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ADHD Medication: Where to start?

Medication spilling from bottle

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by patterns of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention that impacts daily life and behaviour. After a diagnosis, medication is often touted as the best method of intervention to manage ADHD symptoms and improve daily functioning. However, navigating the topic of ADHD medication can be overwhelming, especially when figuring out if medication is the right route to choose. In this post, we will explore ADHD medication benefits and potential negative effects. 

Firstly, it’s important to understand how ADHD medication works. Most ADHD medications are stimulant medications though there are non-stimulant alternatives as well. Stimulant medication targets dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in the brain which are involved in focus, attention and impulsivity. The medication acts to improve executive function by reducing hyperactivity and enhancing attention span offering the individual better self-regulation. Studies have found that medication works for about 8 out of 10 individuals with ADHD however, it is important to note that these medications do not “cure” ADHD. 

The benefits to taking ADHD Medication include:

  • Increased focus and improved attention span allowing  individuals to better concentrate on tasks, follow instructions, and complete work or school assignments.
  • Reduced impulsive behaviours and hyperactivity, allowing individuals to better control their impulses, engage in appropriate social interactions, and exhibit more calm and regulated behaviours.
  • Improved executive functioning skills, such as organisation, time management, and planning abilities. This can lead to increased productivity, better decision-making, and improved overall functioning in daily life.

The potential negative effects of ADHD medication:

  • Unwanted side effects of taking stimulant medication include insomnia, loss of appetite or nausea. These side effects can be countered by swapping the type of medication or reducing doses.
  • Rebound effects such as fatigue and irritation while the medication wears off after stopping it.
  • Increased anxiety or depressive symptoms.
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate.

There are two types of ADHD Medication:

Stimulant Medication: Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (e.g., Adderall, Elvanse), are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. They work by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain, helping to improve attention and reduce hyperactivity. Stimulant medications are available in immediate-release and extended-release formulations.

Non-Stimulant Medication: Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (Strattera), guanfacine (Intuniv), and clonidine (Kapvay), are alternative options for individuals who do not respond well to stimulants or prefer non-stimulant medications. They work differently than stimulants but can still help improve focus, attention, and impulse control.

Here is a guide on how to start looking for medication:

1) Finding a prescriber 

The first step in exploring medication options is to seek a healthcare professional experienced in diagnosing and treating ADHD. This may include a psychiatrist, paediatrician (for children), or pharmacist. You must ensure they are a qualified prescriber (which you can ask them). They will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and discuss treatment options, including medication. The healthcare professional will conduct a thorough assessment to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage for you. This may include reviewing symptoms, medical history, carrying out a health check, looking at any co-existing conditions, as well as considering personal preferences and lifestyle factors. 

2) The right ADHD medication for you

Finding the right medication and dosage can be a trial-and-error process. It may take some time and adjustments to find the optimal medication that effectively manages symptoms whilst minimising any side effects mentioned previously. It is important to attend follow-up appointments with your healthcare professional during this phase to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments. This process is sometimes called titration. As each individual’s response to medication is unique it is important to remember that what works for one individual may not work for another. Finding the right medication and dosage requires an individualised approach.

3) Alternatives to medication

Should you feel that medication isn’t the right route, there are alternatives that can help. Seeking a ADHD-adapted therapist or ADHD coach who can provide individualised support can be crucial for those who prefer not to have medication. These professionals can help teach you how to manage executive dysfunction through setting goals and keeping tabs on your progress. A qualified therapist can also provide mental health advice and support anxiety or depressive symptoms. This approach can of course be incorporated alongside ADHD medication too. 

To summarise, ADHD medication can be a valuable tool in managing symptoms and improving daily functioning for individuals with ADHD. Starting the journey with medication involves consulting with a healthcare professional (, GP or private prescriber) and engaging in a trial-and-error process to find the right medication and dosage for you. Finding the optimal medication may take time and adjustments and sometimes individual’s may decide not to take medication after all and seek therapeutic intervention instead. With patience, research, and collaboration with healthcare professionals, individuals with ADHD can find the intervention that best supports their needs and enhances their quality of life.

Author: NeuroDirect