How Do Stimulant Medications Treat ADD/ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a neurologically based disorder, resulting from the deficiency of a neurotransmitter, or a group of neurotransmitters, in specific areas of the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells by bridging the synapse (or gap) between them.
The key neurotransmitter involved is norepinephrine, along with its building blocks, dopa and dopamine. The primary medications used to treat ADD/ADHD stimulate specific cells within the brain to produce more of the deficient neurotransmitter. That's why these medications are called stimulants.
The two main classes of stimulant medications, methylphenidate and dextro-amphetamine — both are generic names — have been used since the 1960s. All brand-name stimulants are variations of these two medications. Adderall is a modification of dextro-amphetamine, for instance, while methylphenidate comes as an immediate-release tablet, a chewable tablet, a liquid, a skin patch, an intermediate-acting (extended-release) tablet, a long-acting (extended-release) capsule, and a long-acting (extended-release) tablet. Each variation has its own name, but the medicine that treats symptoms is the same — methylphenidate.