your ADHD than about you, it may be time to consider a medication consultation.

Medications can be very safe and effective. In fact stimulant medications are helpful in 70 – 75% of patients with ADHD. Careful diagnosis, medication management, medication adjustments, and follow up medical visits will impact how successful this endeavor will be for you. Take time in finding a provider you can comfortably work with. This is an important long term relationship!

Another common question was “How long will it take before I notice if a medication is working?”. The answer varies depending on what type of medication you are taking for your ADHD. Stimulant medications work immediately, just like caffeine in your morning coffee. They work right away but only last approximately 4-12 hours. However when a doctor starts you on a stimulant, they generally begin a low doses so it may take a few weeks to a few months to adjust the dose or the type of stimulant to get a good response.

Unlike stimulant medications, the non-stimulants do not work right away. They take time to build up in your body, usually over the course of 2-4 weeks to begin having beneficial effects. An example of a non-stimulant ADHD medication is strattera, also called atomoxetine. The non-stimulant medications may be a good option for someone who cannot tolerate side effects from a stimulant or has medical problems such as seizures that may be negatively impacted by stimulants.

For a good overview of medication basics and ADHD in general, take a look at www.insideADHD.org  I find this website to be very user-friendly and accurate. You can link to medication information directly from the homepage. Also check out their graphics on the brain and ADHD.

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