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Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder

It is important to understand that these medications are not a cure-all, but they can be highly effective when used appropriately in the right dosage for each individual. In fact, as many as nine out of 10 children do better when they are taking one of the most commonly used stimulants. However, in combination with other techniques such as behavior modification or counseling, symptoms may improve even more. Researchers are currently evaluating the effectiveness of medications in combination with these other approaches to determine the best route to take.

Individuals taking any of the medications listed below should see their doctor regularly for a check-up to review the types and timing of ADHD symptoms. The benefits and potential risks of using these medications also should be discussed before the first prescription is filled.

The most commonly used stimulants are:

  • methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin)
  • dextroamphetamine sulfate (Dexedrine or Dextrostat)
  • a dextroamphetamine/amphetamine formulation (Adderall)

When these front-line medications are not effective, physicians sometimes opt to use one of the following:

  • buproprion hydrochloride (Wellbutrin)—an antidepressant that has been shown to decrease hyperactivity, aggression and conduct problems.
  • imipramine (Tofranil) or nortriptyline (Pamelor) —these antidepressants can improve hyperactivity and inattentiveness. They can be especially helpful in children experiencing depression or anxiety.
  • clonidine hydrochloride (Catapress)—used to treat high blood pressure, clonidine also can help manage ADHD and treat conduct disorder, sleep disturbances or a tic disorder. Research has shown it decreases hyperactivity, impulsivity and distractibility, and improves interactions with peers and adults.
  • guanfacine (Tenex)—this antihypertensive decreases fidgeting and restlessness and increases attention and a child’s ability to tolerate frustration. A study of children who also have Tourette syndrome showed the medication improved vocal and motor tics as well.
  • Pemoline (Cylert)— is no longer considered a first- or second-line treatment due to concerns about the risk of liver dysfunction.

Other treatments

Some people with ADHD benefit from emotional counseling or psychotherapy. In this approach, counselors help patients deal with their emotions and learn ways to cope with their thoughts and feelings in a more general sense.

Group therapy and parenting education can help many children and their families master valuable skills or new behaviors. The goal is to help parents learn about the particular problems their children with ADHD have, and give them ways to handle those problems when they arise. Likewise, children can be taught social skills and gain exposure to the same techniques the parents are learning, easing the way for those methods to be incorporated at home.

Support groups link families or adults who share similar concerns.

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Therapies that have not been scientifically proved to be helpful in the treatment of ADHD include:

  • herbal products
  • restrictive or supplemental diets
  • allergy treatments
  • megavitamins
  • chiropractic adjustment
  • biofeedback
  • perceptual motor training
  • medications for inner ear problems
  • yeast infection treatments
  • pet therapy
  • play therapy
  • eye training
  • colored glasses
Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder

Psych Central Staff

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APA Reference
Psych Central. (2020). Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.