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Substance Abuse

Everything You Need To Know About Stimulant ADHD Drugs

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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex mental disorder that can interfere with the normal functioning or development of the brain. A child suffering from ADHD experiences difficulty in sustaining focus and wanders off when given a task. With the rise in the number of cases of ADHD worldwide, the demand for stimulant ADHD drugs has likewise surged.

Common symptoms of children with ADHD are constantly moving around, tapping, fidgeting or talking continuously. ADHD children make hasty actions without realizing any potential harm or long-term consequences – the kind of behavior that often conceivably wears out others who take care of them.

Such behavior may not be suspected as the effect of such disorder when seen among younger children, since children are naturally not easy to manage. But as soon as they grow older and their mental development does not follow with their age, seeking professional help should be considered. This condition may not be diagnosed until age 7.

ADHD affects children of all races – whites by 9.8%, blacks by 9.5% and Latinos by 5.5%. A recent survey showed an increase of at least 90% among non-Hispanic black girls from 2001-2010.

Fortunately, there are medications available that can help treat children with ADHD.

Types of Stimulant ADHD

Stimulant ADHD drugs are used to help manage symptoms such as hyperactivity, short attention span and impulsive behavior. These drugs act on the brain in a way that the individual with ADHD can slowly manage how to function normally and hopefully be completely free from all its symptoms. It helps the ADHD patient to perform and finish tasks efficiently and an improvement with relationships can be evident.

There are three types of stimulants:

Short-acting forms

This type of stimulant is taken 2-3 times a day. The advantage of taking this type of stimulant is that the patient has more control over when the medication is in the system. The disadvantage is that the patient needs to remember to take the drugs often.

Examples: amphetamine, dextroamphetmine, dexmethylphenidate, methylphenidate. Common brand names are Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin and Dexedrine.

Intermediate-acting forms

Common intermediate acting ADHD stimulants are Evekeo, Ritalin SR, Metadate ER and Methlin ER.

Long-acting forms

This type of stimulant only requires to be taken once a day and has been proven to be successful in treating ADHD.

Common long-acting stimulants are: Concerta, Focalin XR, Daytrana and Adderall XR.

The effects of each of the drugs mentioned may not be the same in all patients. Therefore, if a patient feels that the prescribed medication does not help as much as expected, it is best to seek a physician’s help to change the medication. These drugs can be in the form of a pill, patch or liquid.

Can stimulant drugs make you smart?

human brain intelligence

The effects of stimulant ADHD drugs are to increase focus, attention and concentration. Although it has been said to help people gain more focus in attending to immediate tasks, it is not advised to render it as a form of a vitamin that anyone should take. The negative effects may outnumber the positive effects if stimulant drugs are taken without prescription.

In February 2016, news broke that college students used Adderall and Ritalin as “study aid medication” to help them stay up all night and cram. Notwithstanding the ramifications of their acts, numerous college students have become addicted to these ADHD drugs. The dramatic increase in misuse led to increased emergency visits.

Using Adderall may help increase focus and concentration, however, adverse side effects may ensue such as high blood pressure, stroke or potential risk of mental disorders such as depression, aggression or bipolar disorder.

Benefits of Using Stimulant ADHD Drugs

As previously mentioned, taking stimulant drugs helps improve performance and concentration in an individual. Before seeking any medical treatment, parents must request a basic health screening for their child. This prevents putting the child at risk should he/she have any life-threatening conditions that could be worsened or induced by the use of stimulants.

In a survey conducted, majority of the parents of children with ADHD who allowed treatment reported positive changes within a span of a few days using methylphenidates or amphetamine. A small percentage among those parents of ADHD children said that they had not seen any changes.

The effects of these stimulants occur quickly and can last for longer hours compared to medications given which only usually last between 8-12 hours. Children who have positively responded to the medication show great improvements regarding the quality and quantity of tasks that they complete.

With such medications, clear improvements have become distinguishable, most especially with the relationship of children with ADHD with the people around them. Moreover, if continuous treatment is provided, this can result in children living normal lives, allowing them to do more and perform better.

Although ADHD treatment has become successful in about 80% of ADHD patients, the degree of benefits varies. Along with the positive effects that these stimulant drugs have, there are also unfavorable experiences related to using these drugs.

Dangers and Side-effects of Stimulant ADHD Drugs

adderall tablets stimulant ADHD drugs

Photo by Seppi333 via Wikimedia Creative Commons

It should be noted how people respond to some of the positive attributes of a certain medication, however, along with those are a few minor issues. But it has always been the hope of scientists to produce medications that can be of more help than harm.

Stimulant ADHD drugs have been proven to work well in treating conditions such as ADHD. But there are also some adverse effects along with it, which some parents are afraid of, in turn refusing to give medical treatment to their children with ADHD. However, it is to be noted that these adverse effects are minimal and only last for a short period of time as some of the symptoms generally disappear when the dosage is reduced.

Prior to any kind of treatment, it is strongly advised that parents should be aware of all the possible repercussions that may occur after taking such treatment so that they would know how to manage their children should any of the adverse effects occur.

Common side effects of taking ADHD stimulant drugs include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Sleeping difficulty
  • Excessive staring
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Upset stomach
  • High blood pressure

Consequently, parents should not be afraid if they happen to observe their children experiencing these. The symptoms mentioned are usually short-term. If your child happens to have difficulties in sleeping, let your physician know about this so he/she can reduce the dose of the drug.

Informing the physician of other medical concerns that your child has can be extremely significant since some medications can interact dangerously with stimulant drugs.

Are they addictive?

The ultimate concern of parents regrading taking these stimulants is the fear of their children being addicted to the drugs. However, there are no data to support such claims. Generally, stimulants are not habit-forming, in fact, it was reported that children with ADHD who have been treated with stimulant drugs are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Therefore, if medications are taken as prescribed and is given to children under the supervision of a responsible adult, getting addicted to the stimulant drugs is highly improbable.

There have been speculations that these stimulant drugs can stunt the growth of children. And again, there are no data to support that it can affect the growth of children if they stop taking the medication during adolescence.

Stimulant ADHD drugs help boost energy and increase attention and focus, thereby being a favorable option of treatment. If a child taking such medication looks withdrawn or sluggish, then this may be due to an inappropriately high dose of medication that should be rectified immediately or else this could lead to underlying mood problems which need to be addressed.

How long should a child be under medication?

child adhd

While there is a certain percentage wherein medications may not have become beneficial to some children, teachers have observed some changes with the behavior of these children. Typically, a range of medications may be up for trial for possibly treating ADHD. Example, setting a four-week treatment of different medications for each of the first three weeks and giving placebo on the last week, the teacher should evaluate or assess the child by the end of each week. In doing so, the physician may be able to determine:

  • which dose was able to produce optimal benefits;
  • if the medication was superior to placebo;
  • to distinguish the problems encountered despite the positive effect of a specific medication; and
  • to identify any side effects

The placebo effect is a phenomenon with unknown explanation of its effectiveness on a person. Nevertheless, some patients have been seen to have improvements despite not being given the medication that is appropriate in treating their condition.

There may be a need for an annual assessment of the child’s behavior to determine whether to remain with the same kind of medication or dosage. Parents should be informed that despite the benefits of the stimulant medications for their children, there may be other situations related to behavioral or academic difficulties which should be addressed, as well.

Stimulant Drug Dosage on ADHD Patients

Typically, long-acting stimulant ADHD drugs like Adderall XR and Concerta work between 8-12 hours. Therefore, children do not need to take more than one dose a day in school. However, considering the child’s individual response and circumstances, giving a short-term stimulant medication in addition to the long-acting stimulant may be beneficial in order for the child to have the same kind of behavior at night especially when the child would need to do homework or study.

What happens when the effect of the stimulant drug wears off?

You may notice that your child would become restless, impulsive, emotional, irritable, grumpy or despondent almost the same time every day; this is a result of the stimulant drug wearing off. When the drug wears off too quickly, medical rebound is likely to happen, depending on the metabolism of the child. That is why a long-acting stimulant may last for 10 hours on one child and may only last about 6 hours on another child. Although these symptoms are likely to occur, parents should not be worried because it may just be the result of the sudden drop of the effect of the stimulant.

If you happen to notice that your child may be experiencing a rebound, talk to your doctor immediately. He may prescribe a “booster” to eliminate these uncontrollable episodes. A booster is a minute dose of quick-acting version of the same stimulant medicine that the child takes. It should be taken shortly before regular medication wears off.

Precautions Before Taking Stimulant Drugs

Prior to taking any kind of stimulant, here are a few guideline questions which can help the physician in treating your child:

  • Has the child taken any herbal supplements, dietary supplements or over-the-counter medication?
  • Does he have any medical problems? Or do any of the family members have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney or liver problems or heart disease?
  • Does he have a mental disorder/condition?

Final Word

Any kind of disorder can be successfully treated when diagnosed early. Always consider taking medical advice to ensure that your children are given proper care and maintain optimum health.

[Featured image by Benjamin Vincent Kasapoglu via Wikimedia Creative Commons]