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Stimulants for attention disorders

Translations available: Spanish

Generic name Brand name
___ amphetamine and
Adderall XR®
___  dextroamphetamine Dexedrine®
___ methamphetamine Desoxyn®
___ methylphenidate Concerta®
Ritalin LA®

How does this medicine work?

Stimulants act on parts of the brain that are responsible for attention, focus, impulse control, and hyperactivity. They are not tranquilizers or sedatives. They are used to control the symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Stimulants can help to improve problems with:

  • attention span
  • thinking before acting
  • restlessness or fidgeting
  • focusing
  • concentration
  • following directions
  • finishing tasks

Stimulants often work best when used with behavior modification at home and school.

How should I give it?

It is best to give it with food or right after a meal. Most of these medicines come in pill form.

The short-acting medicines last 3 to 4 hours, while the long-acting ones may last 8 hours or more. Some children have trouble falling asleep and may need to have their dose earlier in the day. Check with your provider.

___ For children who cannot swallow pills:

  • If it is a tablet, crush it between 2 spoons, inside a plastic bag, or in folded paper.
  • If it is a capsule, open it.
  • Mix the powder with a very small amount of soft food, such as applesauce, chocolate syrup, ice cream, jelly, or yogurt.

___ If the medicine is an extended-release product, it must be swallowed whole and not bitten. Adderall XR and Ritalin LA can be opened and sprinkled on applesauce or pudding.

If your child is taking Concerta, parts of a capsule may be in the bowel movements. This is normal, as the capsule may not dissolve completely after medicine is released.

Are there any precautions about food or other medicines?

Check with the doctor, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist before giving any other prescription or non-prescription medicines, herbs, or vitamins.

What should I do if a dose is missed?

If a dose is missed, give the rest of the doses for that day at evenly spaced times. If you are unsure how to space the rest of the doses in the day, please call the clinic. If your child vomits (throws up) a dose, do not repeat the dose.

What are the side effects?


  • decreased appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • stomachache


  • irritable (cranky)
  • emotional, crying
  • staring into space
  • loss of interest
  • weight loss
  • dizziness
  • fast heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • dilated pupils


  • hives
  • tics (repeated movements, such as twitching, blinking, shrugging, head tossing)

When should I call for help?

Call the clinic if:

  • medicine does not seem to be working
  • very dizzy
  • tics, shakiness
  • severe sadness
  • any behavior that is very unusual for your child

Go to the emergency room if:

  • hives
  • irregular heartbeat
  • blurred vision
  • hallucinations

What else do I need to know?

To check on behavior, we will ask your child's teachers for regular reports.

Many people have incorrect information about this medicine. If you hear anything that worries you, please check with the doctor or nurse practitioner.

You and your child should know the names of all the medicines he or she is taking. Share this information with anyone involved in your child's care.

Always make sure you have enough medicine on hand. The law does not allow telephone refills on this medicine, so before it runs out, contact your clinic for a new handwritten prescription. To guard against abuse, know how much medicine you send to school and when it should run out.

Check the label for the expiration date. Flush outdated medicines down the toilet instead of putting them in the garbage.

Store all medicines in their original container and away from direct sunlight or heat. Do not store in humid places such as the bathroom. Keep them out of children's reach, locked up if possible.

If too much or the wrong kind of medicine is taken, call the Poison Control Center (toll- free 1-800-222-1222). If your child is unconscious or has a seizure, call 911.


This is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, call the doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Last reviewed 8/2015 

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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