How ADHD Medications Work

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ADHD is a medical condition where the brain is not producing enough of the neurotransmitter Dopamine. The brain is no different than other organs of our body, such as our heart, lungs, kidneys or pancreas. In fact a good analogy to help understand how ADHD medications work is similar to how insulin helps someone with diabetes. In diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Sometime this occurs in childhood…sometimes it happens with aging. Either way, management of diabetes includes learning about the condition of diabetes, making changes in lifestyle habits, such as eating certain foods, and increasing exercise. However, one of the most important ways to re-balance the body’s insulin is with a pill or an injection of insulin.

ADHD is similar. With ADHD, the brain is simply not producing or utilizing enough Dopamine. You see most of the Dopamine in our brain is made in the middle part of the brain. Without sufficient amount of Dopamine, there is not enough of it to get to the frontal lobe of the brain so it can do all those “executive functions” such as paying attention to things that are less interesting, or filtering out environmental stimuli or pausing to think before we act or say something.

So, when a person takes a stimulant medication such as Ritalin or Adderall, those medicines work directly on the brain to help those Dopamine neurotransmitters either produce more Dopamine or utilize it more effectively. What they are “stimulating” and only simulating is the Dopamine! Voila! Stimulating the Dopamine receptors increases the Dopamine available in the brain. With an increased Dopamine level the brain is now better balanced and ready to complete the tasks of the day!


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