Treatments for ADHD
How do children with ADHD get better?
Children with ADHD can get better with treatment, but there is no cure. There are three basic types of treatment:
- Medication. Several medications can help. The most common types are called stimulants. Medications help children focus, learn, and stay calm.
Sometimes medications cause side effects, such as sleep problems or stomachaches. Your child may need to try a few medications to see which one works best. It's important that you and your doctor watch your child closely while he or she is taking medicine.
- Therapy. There are different kinds of therapy. Behavioral therapy can help teach children to control their behavior so they can do better at school and at home.
- Medication and therapy combined. Many children do well with both medication and therapy.
How can I help my child?
Give your child guidance and understanding. A specialist can show you how to help your child make positive changes. Supporting your child helps everyone in your family. Also, talk to your child's teachers. Some children with ADHD can get special education services.
Source: NIMH (NIH)1
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Back to: « ADHD
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Treatment and Therapies
While there is no cure for ADHD, currently available treatments can help reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.
For many people, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Medication also may improve physical coordination. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding the right one that works for a particular person. Anyone taking medications must be monitored closely and carefully by their prescribing doctor.
Stimulants. The most common type of medication used for treating ADHD is called a “stimulant.” Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication that is considered a stimulant, it works because it increases the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which play essential roles in thinking and attention.
Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe. However, there are risks and side effects, especially when misused or taken in excess of the prescribed dose.For example, stimulants can raise blood pressure and heart rate and increase anxiety. Therefore, a person with other health problems, including high blood pressure, seizures, heart disease, glaucoma, liver or kidney disease, or an anxiety disorder should tell their doctor before taking a stimulant.
Talk with a doctor if you see any of these side effects while taking stimulants:
- decreased appetite
- sleep problems
- tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds);
- personality changes
- increased anxiety and irritability
Non-stimulants. A few other ADHD medications are non-stimulants. These medications take longer to start working than stimulants, but can also improve focus, attention, and impulsivity in a person with ADHD. Doctors may prescribe a non-stimulant: when a person has bothersome side effects from stimulants; when a stimulant was not effective; or in combination with a stimulant to increase effectiveness.
Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for the treatment of ADHD, some antidepressants are sometimes used alone or in combination with a stimulant to treat ADHD. Antidepressants may help all of the symptoms of ADHD and can be prescribed if a patient has bothersome side effects from stimulants. Antidepressants can be helpful in combination with stimulants if a patient also has another condition, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or another mood disorder.
Doctors and patients can work together to find the best medication, dose, or medication combination. Learn the basics about stimulants and other mental health medications on the NIMH Mental Health Medications webpage and check the FDAwebsite (http://www.fda.gov/ ?), for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications.
Adding psychotherapy to treat ADHD can help patients and their families to better cope with everyday problems.
Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help a person change his or her behavior. It might involve practical assistance, such as help organizing tasks or completing schoolwork, or working through emotionally difficult events. Behavioral therapy also teaches a person how to:
- monitor his or her own behavior
- give oneself praise or rewards for acting in a desired way, such as controlling anger or thinking before acting
Parents, teachers, and family members also can give positive or negative feedback for certain behaviors and help establish clear rules, chore lists, and other structured routines to help a person control his or her behavior. Therapists may also teach children social skills, such as how to wait their turn, share toys, ask for help, or respond to teasing. Learning to read facial expressions and the tone of voice in others, and how to respond appropriately can also be part of social skills training.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also teach a person mindfulness techniques, or meditation. A person learns how to be aware and accepting of one’s own thoughts and feelings to improve focus and concentration. The therapist also encourages the person with ADHD to adjust to the life changes that come with treatment, such as thinking before acting, or resisting the urge to take unnecessary risks.
Family and marital therapy can help family members and spouses find better ways to handle disruptive behaviors, to encourage behavior changes, and improve interactions with the patient.
For more information on psychotherapy, see the Psychotherapies webpage on the NIMH website.
Education and Training
Children and adults with ADHD need guidance and understanding from their parents, families, and teachers to reach their full potential and to succeed. For school-age children, frustration, blame, and anger may have built up within a family before a child is diagnosed. Parents and children may need special help to overcome negative feelings. Mental health professionals can educate parents about ADHD and how it affects a family. They also will help the child and his or her parents develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other.
Parenting skills training (behavioral parent management training) teaches parents the skills they need to encourage and reward positive behaviors in their children. It helps parents learn how to use a system of rewards and consequences to change a child’s behavior. Parents are taught to give immediate and positive feedback for behaviors they want to encourage, and ignore or redirect behaviors that they want to discourage. They may also learn to structure situations in ways that support desired behavior.
Stress management techniques can benefit parents of children with ADHD by increasing their ability to deal with frustration so that they can respond calmly to their child’s behavior.
Support groups can help parents and families connect with others who have similar problems and concerns. Groups often meet regularly to share frustrations and successes, to exchange information about recommended specialists and strategies, and to talk with experts.
Source: NIMH (NIH)2
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Medication and counseling can help kids focus and learn skills so they eventually won’t need constant reminders to do and finish routine tasks.
“Make sure there’s a good schedule of activities and a system of reinforcing the child to follow through on assignments,” says Vitiello. “Reward the child for good behavior and discourage distraction, impulsiveness, and other problematic behaviors.”
The most effective ADHD medications are stimulants, Vitiello says. In kids with ADHD, stimulants reduce hyperactivity and improve attention. Children taking these drugs should be monitored by a doctor. If symptoms don’t improve, or if side effects occur (such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or anxiety), the doctor might lower the dose or change the medicine.
“Considering there are different types and forms of the condition,” says Vitiello, “each child and each family needs to identify and tailor the approach to that child, without relying just on medication alone.”
Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)3
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Frequency of ADHD treatments across all ages
- 9 out of 10 children with ADHD were treated with medication and/or behavioral therapy, both of which are recommended ADHD treatments. Of these children: ?about 4 in 10 (43%) were treated with medication -- the most common single ADHD treatment,
- about 1 in 10 (13%) received behavioral therapy alone, and
- about 3 in 10 (31%) were treated with combination therapy (medication and behavioral therapy).
- About 1 in 10 children with ADHD were receiving neither medication treatment nor behavioral therapy.
- About 1 in 10 were taking dietary supplements for ADHD, which are not currently recommended for the treatment of ADHD.
Source: CDC Features4
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Treatment for ADHD
Although there isn't a known cure for ADHD, it can be successfully managed. Some symptoms may improve as the child grows older. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment as early as possible. But not all children with ADHD are getting the right treatment, especially young children.
Treatment recommendations vary by age.
- For children under 6, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavior therapy first before trying medication. The most effective approach for young children is parent training in behavior therapy.
- For children 6 years of age and older, AAP recommends behavior therapy and medication as good options, preferably both together. Parent training has been shown to be effective up to age 12, particularly for children with disruptive behaviors.
Source: CDC Features5
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Experts recommend that children under 6 with ADHD receive behavior therapy first, before trying medication. Behavior therapy for young children is most effective when it is delivered by parents. During parent training in behavior therapy, parents work with a therapist to learn strategies to create structure in daily life for their child, reinforce good behavior, provide consistent discipline, and strengthen the relationship with their child through positive communication. But data show that at least half of young children with ADHD do not receive any kind of psychological service.
CDC works to help families get the right care at the right time by raising awareness of the recommended treatments, increasing treatment options for families and providers, and exploring best practices to support behavior therapy. Because the therapies that are effective for young children with ADHD also are effective for children with other behavior disorders, improving access to such behavioral health services would benefit many children beyond those diagnosed with ADHD. Learn more about ADHD and CDC's work on this topic.
Source: CDC Features6
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Currently available treatments aim at reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, various types of psychotherapy, education and training, or a combination of treatments.
Stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, are the most common type of medication used for treating ADHD. Although it may seem counterintuitive to treat hyperactivity with a stimulant, these medications actually activate brain circuits that support attention and focused behavior, thus reducing hyperactivity. In addition, a few non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine, guanfacine, and clonidine, are also available. For many children, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Medications also may improve physical coordination.
Do medications cure ADHD?
Current medications do not cure ADHD. They control the symptoms for as long as they are taken. Medications can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork. NIMH-funded research has shown that medication works best when the prescribing doctor regularly monitors treatment and the dose is adjusted based on the child's needs.
Different types of psychotherapy are used for ADHD. Behavioral therapy aims to help a child change his or her behavior. It might involve practical assistance, such as help organizing tasks or completing schoolwork, or working through emotionally difficult events. Behavioral therapy also teaches a child how to monitor his or her own behavior. Therapists may teach children social skills, such as how to wait their turn, share toys, ask for help, or respond to teasing. Learning to read facial expressions and the tone of voice in others, and how to respond appropriately can also be part of social skills training.
Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)7
Cure for ADHD
Treatments can relieve many symptoms of ADHD, but there is currently no cure for the disorder. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives.
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Do medications cure ADHD?
Current medications do not cure ADHD. They control the symptoms for as long as they are taken. Medications can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork.
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- Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ publications/ attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-basics/ index.shtml
- Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ topics/ attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/ index.shtml
- Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ issue/ sep2014/ feature2
- Source: CDC Features: cdc.gov/ features/ adhd-key-findings/ index.html
- Source: CDC Features: cdc.gov/ features/ adhdawarenessweek/ index.html
- Source: CDC Features: cdc.gov/ features/ childmentalhealth/ index.html
- Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ spring14/ articles/ spring14pg18.html
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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.