Are ADHD Meds Stimulants?

Yes and No. Not all ADHD medications are stimulants, but the vast majority of prescriptions are for stimulants.

So, let’s dig in a bit to understand them.

For most people dealing with ADHD, stimulant medications are effective and safe. Just the way reading glasses help our weak eyes focus better, stimulant medications help people dealing with ADHD focus their thoughts better. They help them in becoming more aware of their surroundings; they make them gain more control and pay attention to things around them. They are prescribed more often than non-stimulant medications

 

According to experts, stimulants are best when combined with another form of therapy such as behavioral therapy or coaching. According to researchers and studies conducted, around 80% of the children dealing with ADHD show great improvement when they are given stimulants in the correct dosage. I would predict that adults are similar, but there needs to be more research in this area.

In general, there are two types of stimulants that are used – the short-acting stimulants that are used as an immediate acting medication, and then there is extended-release that is used for long-acting. The first category of medication is usually taken when needed, like for an important event you might be planning when you really need to focus and be on point. Extended medications are taken once a day, usually in the mornings. Some common ones used are Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta. Clients that I have worked with say that, when they REMEMBER to take their meds, they can help manage the typical ADHD symptoms, such as impulsive behavior and short attention span allowing them to have a very productive day.

You may be wondering how they work. These medications boost the level of neurotransmitter brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which play a crucial part in one’s ability to be attentive and process information.

In simple words, they help the nerves found in our brain communicate with other nerves. As a result, you are able to focus better.

 

Just as eyeglass prescriptions are customized to a person’s unique vision problems, medication can be seen as the same. You want to get the correct type and dosage that is best suited for your conditions. Have you ever tried on someone else’s eyeglass prescription and it distorted everything in your view the wrong way? Well, think of having the wrong dosage of medication as a correlation. This is why it is always best to consult with a physician. You need to consider your own circumstances and health needs.

I must caution users to never try a medication from a friend or family member

Over the years, I have heard stories of parents that have used their kid’s prescription to see if it worked for them. This is not safe. Especially, for people with these complexities below, this group is cautioned to not take stimulants and a consult should be the first step.

–Severe anxiety, nervousness, tension or stress

  • Tourette syndrome, or if it is there in family history
  • Glaucoma
  • Taking medication known as monoamine oxidase
  • Psychotic or have a history of psychosis

 

When you meet with your physician they will discuss some options for you and the side effects that are possible with stimulants such as higher blood pressure, headaches, weight loss, loss of appetite, insomnia, social withdrawal and abnormalities in stomach. These generally go away after a few days, but if they don’t one must consult the doctor. Getting the medication right is an important piece of managing your ADHD. Do not ignore your symptoms and make sure to take note of how you are reacting to the medication plan.

Contrary to belief, sleep-related problems generally do not exist with a long-acting stimulant. I have heard of people who say that when they take their medications consistently it can actually help them have fewer thoughts as they go to bed and help them sleep better. I saw a comment once that said, “If I could actually count the sheep, I could get to sleep!” I think they were referring to the distracting thoughts that were happening while they were trying to focus on counting the sheep!

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind while taking these stimulants –

  • The medication must always be taken as prescribed. If there are any doubts or questions, one must call the doctor
  • One should try to stick to a schedule to ensure the medicine is given at the same time every day
  • If any dose is missed, the next dose should be given at the defined time
  • Record how your body is reacting to the meds over time and share it with your doctor

I was listening to a podcast recently on the usage of stimulants for treating ADHD and someone had raised a question if these stimulants get someone high or if they are addictive. To this question, the experts replied that when these drugs are taken as directed by the doctors, they do not get people high. They help make people with ADHD feel “normal” where they could hold their thoughts and carry on conversations without being distracted or impulsively blurting out their every thought. Essentially, it helped people with ADHD be more successful in their lives. They went on to state that stimulants used for ADHD have no pieces of evidence that consuming them is habit-forming and nor leads to drug abuse. The reaction in a person with ADHD using a stimulant is the opposite effect of someone without ADHD using the prescription. There is a much higher risk of them ending up in the hands of someone who does not need the medication nor has ADHD and them abusing it. This leads to another focus of safe storage and educating people to never share their medication as I mentioned earlier.

When used appropriately, stimulant medication has changed lives for the better.

So now that you have a little information about stimulants, you can start to look at the types of stimulants that are available to you. There is a lot to learn about medications with more options coming into the market. It can be overwhelming.   The best practice is to find a doctor who specializes in ADHD treatment plans and have a consult with them to determine what is the best plan for your unique situation. Be sure to ask what your options are for managing your ADHD given your health history and lifestyle. It makes a difference to the physician prescribing the medication to know which is best for you.

Just as you need to be informed about how the doctor may be able to help you, the doctor needs information about you to best help you.

Michelle Raz specializes in helping people with executive function challenges associated with ADHD,  Stress, TBI’s and ASD find careers they will love and land them. Read more at www.razcoaching.com/about Or sign up for the weekly blog and learn about my new book Happiness+Passion+Purpose.