What you need to know about ADHD Medications – their effects, costs, side effects and alternatives
What ADHD Medications are Available?
There are three main ADHD Medications: Ritalin (the original ADHD medication), Adderall and Concerta. Each has its own advantages. Ritalin is the oldest, the simplest chemical formulation, and the cheapest because it can be purchased as a generic medicine. Made up of methylphenidate, it is taken two or three times a day. Having been used since the 1960s as medication for ADHD its effectiveness is well documented.
Concerta like Ritalin uses methylphenidate as its active ingredient. Unlike Ritalin and other ADHD medications at the time, it was specially designed to provide a steady stream of medication through-out the day. Allowing parents to give their child one tablet in the morning before school and the medication will be effective all through the school day and into the evening. Concerta does this by placing the medication in a very cleverly design tablet which includes a laser drilled hole that allows the methylphenidate to slowly seep out.
Adderall is unlike the other ADHD medications because it uses a mix of different forms of stimulants. In theory this gives a smoother trip up to and down from the medication’s peak effectiveness. This avoids sudden peaks and troughs in the child’s attention span and energy levels. Adderall XR is a variant on standard Adderall designed to give a whole day’s supply in a single tablet, similar to the Concerta tablet.
With the introduction of Concerta and then Adderall XR, most users of ADHD medications switched to extended release formulas. To combat this loss of sales, Ritalin introduced two versions, Ritalin LA and Ritalin SR. For more information see Adderall XR and Slow Release ADHD Medications.
What Effect do ADHD Medications Have?
ADHD medications are stimulants and have a similar effect to caffeine, nicotine and street drugs such as cocaine and speed. They stimulate the activity of central nervous system which increases energy levels and helps maintain concentration. How exactly this helps with ADHD is unknown. On the patient information sheets of the ADHD medications you will find the drug companies explicitly saying they do not know how their drugs work.
Current ADHD medications treat the symptoms of ADHD and not the underlying causes. When testing the drugs, patients were measured by teachers and parents on various behaviour scales. Typically these reported increases in concentration, a reduction in hyperactivity and a general improvement in behavior. For a parent’s first hand account on the effects of medication see this video: Lil’ Renetto… talking about ADHD… and making videos….
Side-Effects of ADHD Medication
No medicine is free of side effect and ADHD medications are no different. As they are stimulants their effects are very similar to drinking too much coffee. The most the common side effect is insomnia with loss of appetite and stomach upsets being close seconds. About 20 – 30% of mediation users will have one or more side effects. These are very minor but can cause further problems and lead to the use of sleeping tablets or appetite enhancers to combat the effects of the ADHD medication.
Unfortunately there are more serious side effects. A lot less is known about these because the drug companies do not run long term trials prior to their ADHD medication getting approval from the FDA. The longest trial run by a drug company is four weeks. This is for a tablet that is routinely used for months and years at a time.
Others have researched the long term impact of ADHD medications and found some worrying effects. Up to 9% of users over a 27 month period developed facial tics. Children with who took the medications for more then 12 months were found to grow 2cm less than their non-drug using peers. There is also concern that the constant stimulation of the central nervous system will train or acclimatize it high levels of stimulation. This may impact in adulthood and result in great use of illegal drug such as cocaine and other high risk behavior.
For more infromation on ADHD medication side effects, see: Adderall Side Effects; Concerta Side Effects; Ritalin Side Effects; and Ritalin and Cocaine Addiction.
The Cost of ADHD Medications
If your insurance or health care system doesn’t cover you for the price of your ADHD medications, treatment can get very expensive. For a month’s supply, the price of the drugs range from $26 for a generic versions of Ritalin up to $150 for Concerta and Adderal XR. The prices of the timed release versions of the drugs (Adderall XR, Ritalin LA or Ritalin-SR) are about twice the price of the normal versions. The reason for this is simple. The standard versions can be made by generic drug companies because the patents have run out. Where as the timed released version have several more years to run on the patent and so the drug companies can charge what they like for them.
When considering ADHD medication, its worth remembering this is a not a simple course of antibiotics. These a drugs that will be taken for months, if not years, because when you stop taking them the symptoms will return. Consequently the costs will added up, month after month, year after year.
If you are tempted by offers of cheap ADHD medication from online or foreign pharmacies then read this: Want No Prescription Adderall? – Read This Now!.
Alternatives to ADHD Medications
If you are not keen on everyday, giving your child a drug that can have serious short and long term side effects but doesn’t actually treat the problem then you need to consider the alternatives to ADHD medication. There are two problems with the alternatives to medication. Firstly, unlike the drug companies, the alternatives do not have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend marketing their products. Secondly, the alternatives take many months to have an effect. ADHD medication have an effect on the symptoms almost instantly. Tackling the underlying cause takes a lot longer.
Probably the best known and most widely available treatment is the Dore Programme of cerebellum exercises. These simple exercise are done everyday for a year or more and train up specific parts of the brain related to coordination, movement and self-control. It is an approach that has many critics but also many customers who have found them to work.
Another movement based approach is Interactive Metronome. This teaches the child a sense of rhythm, timing and control. There has been some very good research on how effective this can be as an alternative to ADHD medications.
A third movement based approach to ADHD is INPP’s primitive reflex training. Similar to Dore in some ways, this approach focuses on primitive reflexes that in normal children develop before they are 18 months. The INPP hypothesis is that in children with ADHD the reflexes are retained or not fully developed. Two books related to this are Stopping ADHD and Infinity Walk.
There are various herbal remedies that claim to be alternatives to ADHD medications. The science behind these is very weak but some people claim they work. See ADHD Natural Remedies Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Omega 3 fish oil supplements have also been promoted as an ADHD treatment. See ADHD and Omega Fish Oils for more information.