Pills, Pills, Pills: What You Need To Know About Common ADHD Medication Types

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (commonly abbreviated as ADHD, or sometimes as ADD) is not an uncommon diagnosis for your child; it's estimated that 6.4 million children in the United States alone are diagnosed every year with this disorder. But if your child has just been diagnosed, it's not out of the question that you probably have some questions about one of the three common medication regimens for ADHD that your child's doctor may suggest to put them on. So if you're wondering what a few of the more common ADHD meds actually do and how they could impact your child, then here's what you need to know.


This first class of medication works not by releasing hormones (as stimulants do; more on this below) in the brain but by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain directly. While that makes these drugs much safer than stimulant-class medications, it also means that they take longer to work and show improvement in your child. There are generally fewer side effects with non-stimulant drugs than the other two classes, but your child may have lightheadedness on this regimen. If your doctor prescribes atomoexetine, specifically, your child will have to be tested regularly to ensure that the drug isn't impairing their liver function.


You may wonder at giving stimulants to treat a disorder with the word "hyperactivity" in it, but stimulants actually can help to calm children with ADHD down, which can help them to focus more completely. Stimulants are the most common form of ADHD medication, and are generally the names that you'll recognize from any prior knowledge of ADHD – Ritalin, Adderall, Focalin, and other common brands. They work by releasing certain hormones – dopamine and norepinephrine, chiefly – in the brain, working both to heighten your child's ability to focus and decrease the fatigue that ADHD can often bring with it. Side effects of stimulants usually include loss of appetite, stomachaches, and sleeping troubles.


Slightly less commonly prescribed than the other two categories of drugs, anti-depressants can be incredibly effective in controlling ADHD in your child but can also lead to a slightly higher risk of suicidal thoughts in patients, particularly in teenagers. Wellbutrin and Norpramin are the two biggest names in the anti-depressant medication world, but your doctor may proscribe Aventyl or even Tofranil instead. Because of the increased suicide risk, anti-depressants are often combined with clinical therapy (to great effect) in ADHD patients.

For more information, talk to a pediatrician.