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What does ADHD medication do to the brain?

When an individual has ADHD, medication can often be an effective way to “kick-start” change. It can help an individual define and follow through on goals and to build skills that have previously been inconsistent.

That being said, it is not a “one size fits all” process, and must be accompanied by supportive treatment beyond medication. In most cases, we recommend coaching and behavioural support alongside the medication trial.The best part of combining a medication trial with coaching initiatives is that the skills learned during treatment will remain even if you decide to stop taking medication.

BUT, what does ADHD medication actually do to the brain?

One of the biggest reasons people are hesitant about medication is because they are worried that it is going to cause sedation, inhibit creativity, or change their personality. Once you understand what the medication is actually doing in the brain, you realize it is actually going to allow more personality to emerge. It is not a medication that sedates, but stimulates!

image Let us explain*. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that coordinates executive functioning, helping you to start tasks, stay on task, block out distractions, use working memory, and regulate your emotions. It helps organize the brain and manage projects and tasks from start to finish. In essence, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is supposed to organize all the functions of the brain so its role can be compared to that of the conductor of an orchestra or the secretary of the brain.

When somebody has ADHD, it means that their prefrontal cortex is experiencing inconsistent levels of neurotransmitters. This means the conductor or secretary “falls asleep on the job”. You can imagine what the orchestra sounds like when the conductor is sleeping. Medication helps the conductor of the brain stay awake and stimulated, so that all the parts of the brain can work to the best of their ability. ADHD medication essentially evens out the neurotransmitters to the prefrontal cortex, so individuals can be more consistent with their focus.

Does medication work for everybody?

No, medication does not work for everybody and should not be recommended for every patient. For example, Methylphenidate has been found to be ineffective for 25% of people who appear to be genetic non-responders. That being said, we have seen some amazing results with ADHD medication when the optimum type and dose are prescribed. This involves careful understanding of your personal symptoms and your lifestyle, as well as keeping a close eye on height, weight, blood pressure, self-esteem, and mood.

*Please note, our intention here is to give a more simplified understanding of the impact of ADHD medication on the brain – the neurobiological mechanisms involved when you take medication are somewhat more complicated. 

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