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What Will ADHD Medication Do? Effects, Outcomes & Considerations

ADHD medication is a topic that elicits a range of opinions – some strongly in favour, others more cautious or opposed. Yet, for many, it offers a transformative pathway to managing ADHD symptoms.
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What Will ADHD Medication Do? Effects, Outcomes & Considerations

15/04/2024
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ADHD medication is a topic that elicits a range of opinions – some strongly in favour, others more cautious or opposed. Yet, for many, it offers a transformative pathway to managing ADHD symptoms.

ADHD medication can significantly improve attention span, reduce impulsivity, and enhance overall focus. However, it’s crucial to note that medication is most effective when part of a comprehensive ADHD treatment plan that may include therapy, lifestyle changes, and education.

So what will ADHD medication do? ADHD medications primarily work by targeting neurotransmitters (best thought of as ‘chemical messengers’) in the brain – like dopamine and noradrenaline – which play key roles in attention and impulse control. Medications can help regulate these brain chemicals, leading to improved focus and reduced hyperactivity.

ADHD medications are usually prescription-only and require a formal diagnosis from a qualified healthcare provider. This diagnosis typically involves a thorough evaluation of symptoms, medical history, and functional impairments before determining the appropriate course of treatment.

Today, we’ll dive deeper into effects, outcomes, and important considerations surrounding ADHD medication.

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What Will ADHD Medication Do? A Closer Look

ADHD medications, both stimulant and non-stimulant, target specific neurotransmitters in the brain to address symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Stimulant medications like methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) and amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) are the most commonly prescribed.

They work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and noradrenaline, in the brain, which helps improve focus, attention, and impulse control. (We’ll give a more detailed breakdown on the role of dopamine and noradrenaline later.)

Stimulant Medications:

  • Increased Focus: Stimulants can enhance focus and attention span, making it easier for individuals to concentrate on tasks.
  • Reduced Hyperactivity: They often also lead to calmer behaviour and reduced impulsivity.
  • Improved Executive Function: Stimulants can enhance planning, organisation, and time management.

Non-Stimulant Medications:

  • Alternative Options: Non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine (Strattera) or guanfacine (Intuniv) are used when stimulants aren’t suitable or effective.
  • Less Risk of Abuse: Available over-the-counter, non-stimulants are not controlled substances, reducing the risk of abuse or dependence.
  • Balanced Neurotransmitters: They work by affecting different neurotransmitters (e.g., noradrenaline) to improve attention and impulse control.

ADHD medications can significantly improve daily functioning for individuals with ADHD. However, responses to medications vary, and finding the right treatment often requires close monitoring and adjustments based on individual needs and responses.

Always consult with a healthcare professional for guidance on ADHD treatment options – if you’d like to learn more, contact us now, or book your ADHD assessment today.

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Types of ADHD Medication – and How They Work

ADHD medication falls into two primary categories: stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) and amphetamines (e.g., Adderall), are the most commonly prescribed.

They can work by increasing the availability of dopamine, which is involved in the activation of feelings such as pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, as well as in controlling memory, mood, sleep, learning, concentration, and other bodily functions.

Other medications target noradrenaline – this is central to keeping your physical, emotional, and intellectual rhythms stable, maintaining organ function, and enabling stress responses to protect from harm.

Some different types of ADHD medication include:

  • Methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin, Concerta) (Stimulant): Increases dopamine and noradrenaline levels, improving focus and reducing impulsivity.
  • Amphetamines (e.g., Adderall, Vyvanse) (Stimulant): Also enhances dopamine and noradrenaline, leading to increased alertness and concentration.
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera) (Non-Stimulant): Affects noradrenaline levels, improving attention and reducing hyperactivity.
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv) and Clonidine (Non-Stimulant): Work on alpha-2 adrenergic receptors (involved in physiological functioning), affecting noradrenaline pathways to improve attention and impulse control.

Each type of medication has its own benefits and considerations, and the choice of medication very much depends on individual factors such as age, medical history, and specific symptoms.

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Can You Get ADHD Medication Without a Diagnosis?

In the UK, ADHD medication is not prescribed without a formal diagnosis by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist or nurse.

The diagnostic process involves a comprehensive assessment, considering symptoms, medical history, and any potential underlying conditions. Once diagnosed, appropriate treatment options, including medication, may be recommended, based on individual needs.

Similar practices apply in other countries like the USA, Canada, Australia or within the EU, where ADHD medication is typically prescribed following a formal diagnosis by a healthcare provider specialising in ADHD.

This ensures that treatment is tailored to the specific needs of the individual and managed safely and effectively.

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Benefits & Potential Side Effects of ADHD Medication

For people dealing with the effects of ADHD, medications can offer significant benefits in managing symptoms and improving daily functioning. For instance:

  • Improved Focus and Attention: ADHD medications, particularly stimulants like methylphenidate or amphetamine-based drugs, can enhance attention span and focus.
  • Reduced Impulsivity: Medications help individuals with ADHD control impulsivity and make more considered decisions.
  • Enhanced Executive Function: Medications can aid in better planning, organisation, and time management.

However, stimulant medications may sometimes suppress appetite, leading to weight loss or difficulty maintaining a healthy diet. Some individuals experience difficulty falling asleep or disrupted sleep patterns, and mood swings or irritability can occur, particularly during the medication’s onset or offset.

Stimulants can also increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially posing risks for individuals with underlying cardiovascular conditions. It’s crucial to discuss these benefits and possible side effects with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dosage and Administration

Determining the right dosage and administration of ADHD medication is crucial for safe and effective treatment – always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully. Regular follow-ups are necessary to monitor dosage effectiveness and address any concerns about side effects or adjustments.

ADHD medication dosage varies based on factors like age, weight, and specific symptoms. Healthcare providers start with a low dose and adjust gradually to achieve optimal symptom control.

Typically, stimulant medications like methylphenidate or amphetamines are administered orally in tablet or capsule form. Dosage frequency depends on the medication type and duration. Similarly, non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine are also administered orally, but may have different dosage schedules compared to stimulants.

ADHD medications are often taken in the morning to minimise sleep disruption. Some short-acting formulations may require multiple doses throughout the day.

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ADHD Medication in Children vs Adults

Medication can be prescribed to both children and adults, but there are some important differences in how it’s used and its effects.

ADHD medications for children usually aim to improve focus, reduce hyperactivity, and enhance impulse control. Healthcare providers carefully monitor growth, appetite, and sleep patterns during treatment.

Similar symptoms would be targeted in adults, but may also address other issues like time management, organisation, and emotional regulation. Adults may have different dosage requirements based on metabolism and medical history.

Let’s take a couple of examples, to see how this might look in real terms.

Sarah, a 9-year-old girl, struggles with inattention and impulsivity in school. After an ADHD assessment, her paediatrician prescribes a low dose of methylphenidate to help improve focus and reduce hyperactivity. With medication, Sarah finds it easier to follow instructions in class, complete homework tasks, and engage in social activities without feeling overwhelmed.

Conversely, Tom is a 32-year-old professional who experiences challenges with time management and staying organised at his office-based job. Following an ADHD diagnosis, Tom’s psychiatrist prescribes extended-release mixed amphetamine salts to help manage symptoms. Consequently, Tom notices improved productivity, better task completion, and enhanced ability to prioritise and plan effectively in his job and personal life.

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Complementary Therapies & Lifestyle Changes

It’s important to say that, in addition to medication, individuals with ADHD often benefit from complementary therapies and lifestyle changes that can enhance overall well-being and symptom management. These approaches can be particularly valuable when used alongside medication.

Some effective strategies include:

  • Behavioural Therapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), coaching, and behavioural interventions can help individuals develop coping strategies, improve organisational skills, and manage impulsivity.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can promote emotional regulation and reduce stress.
    → Find out more about our Essential Mindfulness Course.
  • Exercise and Physical Activity: Regular physical activity can boost focus, mood, and overall cognitive function.
  • Healthy Diet: Balanced nutrition, including omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, seeds, nuts and soybeans) can support brain health and optimise energy levels.
  • Sleep Hygiene: Prioritising quality sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can improve attention and reduce impulsivity.

The ADHD Centre: Get In Touch For Support

Finding the right approach to managing ADHD involves careful consideration and expert guidance. ADHD medication can be a valuable tool when used appropriately and in conjunction with other therapies – but it’s essential to work closely with healthcare professionals to determine the most suitable treatment plan tailored to individual needs.

If you or someone you know is seeking support for ADHD symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to The ADHD Centre. Our experienced team specialises in ADHD assessments and provides personalised treatment plans. Book an ADHD assessment today and take the first step towards managing ADHD effectively.

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We have been diagnosing and treating people with ADHD since 2009.

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