ADHD medication has increased by two-fold in the past decade. But there are other options

A recent analysis of prescription trends in Australia for ADHD medication found that the number of ADHD medications nearly doubled from 2013 to 2020. This is a significant finding. However, it must be considered in the context of overall prescribing rates, guidelines, and the prevalence of ADHD.

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ADHD is an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD affects approximately 5% of children and adolescents worldwide and 2.5% of adults. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually begins in childhood. However, symptoms and/or problems associated with the disorder persist through adolescence or adulthood.

ADHD is still not well-diagnosed in childhood in Australia and other countries outside North America. Many people will discover ADHD in adulthood.

International ADHD guidelines recommend medications as the best treatment for core ADHD symptoms. Non-medication therapy can also be used to reduce ADHD symptoms’ daily impact.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is characterized by difficulty in keeping your attention and focus, especially for activities that aren’t high-interest. It also needs better organizational skills and forgetfulness.

All people experience these symptoms occasionally, but those with ADHD have more frequent and severe symptoms that can impact daily life. ADHD isn’t a new condition. Reports of ADHD dating back to the 1700s show that it was common.

Why are prescriptions for ADHD medication increasing in Australia?

Current ADHD guidelines recommend medication for ADHD as the first-line treatment. As ADHD recognition increases, it is not surprising that prescription rates will rise.

The data suggests that around 4% of children or adolescents are being treated for ADHD. This is reasonable considering the prevalence of about 5%.

For adults it is 0.4%. This means that ADHD medication is currently being used by less than one-fifth of adults. This is a significant improvement over 2013, when rates were lower than half, but there’s still much to do.

What are the main ADHD medications?

Many medications have been proven effective in reducing ADHD symptoms in children, adolescents, and adults.

Stimulants like methylphenidate and dexamphetamine, which are stimulants, are now the first treatments for ADHD. These medications improve the efficiency of several brain circuits via their action on neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline. These medications have rapid effects that can be observed almost instantly.

Two non-stimulant medications have been approved for ADHD treatment, atomoxetine (and guanfacine). Non-stimulants have lower effectiveness than stimulants and can take many weeks for a clinical effect. They are therefore reserved for second-line treatment.

ADHD medications are difficult to find. Only people with ADHD can be prescribed them. This can be difficult for many because of a lack of qualified clinicians. According to current guidelines, ADHD must be diagnosed by a healthcare professional with experience. This could include a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician.

A detailed medical history should be taken to determine if ADHD is a diagnosis. This will include information about when symptoms began and how they affect daily life. Parents and schools should also be contacted to provide information about ADHD in children. Adults seeking a new diagnosis must have evidence that the symptoms began in childhood. The health professional may need to review old-school reports and speak with parents.

What other support should you offer besides medication?

Adults and children will need different support. To best support a person, it is important to change their environment. This could include changing the environment in school and at work for adults.

ADHD symptoms can be exacerbated by sleep deprivation. Lifestyle modifications might be suggested to reduce ADHD’s impact, such as regular exercise and a good night of sleep. Many people with ADHD have additional mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. When planning treatment and support, it is important to consider these additional challenges.

Support for parents is the best evidence-based support available to ADHD children. It is not that ADHD is due to bad parenting. There is no evidence. Parents often need support, as ADHD parenting can be difficult.

Research has shown that parents with ADHD have more positive parenting behaviors and less tension with their children. Cognitive behavioral therapies are the best non-medication support for ADHD adults and older adolescents. They can reduce ADHD’s daily impact.

ADHD treatment should be holistic and include both medications and non-medication therapies. The individual and the severity of ADHD will determine which treatment is best.

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