ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a neurological condition which is categorized by mainly behavioral symptoms such as the inability to pay attention and focus, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The disorder is usually diagnosed at an early age, and symptoms tend to become more pronounced when a child interacts with others under different circumstances and in different settings, such as in school. Most occurrences of ADHD are diagnosed in children between 6 and 12 years old. Symptoms can become less pronounced as people get older, though adults can continue to experience problems like anxiety and sleep disorders.
Symptoms of ADHD
The main symptoms of ADHD are the inability to pay attention or focus on anything, and hyperactivity and impulsivity. People with the condition may not have all these symptoms however. There is a disorder called ADD, which is essentially ADHD but without the hyperactivity.
Symptoms in children and young people
Many children with the condition are diagnosed before the age of 6. The most noticeable signs are:
Being easily distracted
Being unable to listen to instructions and take direction
Inability to order tasks
Doing things without thinking
Interrupting other’s conversations
Obviously, these symptoms can cause problems for a child at school, and they often lead to issues with discipline and underachieving.
Symptoms in adults
The research into adult ADHD is lacking, but what is known is that because it’s a developmental disorder, the condition always appears in childhood. Adults with ADHD might display signs of depression and anxiety. By the age of 25, around 15& of people with ADHD still exhibit all of the symptoms they had as children, and 65% of people are affected in some way, even if they don’t have the full range of symptoms. Adult ADHD tends to show as inattentiveness, rather than hyperactivity. Adults may demonstrate the following symptoms:
Inability to finish tasks
Inability to focus on tasks
Mood swings and irritability
Engaging in risky behaviour
What causes ADHD?
The cause of the condition is not known, but it is clear that it runs in families, and that there are certain differences in the brains of people who have ADHD compared to those who don’t. Some possible contributing factors to the development of the condition include:
Being born prematurely
Being subjected to smoke, alcohol or drug abuse while in the womb
Treatment for the condition centres around relieving symptoms so that daily life is less affected. Usual treatments are either medication or therapy, or a combination of the two.
There are five types of medication licensed for the treatment of ADHD, though the 2 most common are methylphenidate and dexamfetamine. Medication won’t cure ADHD but it can help those with the condition to be calmer and more focused. Low doses are given initially so that side effects can be monitored.
This is the most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD. It stimulates the part of the brain that controls attention and behaviour. It can be used by anyone over 6 years old. It’s not licensed for adults but it can be used under supervision. The medication is available in immediate or slow-release forms.
This works in a similar way to methylphenidate. It can be used by anyone over 3 years of age who has the condition. It’s not licensed for adults but it can be used under supervision.
Therapy can be a useful addition to a medication regime, and can help with anxiety or conduct disorders that might develop with the ADHD.
Therapies that you may be offered include;
Those with ADHD are encouraged to talk about their condition and how it affects their lives. It can help those with the condition to cope and live with their diagnosis.
This is about teaching children with the condition about what constitutes appropriate behaviour, rewarding good behaviour, and withdrawing privileges for bad behaviour.
Parent training and education programmes
These programmes teach techniques to parents about how to play and work with children to improve their attention and behaviour.
There are other lifestyle factors that may improve symptoms of ADHD, however more research is needed as to whether they are actually effective.
Some studies have shown suggested that there is a link between certain types of food and worsening symptoms. Some food additives and colourings, and caffeine can aggravate hyperactivity. Keeping a food diary may help to identify anything that may makes symptoms worse.
Research has suggested that supplementation with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids might help those with ADHD, but evidence is limited.
Focus on medication
What is it used for?
Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin) is a man-made drug, which is classed as a stimulant. It is derived from methylphenidate, which you may have seen marketed as Ritalin, Concerta, and Metadate, among others. Dexmethylphenidate is the most active compound of methylphenidate, which is why Focalin is thought of as being twice as strong as drugs such as Ritalin and Concerta. Focalin was first approved for use in treating ADHD in 2001, although a slow-release form was not approved until 2005.
The medication treats ADHD by changing the levels of chemicals in the brain which control behaviour, attention and focus. It is classed as a stimulant, and it is also used to treat narcolepsy, however it is not licensed specifically for this use.
Possible side effects include trouble sleeping, nausea, stomach problems, headaches, and dizziness. There may be issues when taking the drug for a long period of time; it can affect a child’s growth rate and weight.
What is it used for?
What is in Adderall?
The amphetamine salts which make up Adderall are dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate; often abbreviated to 75% dextroamphetamine + 25% levoamphetamine. Adderall is also a man-made drug, is classed as a stimulant, and was first approved for the treatment of ADHD in 1996. Both Focalin and Adderall are approved to treat ADHD, although Adderall is also approved to treat narcolepsy.
Adderall works in a similar way to Focalin, and changes the levels of chemicals in the brain which control attention and behaviour. One of its effects is that it combats daytime sleepiness.
Possible side-effects include dry mouth, stomach upsets, nausea, headache, diarrhoea, and trouble sleeping.
This medication can also cause issues with the normal development of a child’s height and bodyweight, so close monitoring is required.
Focalin vs Adderall
Which ADHD Medication Is Better?
This is a question that is often asked to doctors who treat ADHD. There are many differences and similarities between the drugs, but ultimately, the best drug is the one that treats the patient’s symptoms effectively, without causing too many side effects.
Here is a review of the similarities and differences between the medications.
Adderall is licensed to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, whereas Focalin is not. There is evidence to suggest that Focalin would be effective for this use however.
Focalin is available in immediate release form, which has an effect for between 4 and 6 hours, and a slow-release form, which acts for up to 12 hours. This is similar to the available forms of Adderall. The immediate release form of Focalin only has 3 dosage options (2.5 mg, 5mg, and 10mg), compared to 7 for Adderall (5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg). This gives doctors more scope for changing/adjusting dosages where needed. But Focalin’s slow-release formulation has more dosage options than Adderall. Immediate release formulations of Focalin are generally cheaper than the equivalent dose of Adderall, but this largely depends on whether you are prescribed a brand name or a generic formula.
How long does their effect last?
Both Focalin and Adderall work similarly on the brain, and are of similar potency. Both the immediate and slow-release formulations of each drug produce effects for a similar duration of time. The immediate release formula acts for between 4 and 6 hours, and the slow release formula works for up to 12 hours.
Potential for abuse
These medications are legally classed as controlled substances, which means that they have a high potential for abuse and can be habit-forming. They are only available on prescription. These medications can affect the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is a chemical associated with pleasure. So high doses of the drugs can produce a euphoric feeling, which is why they can become addictive. The user will then take more of the drug to produce the same euphoric effect as tolerance develops.
Adderall is frequently abused by people wanting to lose weight, be alert for studying, and even when they want to feel euphoric at parties. Temporary psychosis has developed in some people as a result of the drug causing an imbalance of dopamine levels. This can manifest as hallucinations and delusions.
Stopping either medication can be difficult for those who have taken high doses or have abused the drugs, as considerable withdrawal effects can be experienced due to changes in dopamine levels in the brain.
Both drugs are relatively expensive, and cost will depend on whether you buy a brand name, the formulation you buy, and in what dosage. Adderall’s slow-release formula costs less than the equivalent Focalin formula but immediate-release Adderall is a lot more expensive than the same formula of Focalin. However, generic versions of either drug cost roughly the same for a 30-day supply. Higher dosages typically cost more than lower doses whether generic or branded.
Which is more effective?
Both drugs are used to treat ADHD and are considered preferred treatments. Neither drug is considered among medical professionals to be better than the other. In a study, Adderall’s immediate-release formula was found to reduce the symptoms of ADHD by 80% compared to the same formulation of Focalin, which reduced them by 79%; the difference is negligible.
Both drugs are highly potent, and both performed better than a placebo in tests. Some studies have suggested that Adderall may be more effective for treating ADHD than Focalin. The studies appeared to show that one dose of Adderall was more effective than 2 doses of Focalin. Of course, everyone is different, and the most effective drug is the one that works for the individual.
How do they work?
Both medications have a similar action, in that they provide stimulation of the levels of chemicals in the brain which control behaviour and attention. Both medications inhibit dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help to reduce symptoms of ADHD. Any differences in how the medications work are down to the different composition of the medications.
The side effects of both drugs are similar. Everyone is different, so as with any medication, side effects may vary, but most people taking these types of drugs will experience a standard set of side effects, such as dizziness, nervousness, stomach problems, insomnia, and weight loss.
The side effects produced by each drug will strongly influence which medication an individual prefers. As both drugs are of similar potency, and work in a similar way, side effects should be similar for most people. Though some reports suggest that Focalin produces less of a jittery feeling and less of a ‘rebound’ effect than Adderall. A rebound effect is when an individual can feel low and depressed after a certain number of hours after they have taken the medication.
Whichever drug you take, the likelihood of side effects increases as dosage increases.
ADHD is a controversial condition. Many critics have called it the ‘fashionable’ label for a naughty child, however this is far from the truth. ADHD can be difficult to diagnose, as every child is different, but true ADHD has some definite characteristics. ADHD is often diagnosed when a child is between 6 and 12 years old, and symptoms become more evident usually when they are observed in surroundings where they are expected to behave in a certain way, such as at school.
A child with the condition will exhibit an inability to focus their attention on any one thing, they will interrupt others’ conversations, be hyperactive, and will usually talk excessively.
Adults can suffer from ADHD, but it is a continuation of symptoms that started in childhood. ADHD is a developmental disorder, which means that it begins at an early age. The condition will manifest differently in adults and children however, and as a person gets older, they will tend to have less hyperactivity and more inattentiveness and risk-taking behaviour.
Available treatments are centred around controlling the symptoms so that the condition impacts less upon daily life. There is no cure for ADHD. Medication and various psychological/behavioural therapies are usually the treatments of choice.
Therapy usually focuses on getting a person to talk about their condition, to make sense of it, and to teach them how to cope. It can help to teach parents of children with the condition to learn how to manage their behaviour and to support their child accordingly.
Medications, such as Focalin and Adderall are very effective first-line treatments for ADHD. They work by acting on the levels of chemicals in the brain that affect behaviour, focus and attention. They have a calming effect on the person who takes them, which means that their symptoms should be less disruptive to their everyday lives.
Both medications are very effective, and differences in efficacy have been shown in various studies to be negligible. As with all drugs of this type, they can have side effects. As the drugs act in a similar way, side effects are normally quite standard for most people. They range from headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, and weight loss, to dizziness and nervousness. As everyone is different, however, people tolerate the drugs in different ways. The side effects that are experienced will generally affect someone’s perception of how a medication works.
Both medications are available in immediate-release and slow-release formulas, which are effective for similar durations of time.
The immediate release version of Adderall has more options for doctors in terms of dosages, although the equivalent version of Focalin is often cheaper. The slow release version of Focalin has more dosage options than the equivalent version of Adderall, but Adderall is cheaper. Both medications potentially cause dependence, and more people tend to abuse Adderall, as it tends to be more popular. People will abuse the medication to experience a euphoric high, to lose weight, and to be more alert when studying. The effect that the medication has on the brain in terms of increasing dopamine levels explains why it can easily become addictive, and the stimulating effect the medication has explains why it can become a student’s drug of choice when they need to cram before an exam (one of the medication’s uses is to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, as it’s able to combat sleepiness).
Whether Adderall or Focalin is the drug of choice, the choice should be determined by how effective it is for the person, and whether the side effects (if any) are tolerable.