Many medications have a quick and clear result. It’s harder to gauge
the effectiveness of drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
though. Although they produce a uniform chemical response in the brain, ADHD
drugs may cause some people to feel different effects.
Side effects and improvement of some of your symptoms may both
be signs that the medication is working for you. However, other factors can
come in to play that can disguise how well your medication is working. Here’s
what you need to know.
How to tell if your ADHD medication works
Know its purpose
First, you have to know what you and your doctor want the
medication to do. Are you taking it to improve your focus? Stabilize your
emotions? Keep impulsive behavior in check?
It’s a good idea to set a goal and monitor your progress towards
it. See how much time it takes you to complete a specific task without
medication. Then, keep track of how long it takes you to complete the same task
once you’ve started your medication.
Factor in other changes
Measuring the success of your ADHD drug also involves
considering other factors that can affect your concentration and mood. For
example, a night of poor sleep may cause you to feel irritable and distracted,
regardless of whether your medication is working.
When starting an ADHD prescription, try to keep other health
factors such as sleep, diet, and caffeine and alcohol use stable. That way,
you’ll know that if you feel different, it’s likely due to the medication.
If your medication isn’t giving you the results you want when
you first start using it, be patient. It may take more time to work. Your
doctor may also need to adjust your dosage.
Recognizing ADHD symptom relief
ADHD medications aim to stabilize your brain function and
behavior. They’re mainly meant to treat symptoms such as:
- inattention, such as difficulty
focusing on a topic or task
- hyperactivity, which involves an
excess of both physical and mental activity
- impulsive behavior based on
reactions instead of thoughts
If you notice a reduction in symptoms, that’s a good sign that your
ADHD medication is working. Many people who have had successful treatment describe
feeling like a fog has lifted or a switch has been turned on.
Just because all of your ADHD symptoms are not relieved doesn’t mean your medication isn’t working in other areas.
It’s true that ADHD medications may leave you feeling calmer and
more focused, but it’s unlikely that all of your symptoms will disappear. Many
people who take ADHD medication still struggle with issues such as poor time
management or difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Just because all of
your ADHD symptoms are not relieved doesn’t mean your medication isn’t working in
Recognizing side effects of ADHD medication
Side effects may not affect everyone in the same way. However,
their presence is another sign that a medication is affecting your body.
Certain antidepressants and blood pressure medications can also be used to treat symptoms of ADHD. In order to understand the side effects and other possible outcomes of a drug, consult the drug information on any prescription you take for ADHD.
Stimulant therapy is often used to treat ADHD. Brand-name
stimulant medications include Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and others.
Stimulants work by increasing the level of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is
a chemical messenger that communicates feelings of pleasure and enhances
motivation. Increased dopamine levels improve your brain’s ability to respond
to signals outside your body, such as the sound of your teacher’s voice. This
is why stimulants make you feel more alert.
While many people experience these benefits from stimulants,
side effects can also happen. Common side effects of ADHD stimulant drugs
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- increased body temperature
- trouble sleeping
- decreased appetite
Alternative ADHD medications are available for people who
dislike the side effects of stimulants. Strattera is a
nonstimulant drug that treats ADHD by increasing your brain’s level of
norepinephrine, a chemical similar to dopamine.
In children, possible side effects of nonstimulant ADHD drugs
- nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
- fatigue or sleepiness
- decreased appetite
In adults, possible side effects of nonstimulant ADHD drugs
- dry mouth
- decreased appetite
When to talk to your doctor
If you notice side effects of stimulant or nonstimulant drugs
but you don’t notice reduced ADHD symptoms, talk to your doctor. This can be a
sign that your ADHD medication isn’t working. Your doctor may need to adjust
your dose or have you try a different drug.
Lifestyle changes to get the most from your medication
ADHD medications can help put you on track to better focus and
emotional control. Still, it’s important not to rely just on pills to treat
your condition. You can make many changes in your day-to-day life that will
enhance the effects of medication and leave you feeling your best. Try these
Exercise: Physical activity is a great natural antidote
to ADHD symptoms. Along with keeping your body fit and your heart healthy,
exercise increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in your brain naturally.
Try therapy: A therapist can help you develop skills
and habits to deal with the challenges that arise from having ADHD.
Sleep well: It’s a great feeling to wake up rested
and refreshed after a good night’s sleep. Not only is your body refreshed, your
brain is too. Try to establish a healthy sleep routine of at least seven to
eight hours per night.
ADHD is a complex condition that affects people in different
ways. Seeking treatment through medication can be an important step in controlling
your symptoms. New medications can take some getting used to. Give your body
and mind time to adjust to your treatment. If you’re still not satisfied with
the results you’re getting, talk to your doctor about adjusting your
prescription or trying other treatments.