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Do Medications “Cure” ADD?
"My wife and I are debating whether to put our 6-year-old son on Strattera. Does this medication permanently correct a chemical imbalance in his brain? Or does it "mask" the problem, so that he can function "normally" only while on the medication?"
You ask good questions. I recommend that you read my book, Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on ADHD, for a more comprehensive explanation. Briefly, ADHD is due to a neurochemical deficiency in the brain. Medications, whether stimulants or Strattera, work in the brain to increase the level of this neurochemical. Once the level is normal, this area of the brain can work normally, and the symptoms of hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity decrease or stop.
Once the medication wears off, the chemical level drops and the symptoms return. Medication doesn't "cure" ADHD, and there is no "cure" that we know of. (Think about a diabetic on insulin. Insulin corrects a chemical deficiency and allows a person to metabolize sugar. Once it wears off, however, the person can no longer do this.) At this time we can't correct the problem, only compensate for it, and medication has been found to be an effective approach.
Larry Silver, M.D., is the author of Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on AD/HD and The Misunderstood Child: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities. He is also a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C.