Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and restlessness. Stimulants are a class of medications that are used as the first-line treatment for ADHD.
Interested in learning more about how stimulants work on our brain neurochemistry? In this article, we will take a deeper look into how this class of medication helps effectively treat ADHD by calming hyperactive symptoms.
In addition, the different specific medications and the safety profiles will be discussed, including potential side effects, drug interactions, and warnings associated with taking a stimulant.
If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD that are impacting your daily activities, let Klarity help. Klarity has helped over 30,000 Americans gain access to affordable online mental health diagnoses and treatment in the convenience of their own home.
How Do Neurotransmitters in Our Brains Work
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help facilitate communication within the complex signaling pathways of the brain. They act as a messaging system by carrying the signal from one neuron to another and are responsible for proper functioning within the brain and nervous system.
Neurons are not in direct contact with each other and require neurotransmitters to help bridge this gap in communication. The small area between the two neurons is referred to as the synapse, and this is where the neurotransmitters are released from one neuron and travel to the other. This is where they bind to receptors on the adjacent neuron, which continues the given signal down the pathway.
There are a number of different types of neurotransmitters, and each has unique properties that influence the neurons to behave differently. There are three main classifications of neurotransmitters, which include excitatory, inhibitory, and modulatory.
When bound to the receptors of the neuron, the different neurotransmitters will work by either stimulating the firing of the neuron or, in contrast, inhibiting the action potential from firing. In addition, modulating neurotransmitters help to enhance the excitatory or inhibitory response, although they do not directly bind to the receptors.
How Stimulants Work
In ADHD patients, it is believed that there are lower levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, resulting in under-stimulation and reduced activity in certain regions of the brain that contribute to impulse, decision-making, and maintaining attention.
Stimulants work by increasing the two depleted neurotransmitters found in ADHD patients: dopamine and norepinephrine. Stimulants increase neurotransmission between neurons, improving the chemical messaging system within the brain.
Types of Stimulants
There are two common types of stimulants: Methylphenidate and Amphetamine. Both stimulants are considered first line treatment for ADHD in both children and adults. Although they belong to the same class of medications, there are some key differences between the two.
Methylphenidate medications include Ritalin and Concerta, brand-name drugs. This type of stimulant works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine. In doing so, dopamine is able to remain in the synapse for a longer period of time, resulting in more activation of the receiving neuron.
Amphetamines are available in name brands such as Adderall and Vyvanse. Like methylphenidates, amphetamines work by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, causing increased activation of the adjacent neuron. In addition, amphetamines stimulate the release of dopamine and norepinephrine from the neuron as well, causing a larger concentration of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapse.
Stimulants and ADHD
ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders and is diagnosed in both children and adults. Those who struggle with ADHD experience difficulty concentrating, inattentiveness, and display impulsive behaviors. It is believed that ADHD patients have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Stimulant medications are primarily for the treatment of ADHD due to their calming effect on hyperactive symptoms. Stimulants increase attention, focus on specific tasks, as well as organization and listening skills. This class of medication increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which are the two neurotransmitters that are lowered in ADHD patients.
Fidgeting, restlessness, inability to sit still, and talking excessively are other common symptoms of ADHD that are particularly challenging in the classroom, as this behavior can also distract other students as well. The use of stimulant medications helps calm these hyperactive tendencies, which not only improves the student’s ability to focus and learn but improves the environment for others in the class.
Potential Side Effects of Stimulants
Stimulants have a number of potential adverse effects that may occur right when starting the medication or with long-term use. Each patient’s reaction to medication is different, and some factors that influence the side effects include body weight, the dose taken, and tolerance to the medication.
Some common side effects include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Decreased appetite leading to weight loss
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Psychological phenomena such as psychosis, paranoia
- Sweating, shortness of breath
- Palpitations, chest pain, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
Warnings of Stimulants
Stimulant medications have been associated with a few serious and even potentially life-threatening side effects with use, including:
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Sudden cardiac death
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), stimulants are classified as a schedule 2 controlled substance, due to high potential for abuse. As a controlled substance, there are associated restrictions in place for prescribers and patients to limit the potential for abuse, such as only 30-day prescriptions can be written at a time. Stimulant medications should be avoided in patients with a history of alcohol or substance abuse.
Before you are prescribed a new medication by your healthcare provider, it is important to discuss what medications you are currently taking, including supplements and over-the-counter medications.
As with most medications, there are some medications that should be avoided with the use of stimulants due to changes in effectiveness with contaminated use. These medications include:
- Anticoagulants, exaggerated cardiovascular effects
- Chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic
- Phenytoin, decreased absorption
- MAO inhibitors: linezolid, metaxalone, methylene blue isocarboxazid
- Avoid other stimulant medications, including weight loss medications
- Increased risk of serotonin syndrome with SSRI medications or street drugs like MDMA or “ecstasy,” St. John’s wort
Get Started With Your ADHD Treatment With The Help With Klarity
Klarity has helped over 30,000 Americans access affordable and convenient ADHD medication treatment from the convenience of their home. No insurance is needed, and if the medication works well for you, without severe side effects, you might be able to receive the direct prescription from your provider on Klarity. We’ll send it directly to your preferred pharmacy for you to pick up at your own convenience.
Schedule an appointment with a licensed healthcare provider on Klarity today, or start by taking a free self-evaluation.