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Upon completion of the chapter, the reader will be able to:

  1. Explain accepted criteria necessary for the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  2. Recommend a therapeutic plan, including drug selection, initial doses, dosage forms, and monitoring parameters, for a patient with ADHD.

  3. Differentiate among the available pharmacologic agents used for ADHD with respect to pharmacology and pharmaceutical formulation.

  4. Recommend second-line and/or adjunctive agents that can be effective alternatives in the treatment of ADHD when stimulant therapy is less than adequate.

  5. Address potential cost–benefit issues associated with pharmacotherapy of ADHD.

  6. Recommend strategies for minimizing adverse effects of ADHD medications.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. It can have a severe impact on a patient’s ability to function in both academic and social environments. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to compensate for areas of deficit.


image This disorder usually begins in young children and must occur before 12 years of age to meet current diagnostic criteria. In the United States, ADHD is the most common neurobehavioral disorder that affects children.1 ADHD has been diagnosed in approximately 11% of school-aged children.2 ADHD occurs more than twice as often in school-aged boys than girls.3

Although ADHD generally is considered a childhood disorder, symptoms can persist into adolescence and adulthood. The prevalence of adult ADHD is estimated to be 2.5%; majority of adults with ADHD have symptoms that manifested in childhood.3,4 Furthermore, problems associated with ADHD (eg, social, marital, academic, career, anxiety, depression, smoking, and substance abuse problems) increase with the transition of patients into adulthood. Untreated adults with ADHD have high rates of psychopathology, substance abuse, and social and occupational dysfunction.


image The exact pathologic cause of ADHD has not been identified. ADHD is generally thought of as a disorder of self-regulation or response inhibition and cognitive deficits.5 Patients who meet the criteria for ADHD have difficulty maintaining self-control, resisting distractions, concentrating on ideas, and often alternate between inattentiveness to overexcitement.3,6

image Dysfunction of the neurotransmitters is thought to be key in the pathology of ADHD. Norepinephrine is responsible for maintaining alertness and attention; dopamine is responsible for regulating learning, motivation, goal setting, and memory. Both of these neurotransmitters predominate in the frontal subcortical system, an area of the brain responsible for maintaining attention and memory. Genetics appears to play a role because a child who has a parent with ADHD has a 50% chance of developing ADHD. An association has been made between the development of ADHD and fetal alcohol syndrome, lead poisoning, maternal smoking, and hypoxia.3,6



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