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Medications for ADHD

The decision as to whether a child should receive medication as part of their management programme for ADHD is made together by the parents/caregivers and a paediatrician or child psychiatrist. Research has shown that medication can be effective and can help children with ADHD to concentrate, feel calmer, and think before acting.

Often behaviour therapy is tried before medications. However, children with severe ADHD may need medications straight away.

Behaviour therapy is a talking treatment. A trained therapist counsels and supports your child and family, and teaches you skills to manage the behaviour that goes with ADHD. Some approaches involve working one-to-one with a therapist. Other approaches involve group activities with other children or parents.

Studies have shown that medication with or without intensive behaviour therapy is more effective than behaviour therapy alone.


A stimulant called methylphenidate is the most common medication used for treating ADHD. Methylphenidate comes as tablets and works quickly, but the effects of the standard tablets (called Ritalin and Rubifen) last only a few hours. Your child will usually need to take their medication before school and during the middle of the school day.

There are also long-acting versions (called Ritalin SR, Rubifen SR, and Concerta) that can work for up to 12 hours, so there's no need for a dose at school.

Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication considered a stimulant, it actually has a calming effect on children with ADHD.


If your child is on stimulant medication, they require monthly contact with a doctor (your GP or your child's psychiatrist or paediatrician). This is because stimulant medication is a controlled script, which means it can only be prescribed monthly. Your doctor is likely to examine your child at the same time to check things like height, weight, pulse, and blood pressure.

About one in five children are able to stop medication after one year of treatment. Some children may need to continue with medication for several years. Your doctor may suggest a trial off medication (for a few days up to two weeks) every now and then to see how well your child can manage without medication. If problems occur the medication can be re-started.

Note: Stimulant medications are considered safe. They do not make children with ADHD feel high, although some kids report feeling slightly different or funny. Although some parents worry that stimulant medications may lead to substance abuse or dependence, there is little evidence of this.

Non-stimulant medication

Stimulant medication is usually tried first for treating ADHD. But non-stimulant medication can also be used. Atomoxetine is the most common non-stimulant medication used for treating ADHD.

If your psychiatrist believes that a non-stimulant medication is a better option, they may prescribe Atomoxetine. You or your child will need to meet the necessary criteria for funding. Talk to your psychiatrist about this.

On the next page: Community support organisations for ADHD

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2016.

Page reference: 6250

Review key: HIADH-15144