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A Parent’s Guide to Psychiatric Medications for Children with ADHD

ADHD stimulants. SSRIs for depression. Anticonvulsants. Learn the ins and outs of these and other psychiatric drugs commonly prescribed to children with ADHD and related conditions.

a young girl with her doctor after being prescribed a medication for her ADHD
a young girl with her doctor after being prescribed a medication for her ADHD

How many medications will your child need to take? If ADHD is the sole diagnosis, he or she may need only one (or none at all, if you choose to limit treatment to non-drug approaches, such as behavior therapy).

But if your child exhibits symptoms of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, in addition to ADHD, don’t be surprised if the doctor prescribes a different medication for each disorder.

Here are some of the psychiatric drugs that doctors prescribe most frequently.

Psychiatric Diagnosis Drug Classification Generic Name(s) Brand Names(s) Comments
ADHD Stimulants methylphenidate Ritalin, Methylin, Metadate There are two primary categories of ADHD medication: stimulants and non-stimulants. Doctors typically prescribe a stimulant first. If side effects prove troublesome for the child, they might try a non-stimulant.
dextro-methylphenidate Focalin
dextro-amphetamine Dexedrine
dextro-amphetamine/levo-amphetamine blend Adderall
Nonstimulants atomoxetine Strattera
bupropion Wellbutrin
imipramine Tofranil
desipramine Norpramine
nortriptyline Pamelor
clonidine Catapres
guanfacine Tenex
Depression SSRIs fluoxetine Prozac Two categories of medication are commonly prescribed: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and non-SSRIs. Sometimes it takes several tries to find a drug that works well. Doctors often try fluoxetine (Prozac) first, because it is the only one of these medications specifically approved to treat depression in children.
paroxetine Paxil
sertraline Zoloft
fluvoxamine Luvox
citalopram Celexa
Non-SSRIs venlafaxine Effexor
duloxetine Cymbalta
mirtazapine Remeron
Anxiety Anti-anxiety Medications alprazolam Xanax If a child’s anxiety is generalized, the doctor is likely to prescribe an SSRI (see above). If anxiety is specific or occasional-for example, occurring only at school-the doctor might opt to prescribe an antianxiety drug instead.
hydroxyzine Atarax
buspirone Buspar
clonazepam Klonopin
Tic Disorders clonidine Catapres
haloperidol Haldol
guanfacine Tenex
pimozide Orap
Bipolar Disorder Anticonvulsants divalproex Depakote In addition to the traditional drug, lithium, doctors now treat bipolar disorder (manic depression) with anticonvulsants and/or atypical antipsychotics.
carbamazepine Tegretol
gabapentin Neurontin
lamotrigine Lamictal
oxcarbazepine Trileptal
tiagabine Gabritril
Atypical antipsychotics risperidone Risperdal
olanzapine Zyprexa
ziprasidone Geodon
quetiapine Seroquel
aripirazole Abilify

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