This might not be the most popular statement I have ever made, but research over and over again has shown that ADHD medications can “level the playing field” for both adults and children with ADHD. Medications can be effective in helping people with ADHD increase their focus on less interesting tasks, reduce impulsivity of actions and words and calm inner restlessness. I often hear clients describe the experience of being on the right medication as similar to having “the fog clearing”, “the water globe settling” or a “light switch being turned on”. They feel more focused, energetic, calm and productive. However, many people never have the chance to experience the full benefits of ADHD medication due to three problem areas that I call “ADHD medication pitfalls”…the wrong medication, the wrong dose or taking medications at the wrong time.
Medication Pitfall #1
The first of these ADHD medication “pitfalls” is that many people with ADHD are not on the right medication. For good or bad, there is not a lot of variety in medications used to manage ADHD symptoms. In fact there are really only three. Stimulants, non-stimulants and a handful of “other”. The good news is that with such limited options these medications have been studied over and over again for the past 60 years and we know the short term and long term effects. The bad, is that there is a very limited choice of medications when it comes to treating the core ADHD symptoms.
Even though stimulants have been found to be the most effective in decreasing the key symptoms of ADHD, many people tend to avoid these due to real or feared negative side effects of the ADHD medication. Medications in this category include; Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Concerta, etc. In a previous blog post, call “How ADHD Medications Work”, I describe how ADHD medications are designed to “stimulate” the dopamine neurotransmitters of the brain; the key neurotransmitter that seems to be functioning ineffectively or in insufficient amounts in the brains of people challenged with ADHD. This category of medications is typically very effective in decreasing hyperactivity, distractibility and impulsivity. The second category of ADHD medications is non-stimulants. These include such medications as; Strattera, Wellbutrin and Effexor. These typically increase the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the ADHD brain and can help increase the mood, energy and motivation of people with ADHD. The third category is what I call “others”. These include such medication as: Clonidine, Tenex or Provigil. These ADHD Medications are typically prescribed to reduce ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity or to increase alertness (as in the case with Provigil). Each of these categories of medications works differently to help manage symptoms of ADHD. Discovering the right medication for you or a loved one normally requires trial and error.
Medication Pitfall #2
The second pitfall is not taking the right “dose”. The experience and symptoms of ADHD is different for everyone and people’s experience of taking medications is just as individualized. There are guidelines prescribers follow, but the dose that is right for you may not be right for someone else and vice versa. If you are on too low a dose of medication you will not get the full positive benefit of the medication. If you are on too high a dose, you may experience more negative side effects than you have to. The goal for taking ADHD medication is to find the lowest effective dose. A dose has positive effects, like increased focus, decreased impulsivity and decreased hyperactivity with minimal or no negative side effects.
Medication Pitfall #3
The third pitfall is “wrong time”. You can be taking the right type of medication and be on the right dose, but if you take it at the wrong time, you may not be experiencing the most benefit. Some medications work best taken when we awake to help get us started with the day. Some need to be taken multiple times a day at specific intervals to get their full consistent benefit. And finally, some medications, when taken at night, may help people with ADHD even sleep better!
When you are trying to find the right ADHD medication for yourself, it is important to work with a prescriber who is knowledgeable about adult ADHD and ADHD medications. Not all of them are. This may sound simple, but it’s not. You want your prescriber to work with you so you understand how your ADHD medications work and support you in understanding your choices.
To help yourself and discover what ADHD medication is right for you, at what dose and taken when so that it provides you the most benefit, keep a consistent daily ADHD medication log (You can download your personal copy of the ADHD Medication Log here). Keeping an ADHD medication record will help you determine what medication works best, at what dose and at what intervals. It is also designed to help you track the positive and negative effects of the medication as you are finding the right medication for you.
Let me know what your experiences are with ADHD medications by responding to this blog!