Many parents may find it challenging raising their children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as these children often have difficulty staying still and concentrating on tasks. Often, a parent may also have undiagnosed ADHD since ADHD runs in families, making it even more difficult for parents.

Stimulant medication has been shown to be a safe and effective way to relieve these symptoms. Stimulants help those with ADHD focus better and maintain better control of their behavior. If you are a parent who is considering having your child take medication for their symptoms, this guide will explain the properties of different ADHD medications for kids.

Types of Medication for ADHD

Stimulant medicines, the most widely used form of medication, are the first line for children older than preschool age to treat ADHD. Patients respond to an initial trial with a stimulant 65 to 75 percent of the time. After 14 to 24 months stimulants are shown to be superior to behavioral therapy alone. Current stimulant medications for ADHD are based on either methylphenidate or amphetamine. They are both effective and have the same benefits and risks. Both come in the form of immediate-release (short-acting) medications and extended-release (intermediate and long-acting) medications. ADHD stimulants come as tablets, capsules (some of which can be opened and mixed into food), suspensions or syrups, and chewables. A patch is also available.

The second line medicine for ADHD is atomoxetine; and third line includes all other medicines used for treatment. These are not first line because they may not work as well or as often as the first line treatments; but they are available and can offer benefit for those unable to tolerate stimulants. Stimulant medication remains the most effective treatment depending on your child’s genetic makeup.

Methylphenidate Medications Examples

-Adhansia XR, Aptensio XR, Concerta, Cotempla XR-ODT, Daytrana, Jornay PM, methylphenidate, Metadate CD, Methylin, Quillichew ER, Quillivant XR, Ritalin, Ritalin LA
-Focalin (dexmethylphenidate), Focalin XR

Methylphenidate medication, known by several brand names, comes as a generic as well. The short-acting formulations last about 4 hours taking effect in about 30 minutes. Short-acting medications need to be taken 2-3 times a day which may cause significant wearing off between doses.

Long-acting options also take effect in under an hour but do not wear off as quickly and are normally consumed once a day. Long-acting medications tend to be more expensive. Insurance costs vary widely. It may be appropriate to ask your insurance company which varieties they cover. Options include:

Adhansia XR – extended-release capsule (lasts 13-16 hours)
Aptensio XR – extended-release capsule (lasts about 12 hours)
Concerta – Long acting (lasting 8-12 hours). In traditional tablet form that must be swallowed whole.
Cotempla XR-ODT – oral disintegrating tablet (lasts about 12 hours)
Daytrana - An alternative for kids who have difficulty swallowing pills. The patch can be worn for up to 9 hours and takes 1-2 hours to take effect.
Jornay PM – delayed and extended-release capsule (10-12 hours following an initial absorption delay of 8-10 hours) for taking at bedtime for next-day coverage.
Methylphenidate (generic) – comes in immediate-release (lasts 3-5 hours), extended-release tablet (lasts 2-8 hours), extended-release capsule (lasts 6-8 hours), chewable, or solution.
Metadate CD – capsule (lasts 6-9 hours)
Methylin – liquid solution (lasts 3-5 hours)
Quillichew ER – chewable tablet (lasts 8-12 hours)
Quillivant XR – Liquid form (lasts 10-12 hours)
Ritalin – tablet (lasts 3-5 hours)
Ritalin LA - Capsules can be opened and mixed with food, such as apple sauce, and swallowed without chewing. (lasts 6-8 hours)
Focalin – Tablets (lasts 4-5 hours)
Focalin XR - Capsules can be opened and mixed with food, such as apple sauce, and swallowed without chewing. (lasts 8-12 hours) Lasts longer than Ritalin LA.

Amphetamine Medications Examples

-Adderall, Adderall XR, Adzenys ER, Adzenys XR-ODT, amphetamine, Dexedrine, dextroamphetamine, dextroamphetamine/amphetamine, Dyanavel XR, Evekeo, Evekeo ODT, Mydayis
-Desoxyn (methamphetamine)
-Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)

Short-acting formulations that last about 4 hours. All of them take about 30 minutes to take effect as well. Amphetamines are slightly more potent than methylphenidate but both types have the same effects in general. There are also long-acting options. Changing from one stimulant to another requires adjusting dosing as well. Dosing recommendations are independent between brands.Options include:

Adderall – tablets (lasts 5-8 hours)
Adderall XR – capsules (lasts 10-12 hours) The longer-lasting form of Adderall. Capsules may be opened and mixed with food, such as apple sauce, and swallowed without chewing.
Adzenys ER – extended-release oral suspension taken once daily in the morning.
Adzenys XR-ODT - A tablet that dissolves in the mouth and does not require swallowing. Taken once daily in the morning. Similar response duration as Adderall XR.
Amphetamine – tablets (lasts 4-6 hours)
Desoxyn – tablets (taken 1-2 times daily)
Dexedrine Spansules – extended-release capsules (lasts 6-8 hours)
Dextroamphetamine - extended-release capsule (taken 1-2 times daily), tablets (taken 1-3 times daily), solution (taken 1-2 times daily)
Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine – extended-release capsules (taken 1 time daily), immediate-release tablets (lasts 4-6 hours)
Dyanavel XR – extended-release tablets (taken 1 time daily); extended-release liquid form (lasts 10-12 hours)
Evekeo – tablet (taken 1-2 times daily)
Evekeo ODT – oral dissolving tablet (lasts 4-6 hours)
Mydayis – extended-release capsule (lasts up to 16 hours); may open capsule, do not chew or crush contents.
Vyvanse – capsule or chewable (lasts 10-14 hours). Takes slightly longer in the morning to take effect.

Potential Side Effects for ADHD Medications

Most side effects are mild and managed by making tweaks to doses and dosage schedules.

Common side effects that can surface are:

Loss of appetite
Problems with sleep (to avoid this, take the medication in the morning or early afternoon)
Dry mouth
Slow growth
Weight loss
Mood changes

Best Practices if Your Child Is Diagnosed With ADHD

To ensure that your child’s medication is the right choice, you should consider pharmacogenetic testing. Based on the test results, doctors can decide which medications to prescribe or avoid and appropriate starting dosage required based on your child’s genetic profile. ClarityX offers the Mindwell test which compares your child’s DNA to more than 130 FDA-approved mental health medications including the ones used to treat ADHD. All that is needed is a simple cheek swab. Knowing which medication will most likely work best first helps save time and money. There is peace in knowing that your child is being treated with the best possible medication for their ADHD.