How do ADHD medications work?

Medications for treating ADHD are believed to work by improving the way some chemicals work in certain regions of the brain. Researchers believe ADHD symptoms occur when certain brain chemicals, also called neurotransmitters, are not working properly. The two neurotransmitters that are thought to be affected in people with ADHD are called norepinephrine and dopamine. These brain chemicals are important for concentration, impulse control, and control of mood and behaviour.

ADHD medications are used to improve symptoms of poor attention, poor concentration, poor impulse control, and hyperactivity. It is thought that they do this by helping these neurotransmitters work properly.

The two main types of medications used to treat ADHD, stimulants and non-stimulants, work by increasing the actions of these neurotransmitters. For example, stimulants such as methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin®) are thought to act mainly through the regulation of brain chemicals, called norepinephrine and dopamine. The non-stimulant atomoxetine (Strattera®) is believed to work by increasing the effects of norepinephrine in the brain.

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