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How Long Should ADHD Medication Treatment Last

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Evaluating the effectiveness of medication is an essential part of treatment. Caregivers, teachers, and child, all play a role in determining a medication's effectiveness. As children grow, medications may need to be adjusted. The same assessment tools used during initial diagnosis are often used to determine whether medications continue to work. If the effectiveness of a medication has diminished, it may be time to taper off that medication. Then, evaluate symptoms without medication. If needed, try another medication until the most effective treatment is once again identified.

ADHD is a disorder that can last throughout a person's life. Please see our companion article on adult ADHD. Research indicates that up to 60% of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms of restlessness and distractibility throughout the teen years and into adulthood (About ADHD, n.d.). Unfortunately, a significant number of these folks also struggle with other psychiatric conditions, academic failure, and/or social isolation. Therefore, treatment may need to continue indefinitely. Even so, dose adjustments and monitoring medication effectiveness will continue to be important.

The length of medication treatment for ADHD must be based on each individual's unique set of symptoms. If a person is stable for many months or a year, it may be worth tapering off the medication. As with any changes to medications, this should be done under guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. Once the medication has been cleared from the body, symptoms are monitored. Then, the individual's current ability to function well are evaluated. It soon becomes fairly clear if medication is still needed. Some caregivers like to conduct this drug-free evaluation every year during the summer holiday. Once again, this should only be attempted with medical supervision.

Who pays for my child's ADHD treatment services?

Treatment of any disease or disorder can be expensive. In the United States, everyone is now required to have some type of health insurance. Insurance benefits vary according to different providers, and the different plans selected. When you have a choice of more than one insurance provider, there are specific times each year when you can shop and change plans. If your child has ADHD, it may be wise to carefully research the benefits under several plans for comparison. This is particularly important for conditions that require ongoing treatment.

Other services are provided through the educational system. In the United States, there are certain federal laws that provide benefits to children with special needs. Please review the section that discusses those resources. LINK