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Exploring your options: Treating ADHD

No “one” treatment works for everyone with ADHD. The most effective approach usually involves first educating families, teachers and patients, followed by a combination of medication, behavioural therapy, psychological help and educational or occupational accommodations.

Education for families and teachers

Children (and adults) with ADHD need guidance and understanding from their families and teachers to reach their full potential. Education for families can include parenting skills training, stress management and, for families and teachers, strategies to deal with common ADHD-related behaviours.

Medication

More than 70% of people with ADHD respond positively to medication. Evidence shows that medications make all of the other strategies and approaches work, so think of medication as the “facilitator,” rather than the “cure.”

Stimulants are the most common ADHD medications. They can reduce ADHD symptoms and have been safely used by children and adults for many decades.

Before starting these medications, you will need to talk to your doctor to make sure the person can take them safely. Like all medications, stimulants can cause side effects. The most common are headache, stomachache, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, nausea, loss of appetite and increased anxiety.

This is not a complete list, so always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about side effects—they can help you prepare strategies to combat them. The more you know what to expect, the less you will worry.

Non-stimulant medications are also used for ADHD when stimulants aren’t an option or don’t work. These take longer than stimulants to start working, so it’s important to take these as directed (e.g., every day). These medications are useful in improving attention and focus, but can be less effective at improving impulsivity.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy aims to help a person with ADHD improve their habits through practical assistance (such as help organizing tasks or completing schoolwork) or by working through emotionally difficult events. It can also help people with ADHD develop the skills to think before acting or resist the urge to take unnecessary risks. In addition, families of people with ADHD can take part in and benefit from this therapy.

Are generic ADHD drugs just as effective as the brand-name ones?

In Canada, generic drugs are tested to ensure they deliver the same active ingredient, in the same dose and for the same length of time as their brand-name equivalents.

Some ADHD drugs deliver the initial dose of medication in the morning, then the rest of the medication is slowly released during the day to keep improving the symptoms of ADHD. These products are known as modified-release drugs. Health Canada has recently proposed some changes to the standards for modified-release drugs to ensure that generic products match the time-release profile of the brand-name drug.

When choosing a generic drug, it’s important to ask your doctor to prescribe one that mimics the same time release profile as the brand-name drug.

Being an ADHD caregiver