Does medication help?
ADHD is often treated with stimulant medication, which can produce short-term benefits for many children with ADHD. The theory is that medication can either reduce the uptake or increase the production of the neurotransmitters, so increasing the levels in the brain.
Medication does not cure ADHD – it can only reduce a child’s difficulties. The aim is to give children some relief from the symptoms, so they calm down, are better able to make friends and manage their emotions, learn more easily and are more responsive to other people. Children may become less aggressive as well as less hyperactive, and their performance at school may improve significantly. Once they are having fewer problems in their family, school and social lives, the hope is they can learn to manage their own behaviour better without the help of drugs. However there are concerns that these drugs may be used too quickly to deal with behaviours that are not due to ADHD/ADD at all; the child may be simply over-boisterous or unruly or difficult to manage for other reasons to do with their family and environment. Also, they are very powerful drugs – some are classed as amphetamines – and can carry other health risks:
- the long-term effects of stimulants on young, developing brains are still not fully known
- children and adults with existing heart conditions are at risk of heart attacks if they take stimulant medications
- stimulants can trigger or exacerbate hostility, aggression, anxiety, depression and paranoia – anyone with a personal or family history of suicide, depression or bi-polar disorder is at very high risk and should be closely monitored
- stimulant abuse is an increasingly common problem among young people – young people use them to give them a boost when preparing for exams, and to help lose weight
The reported side effects of stimulant medication for ADHD/ADD include some of the problems for which they are prescribed. They include: restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability and mood swings, depression, loss of appetite, headaches, upset stomach, dizziness, racing heartbeat and tics.
For these reasons, stimulant medication should only be prescribed to children who have been professionally assessed and diagnosed by an expert, and should be reviewed regularly.
Non-medical ways of managing ADHD include exercise, healthy diet, sleep management and behavioural therapies.