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A Comparison Of ADHD Medications, Are Some Better Than Others?

Updated on December 5, 2012

It is a widely held belief that most medications used to treat symptoms of ADHD are similar in their effectiveness.

The best thing to do when considering ADHD Medications is to work closely with your physician to determine which medication should be used.

Many times a medication will be tried for a period of time, and if it is not as effective as the patient or physician would like, the dosage can be changed or a different medication can be tried.

The medications that are the most favored for the treatment of ADHD symptoms fall into four categories.

  • First is Dextroamphetamine, and Dextroampehtamine long acting.
  • Next is Methylphenidate tablets (available in generic as well as by the name Methylin), and Methylphenidate sustained release tablets.
  • If you need a stronger medication, your choices are limited to the third category of medications, which are also more expensive medications: Ritalin LA, Concerta or Metadate CD.
  • The last category of medications falls into the classificatin of non stimulants, and the most often prescribed medication in this category is called Strattera.

You may also want to consider a natural alternative to the medications mentioned above. Two to consider are Listol and Addasil.

The First Category, Dextroamphetamines

The main drugs in the category of Dextroamphetamines are:

  • Dexedrine
  • Dextrostat
  • and Liquadd.

The most common side effects are loss of appetite, weight loss and insomnia. In the short term, if taken by children, their growth might stall temporarily. But usually the child will catch up in height once they are older and their bodies become used to the medication.

As far as a stalling occurring in height growth, the findings are mixed and the reviews of these drugs are mixed, so it is best to consult with a physician to see what their recommendations are.

Side effects are generally mild, and tend to decrease or disappear once the patient has been taking the medication for a while. And the benefits seen by taking ADHD medications often far outweigh any risks associated with them.

The Second Category, Methylphenidates

Methylphenidates are another type of stimulant drugs used for the treatment of ADHD symptoms. These drugs include:

  • Biphentin
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana
  • Metadate CD and ER
  • Methylin
  • and three types of Ritalin.

They are similar in their effects to Dextroamphetamines, but there is some inconclusive data that shows that they may not be as effective if taken long term.

Always checking with and working closely with a physician is highly recommended when a patient is attempting to find treatment for ADHD symptoms.

Since all patients are different, certain drugs may have unpleasant side effects for some, and few or no side affects for others.

That makes working with a physician so important, to find the most effective long term treatment with the fewest side effects.

The Third Category, Stronger, More Expensive Stimulant Medications

If other medications are tried and are not effective for a patient, chances are that a stronger variation is needed. These medications have a higher risk of undesirable side effects, and they are quite a bit more expensive.

But, if they are the medications that work most effectively for a patient, then they sometimes become necessary.

A patient is determined to need these medications if the dosage they require to effectively treat their ADHD symptoms is over 30 milligrams. Included in this category of medications are:

  • Metadate CD
  • Ritalin LA
  • and Concerta. All three are effective, and the physician can decide which one they believe to be the most effective.

All medications that are in the stimulant category carry risks of side effects.

Side effects include nausea, weight loss due to appetite being suppressed, possible short term interruption in height growth, and the much more serious side effects of heart attack, stroke or sudden death.

The patients full medical history should be taken into account before any of these drugs are used to help to minimize risk of these serious side effects.

The Fourth Category Of ADHD Medication: Non Stimulant Medication

The main drug in this category is known as Strattera.

It is also known by the generic name of Atomoxetine, and usually comes in a 10mg dosage. A non stimulant, it is effective when other stimulant drugs have been tried and are not effective enough, or if the patient and their physician prefer to use a non stimulant treatment.

Strattera has less serious side effects than other stimulant medications, and is sometimes preferred for that reason.

Side effects common with Strattera consist of nausea, vomiting, and daytime sleepiness.

Stimulant drugs to treat ADHD symptoms target levels of two chemicals present in the brain, dopamine and norepinephrine. Strattera on the other hand, since it is classified as a non stimulant, targets only one brain chemical, norepinephrine.

This is the same type of medication that is used effectively to treat depression symptoms, which is why patients using Strattera are advised to watch closely for such side effects as depression and thoughts of suicide.

Serious side effects inherent with stimulant drugs for the treatment of ADHD are not present, or are experienced much less with Strattera, which makes it a good choice for patients that were experiencing serious side effects with stimulant drugs.

Working closely with a physician is the best way to find out which treatment is best for each individual patient, as individual results can vary.

A Comprehensive List Of Stimulant Drugs Used To Treat ADHD Symptoms

The drugs mentioned above are basically the preferred treatments, but sometimes a physician will also choose another medication from this more comprehensive list of stimulant drugs that are used to treat ADHD symptoms. These drugs include:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Focalin and Focalin XR
  • Metadate CD and Metadate ER
  • Methylin
  • Ritalin, Ritalin LA
  • Vyvanase
  • Desoxyn

Only four of these drugs, Adderall XR, Concerta, Focallin XR and Vyvanase have been approved for use in adults with ADHD symptoms.

The other drugs are used mainly for children and adolescents.

Effective Non Stimulant Drugs

Strattera was the first non-stimulant ADHD medication approved for patient use by the FDA.

Another drug has also been approved and deserves mentioning, and that is Intuniv. Intuniv is intended for children and teens between the ages of 6 and 17, where Strattera is used by all ages effectively.

Other Drugs Used For ADHD Treatment

If either stimulant drugs or non stimulants are not effective for a patient, sometimes a doctor will prescribe another drug.

Some of these fall into the category of anti-depressants, such as Pamelor or other tricyclic anti-depressants.

Catapres or Tenex are also used, but are high blood pressure medications that have the side effect of alleviating ADHD symptoms. Sometimes a physician will also prescribe Wellbutrin, or Effexor.

With such a wide variety of drug options available to help treat the symptoms of ADHD, it is always best to rely on the years of experience and wealth of knowledge of a physician to determine which drugs should be tried in each individual case.

ADHD is a very frustrating disease to deal with, both for the patient and for loved ones of the patient.

When a child or anyone shows symptoms of ADHD including difficulty paying attention or sustaining that attention, or difficulty listening, being easily distracted, bored or forgetful, it is frustrating.

What makes it worse is if these symptoms are accompanied by signs of hyperactivity or impulsiveness. Frustrating for families, and for teachers and others in the education system, children are often diagnosed with ADHD once they become school age.

It is commonly educators that observe the child's behavior and recommend that they see a physician.

Once ADHD is discovered, it is usually recommended that the child be evaluated by a physician to determine whether they truly have ADHD or if it is something else. Children and adults with mild symptoms may not need medications, and behavioral therapies may be just as helpful in those cases.

But for children that show the classic symptoms of ADHD and are properly diagnosed, medications can quickly and effectively alleviate these symptoms in 60 to 80 percent of the cases.

It is important for a patient to follow the instructions of their physicians regarding the use of ADHD medications.

Other lifestyle changes are also important, and can greatly help to improve ADHD symptoms either tried alone or in conjunction with medication. These lifestyle changes include behavioral therapy, regular exercise, healthy diet, and plenty of sleep.

If these alternatives are tried and are not completely effective, medications can be added.

It is important to remember that medication does not cure ADHD, it merely alleviates symptoms while it is being used. When a medication is discontinued, symptoms return. Some children as well as adults can use these medications for years without adverse effects, making them desirable in some cases.

As always, it is imperative to seek the guidance of a physician for their recommendations. Often they have years of experience in dealing with patients with ADHD symptoms. There are also support groups available if parents are seeking more information.

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