Learning About Stimulant Medicines for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Skip Navigation

How are stimulant medicines used to treat ADHD?

Stimulant medicines affect certain chemicals in the brain. They can help a person with ADHD to focus better. And they can make the person less hyperactive and impulsive. ADHD is treated with medicines and behavior therapy. Stimulants are the medicines used most.

What are some types of these medicines?

Stimulant medicines may include:

  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin).
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).
  • Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate CD, Methylin, Ritalin).
  • Mixed salts amphetamine (Adderall).

How can your child use them safely?

  • Have your child take any medicines exactly as prescribed.

    Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.

  • Do not give "make-up" doses.

    If your child misses a dose, and if it's not too late in the day, it's okay to take it. But don't double up doses.

  • Teach your child not to misuse the medicine.

    Some medicines for ADHD can be misused. Some people may take a larger dose than prescribed. They may take them for their non-medical effects. Or they may share or sell them. Misuse can lead to a stimulant use disorder.

    Some parents worry that taking stimulants will increase their child's risk for developing a substance use disorder later in life. But research has shown that these medicines, when taken correctly, don't affect a child's risk for having problems with substance use later on.

  • Keep close track of your child's medicines.

    Make sure that your child knows not to sell or give the medicine to others.

What are the side effects?

Common side effects include loss of appetite, a headache, and an upset stomach. Your child may also have mood changes or sleep problems. Your child may feel nervous.

Some stimulant medicines can cause a dry mouth.

These medicines may be related to slower growth in children. This is more likely in the first year a child takes the medicine. But these medicines may not affect a child's final height as an adult. Your doctor will keep track of your child's growth and will watch for problems.

If these medicines have bothersome side effects or don't work for your child, the doctor might prescribe another type of medicine.

How long can you expect your child to use these medicines?

Most doctors prescribe a low dose of stimulant medicines at first. Your doctor may have your child slowly increase the dose until your child's symptoms are managed. Or your child might get a different medicine or treatment. This can take several weeks.

Some doctors may advise taking a break from the medicine over some weekends, during holidays, or during the summer. But this depends on the type of symptoms your child has and the kinds of activities your child does.

Your child may need to take medicine for ADHD for a long time. But the doctor will check now and then to see if a lower dose still works.

If you want to stop or reduce your child's use of the medicine, talk to the doctor first. You may be able to lower or stop your child's medicine use if:

  • Your child has no symptoms for more than a year while taking the medicine.
  • Your child is doing better at the same dose.
  • Your child's behavior is appropriate even if they miss a dose or two.
  • Your child is newly able to concentrate.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter S135 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Stimulant Medicines for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.