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Behavioral Health

Treatment Options

Treatment for ADHD

It is important for families to work with their doctor to determine what treatment will be most effective for their child. Behavior therapy and stimulant medications such as Concerta® Metadate®, Ritalin®, and Adderall®, are all effective treatments for ADHD. In addition to drug therapy, behavior therapy is recommended to help young people understand their feelings and learn appropriate actions. Behavior therapy is often successful in changing undesirable behavior and replacing actions with more appropriate responses. Learn how to set and enforce rules, help your child understand what he needs to do, use discipline effectively, and encourage good behavior.

Stimulant medications work to help ADHD children focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. As with any medication, there is a risk that children can develop side-effects.

It has been suggested that a combination of both behavior therapy and medication is more effective than either treatment alone.1Some practitioners recommend medication as a first line intervention, and adding behavior therapy only when medication does not work. The argument behind this is that medication is cheaper and easier to administer than behavior therapy. However, others argue that behavior therapy should be used first because it is necessary to treat all functional impairments. It may reduce the dosage of medication, and eliminate the need to give children psychoactive substances.1 The following are some pros and cons of both treatments. Every child and family dynamic is different. Your doctor can help you evaluate which treatment is right for you.

Behavior Therapy

Stimulant Medication





Research shows that it can be effective

Does not work for all children

Research shows that it can be effective

Does not work for all children

Avoids the use psychoactive substances in children

More expensive in the short run than medications

Cheaper in the short run than therapy

Does not work when not taking the medication

Children treated with behavior therapy may be able to function well without taking long-term medications

Requires more parental and teacher involvement

Requires little time and effort

Does not help all areas of functioning equally (e.g., parenting behavior, peer relationships, academic achievement)


Possible side-effects such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, social withdrawal, more


May not be an option for certain children with certain medical conditions


Guidelines for Choosing a Behavior Therapist

Behavior Therapy and Behavioral Interventions for Children and Adolescents

Medications for Treating ADHD: Risks, Benefits and Regimens

Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I: How Medications are Used

Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part II: Types of Medications

Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part III: Questions to Ask

1Pelham, W. E., & Waschbusch, D. A. (in press). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In J. E. Fisher & W. O’Donohue (Eds.). Practitioner’s guidelines for evidence based psychotherapy. New York: Kluwer.

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