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.
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.
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.
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 other areas.
Side effects may not affect everyone in the same way. However, their presence is another sign that a medication is affecting your body.
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 include:
- 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 include:
- nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
- fatigue or sleepiness
- decreased appetite
In adults, possible side effects of nonstimulant ADHD drugs include:
- 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.
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.
For example, make sure to 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.
You can also try therapy. A therapist can help you develop skills and habits to deal with the challenges that arise from having ADHD.
Finally, 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.