ADHD is probably our most researched diagnostic category. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have been diagnosing and treating it under one label or another for many decades. I think few would disagree that when it comes to the success rate in treating a diagnostic disorder with a medication there is no better rate of success in all of psychiatry than treating ADHD with a so-called stimulant medication like the generic methylphenidate (found in brands such as Ritalin) or generic amphetamine (found in brands such as Adderall). I am of the opinion that treatment is so successful that through the years there has been a tendency to either over-diagnose ADHD or to attribute too many problems to ADHD. This was particularly true during the years when there was less interest in other disorders like autism and bipolar disorder.
Stimulant medications, as compared to other psychoactive medications, are not only very effective but they work quickly and, relatively speaking, have a good side effect profile. One does not have to monitor blood levels like one does with many other medications, and when prescribed to a healthy child, no lab test or procedure need be done although some physicians and parents choose to do baseline EKGs.
Stimulant medication works best in individuals whose major psychiatric problems fit best the criteria for ADHD but there are few individuals that have textbook cases of any disorder. Other than treating the disorder of ADHD, other individuals who have problems paying attention and are somewhat impulsive may benefit from a stimulant medication even if they do not meet the criteria for ADHD, or they have ADHD but also suffer from other psychiatric disorders. However, the less that one’s problems fit ADHD and the more complicated the case, the less likely the stimulant medications will work.