How To Talk To Your Doctor About ADHD Medications
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 30, 2020
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Getting a diagnosis of ADHD can be the starting point of a better life for you or your child. By identifying the problem, your doctor has cleared the way for treatments that may help alleviate your symptoms. Your treatment plan may include taking ADHD medications. If so, you'll want to learn as much as you can from your doctor so that you can participate on your own or your child's treatment.
How should you start? Try asking simple questions and listening for the information your doctor has to share. Here are some questions to get you started.
What Medication Options Are Available?
Once your doctor suggests medication for ADHD, they may simply tell you what medication they recommend. However, you have the right to discuss that and any other medications that might help. Ask if there are any other options available besides the one your doctor first recommends.
Your doctor may be hesitant to give you a long ADHD medication list to consider. The truth is that you probably don't have enough time with your doctor to explore all the options. Still, you can ask if there are any options besides the first one he suggests.
Why Have You Chosen This Medication For Me Or My Child?
With so many ADHD medications to choose from, your doctor likely has chosen his recommendation based on your particular needs. Most doctors will be happy to explain why they chose the medication they did. You need to be sure that you or your child are getting the right medication for you and not just the one that a doctor habitually prescribes.
How Does This ADHD Medication Work?
Different ADHD medications work differently. The following classes of drugs may be used to treat ADHD in children and adults.
Stimulants used for ADHD include Focalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta. Quillivant, and Ritalin. These drugs help the brain make more dopamine, which helps control mood and increase attention.
A wide range of non-stimulant drugs can be used. These work in various ways.
- Strattera is a stimulant medication approved for treatment of ADHD that works by boosting levels of norepinephrine in the brain.
- Armodafinil increases wakefulness and attention.
- Bupropion is an antidepressant that can also help with attention.
- Clonidine, a high blood pressure medication, also helps ADHD by improving attention, reducing impulsivity and limiting aggression.
- Guanfacine is another high blood pressure medication that works similarly to clonidine.
- Venlafaxine is another antidepressant that can improve attention.
Are There Any Special Instructions For Taking This Medication?
Before you start any medication, you always need to know how to take it. Here are some additional questions to ask about how to take it:
- Do I take it every day?
- How many times a day?
- What time of day?
- Do I need to take it with or without food? Or, does it matter?
- Is there anything I can't eat or drink while I'm on it?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
How Does The Medication Need To Be Titrated?
Many medications need to be titrated slowly. Titration means increasing or decreasing the dosage a little at a time until the goal dose is reached. With some medications, you simply begin taking them at the goal dose. With others, you have to start with a low dose and gradually increase.
If and when you stop taking the medication, you may also need to decrease it slowly to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
What Are The Time Factors?
It's helpful to know how the time factors are going to play out. First, you need to know how long it might be until you see improvement in your symptoms. For some medications, it may take as long as 6-8 weeks. Others work more quickly.
Another time factor you'll need to discuss is how long you'll be on the medication. Will it become a new part of your routine for the long term? Or is it a short-term boost or a temporary fix?
What Are The Side Effects?
Side effects can be minor and annoying or serious and severe. You need to have good information on what to expect so that you can seek help if you need to do so. Also, if you know a certain effect is common, you'll know not to panic if it happens. Below are a few of the ADHD medication side effects that can happen:
- abdominal pain
- upset stomach
- mood swings
- decreased appetite
- increase in suicidal thoughts
- changes in behavior
- feeling restless or jittery
- racing heartbeat
What Happens If I Stop Taking ADHD Medication?
Many medications for ADHD as well as others can cause withdrawal-type symptoms if you stop taking them suddenly. Be sure to ask your doctor what would happen before you decide to begin the child or adult ADHD medication.
What Can I Do To Help The Medication Work Better?
There may be things you can do to help the medication do its job better. The following lifestyle choices can impact how well ADHD medications work:
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthy foods
- Drinking enough water
- Exercising regularly
- Getting fresh air every day
- Maintaining a positive attitude
How Will The ADHD Medication Be Monitored?
Your or your child's doctor will need to see you regularly. You may also need to have blood tests to make sure you have enough of the medication in your bloodstream but not too much. Your doctor may also order other tests to ensure that the medication isn't affecting your overall health. Discuss these and any other ways of monitoring you while you're on the medication.
Is Medication The Only Option?
ADHD medication for children and adults may not be the only answer to this frustrating problem. If your child has ADHD, their teacher may be able to help them learn to slow down and pay more attention. You or your child may benefit from learning self-calming techniques, yoga, mindfulness meditation, or deep breathing techniques.
What Is The Complete Treatment Plan?
Usually, ADHD medication is only a part of the treatment plan. Talking to your doctor about the medication is crucial, but you also need to know how it fits into the overall plan. If it's your child who is being treated, there may be special help for them at school. You may begin a regular exercise routine or start a new eating plan.
Benefits Of Therapy For ADHD
Your doctor might also suggest that you or your child begin therapy as a part of the treatment plan. Therapy can have many benefits for you if you have ADHD.
One way therapy helps to build that positive mindset and problem-solving orientation. This is an important ingredient in the overall solution to managing your ADHD symptoms. Medications won't erase your problems. It can help dramatically, but you'll still need to stay positive to handle the challenges you'll still face.
Another benefit of therapy for ADHD is that it can help you challenge your negative beliefs about your abilities and personal characteristics. Once you discover the good within you, you can build the motivation to increase your skills and personal growth.
Solving Practical Problems
As a person with ADHD, you might find new practical problems every day. Therapy can give you a time to figure out how to deal with practical dilemmas, like:
- Getting organized
- Managing time better
- Working with your child's teachers or your boss
- Improving your sleep habits
- Managing finances
- Learning calming techniques
Dealing With Mental Health Issues
Often people with ADHD also have mental health problems like depression and anxiety. These may be caused by the stress of dealing with the disorder, or they may come as side effects of ADHD medications. Either way, you need to deal with them to get the most from the medication, and other help you receive.
If your ADHD is causing you to doubt yourself, have practical problems in life that you can't solve on your own, or suffer from anxiety or depression, therapy can help you tremendously. You can begin online therapy at your convenience with a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com. Online therapy is private and affordable.
No matter what kind of ADHD medication you do or don't take, it's important to deal with your disorder in some way. Have that talk with your doctor. Bring along something to take notes. Be ready to ask the questions you need to to find out what you need to know.
ADHD doesn't have to keep you from having a healthy, satisfying, and happy life. You can learn to manage the problems that come with ADHD, as well as the feelings you have about having the disorder. With the right help, you can not only survive, but you can thrive at school, work, and any arena in which you find yourself. Will it be easy? Not always. What you can be sure of is that as soon as you're diagnosed with ADHD, what you do about it is yours to choose!