- Introduction: Mental Health Medications
- What are psychiatric medications?
- How are medications used to treat mental disorders?
- What medications are used to treat schizophrenia?
- What medications are used to treat depression?
- What medications are used to treat bipolar disorder?
- What medications are used to treat anxiety disorders?
- What medications are used to treat ADHD?
- Which groups have special needs when taking psychiatric medications?
- What should I ask my doctor if I am prescribed a psychiatric medication?
- Alphabetical List of Medications
- For More Information on Medications
What medications are used to treat ADHD?Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in both children and adults. ADHD is commonly treated with stimulants, such as:
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta, Daytrana)
- Amphetamine (Adderall)
- Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat).
In 2002, the FDA approved the nonstimulant medication atomoxetine (Strattera) for use as a treatment for ADHD. In February 2007, the FDA approved the use of the stimulant lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) for the treatment of ADHD in children ages 6 to 12 years.
What are the side effects?Most side effects are minor and disappear when dosage levels are lowered. The most common side effects include:
- Decreased appetite. Children seem to be less hungry during the middle of the day, but they are often hungry by dinnertime as the medication wears off.
- Sleep problems. If a child cannot fall asleep, the doctor may prescribe a lower dose. The doctor might also suggest that parents give the medication to their child earlier in the day, or stop the afternoon or evening dose. To help ease sleeping problems, a doctor may add a prescription for a low dose of an antidepressant or a medication called clonidine.
- Stomachaches and headaches.
- Less common side effects. A few children develop sudden, repetitive movements or sounds called tics. These tics may or may not be noticeable. Changing the medication dosage may make tics go away. Some children also may appear to have a personality change, such as appearing "flat" or without emotion. Talk with your child's doctor if you see any of these side effects.
How are ADHD medications taken?
Stimulant medications can be short-acting or long-acting, and can be taken in different forms such as a pill, patch, or powder. Long-acting, sustained and extended release forms allow children to take the medication just once a day before school. Parents and doctors should decide together which medication is best for the child and whether the child needs medication only for school hours or for evenings and weekends too.
ADHD medications help many children and adults who are hyperactive and impulsive. They help people focus, work, and learn. Stimulant medication also may improve physical coordination. However, different people respond differently to medications, so children taking ADHD medications should be watched closely.
Are ADHD medications safe?
Stimulant medications are safe when given under a doctor's supervision. Some children taking them may feel slightly different or "funny."
Some parents worry that stimulant medications may lead to drug abuse or dependence, but there is little evidence of this. Research shows that teens with ADHD who took stimulant medications were less likely to abuse drugs than those who did not take stimulant medications.14
FDA warning on possible rare side effects
In 2007, the FDA required that all makers of ADHD medications develop Patient Medication Guides. The guides must alert patients to possible heart and psychiatric problems related to ADHD medicine. The FDA required the Patient Medication Guides because a review of data found that ADHD patients with heart conditions had a slightly higher risk of strokes, heart attacks, and sudden death when taking the medications. The review also found a slightly higher risk (about 1 in 1,000) for medication-related psychiatric problems, such as hearing voices, having hallucinations, becoming suspicious for no reason, or becoming manic. This happened to patients who had no history of psychiatric problems.
The FDA recommends that any treatment plan for ADHD include an initial health and family history examination. This exam should look for existing heart and psychiatric problems.
The non-stimulant ADHD medication called atomoxetine (Strattera) carries another warning. Studies show that children and teenagers with ADHD who take atomoxetine are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than children and teenagers with ADHD who do not take atomoxetine. If your child is taking atomoxetine, watch his or her behavior carefully. A child may develop serious symptoms suddenly, so it is important to pay attention to your child's behavior every day. Ask other people who spend a lot of time with your child, such as brothers, sisters, and teachers, to tell you if they notice changes in your child's behavior. Call a doctor right away if your child shows any of the following symptoms:
- Acting more subdued or withdrawn than usual
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless
- New or worsening depression
- Thinking or talking about hurting himself or herself
- Extreme worry
- Panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Acting without thinking
- Extreme increase in activity or talking
- Frenzied, abnormal excitement
- Any sudden or unusual changes in behavior.
While taking atomoxetine, your child should see a doctor often, especially at the beginning of treatment. Be sure that your child keeps all appointments with his or her doctor.