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How well do stimulant drugs work for treating ADHD?


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects up to 10% of children and a smaller number of teenagers and adults in the United States. The cause is unknown and there is no cure, but medicines can relieve the symptoms by stimulating the brain and improving mental concentration, memory, and behavior.

Children with ADHD

Stimulants are the most common medicines prescribed for children. They include methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®), amphetamine salts (Adderall®), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®). Adderall® is being evaluated by the FDA due to some possible links to sudden unexplained deaths in children.

The effectiveness of stimulants may vary depending on the age of the child. Research shows that methylphenidate improves behavior in 30 - 70% of children. Treatment improved attention and interactions with mothers and other children.

Studies of children ages 5 to 12 showed that about 70% have some benefit from stimulant drug therapy for ADHD. These children had improved concentration, school performance, self-esteem, and relationships with family members. Methylphenidate, amphetamine salts, and dextroamphetamine work equally well, although methylphenidate may be slightly more effective for school-aged children who have anxiety with ADHD.

Benefits of stimulants usually appear within the first week of treatment. Children who don't respond to one drug may have more success with a different one. In some cases, a combination of medicines works best.

Adults and Teenagers with ADHD

Studies of teenagers with ADHD have only tested one stimulant, methylphenidate. Results show that between 30 - 70% of teenagers ages 13 to 17 benefited from the drug.

Studies show that an average of 54% of adults with ADHD responded to stimulant drugs. Stimulant medicines used to treat adults include methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®), amphetamine salts (Adderall®), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®). Direct comparisons of methylphenidate, amphetamine salts, and dextroamphetamine haven't shown any major differences in the effectiveness or side effects of these drugs.

The benefits in teens and adults with ADHD include better school and work-related abilities and improved family relations.

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