Posted by & filed under Abnormal Psychology, Child Development, Clinical Neuropsychology, Clinical Psychology, Disorders of Childhood, Intervention: Children Adolescents, Neuroscience, Psychological Disorders.

Description: I am certain that you know that the most prescribed medication for those with ADHD is a version of methylphenidate which is a stimulant. A common question which arises when people encounter this fact is to ask how an individual with hyperactivity (the H in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) could possibly be helped by a stimulant. A typical answer often involves suggesting that the stimulant increases the activity in brain areas involved in attention and focus and in the inhibition of behavior unrelated to the current task focus.

However, that is a very general hypothesis, and it does not speak directly to the question of which brain areas or networks are impacted by stimulant medications and how the medications create the positive effects they have been shown to have on behaviors associated with ADHD. Would it surprise you to read that researchers are not entirely clear on how such stimulus medications actually work in the brain? This may have been remedied by the search discussed in the article linked below. However, as you read through it be prepared to make a few notes about brain systems or networks that you will want to know more about in order to better understand what the article is saying.

Source: Researchers gain a better understanding of how the most commonly used ADHD medication works, Science News, ScienceDaily.

Date: December 8, 2022

Image by chenspec from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, methylphenidate stimulants work by increasing the activity in the dopamine signaling system located within the nucleus accumbens. That’s a lot clearer right? Well, not so much really. Here are a few additional bits of information that might help.

The nucleus accumbens is located in the basil forebrain.

The dopamine reward pathway is part of the dopamine signaling system.

The mesolimbic or salience network is a dopamine system that is involved in selecting which stimuli are deserving of our attention.

The frontoparietal network is involved in sustained attention and complex problem solving.

The default mode network is a system in the brain that is most active when we are not attending to outside world like if we are daydreaming.

OK well, now you may not yet fully understand how stimulants work in the brain but you DO have a broader understanding of the dopamine systems that are likely involved.


Questions for Discussion:

  1. What sorts of symptoms are involved in ADHD?
  2. Why might stimulant medications help symptoms of ADHD?
  3. What systems withing the brain run using dopamine and how might they be involved in ADHD?

References (Read Further):

Mizuno, Y., Cai, W., Supekar, K., Makita, K., Takiguchi, S., Silk, T. J., … & Menon, V. (2022). Methylphenidate enhances spontaneous fluctuations in reward and cognitive control networks in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. Link

Prasad, V., Brogan, E., Mulvaney, C., Grainge, M., Stanton, W., & Sayal, K. (2013). How effective are drug treatments for children with ADHD at improving on-task behaviour and academic achievement in the school classroom? A systematic review and meta-analysis. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 22(4), 203-216. Link

Curatolo, P., D’Agati, E., & Moavero, R. (2010). The neurobiological basis of ADHD. Italian journal of pediatrics, 36(1), 1-7. Link

Viggiano, D., Vallone, D., & Sadile, A. (2004). Dysfunctions in dopamine systems and ADHD: evidence from animals and modeling. Neural plasticity, 11(1-2), 97-114. Link

Tripp, G., & Wickens, J. R. (2009). Neurobiology of ADHD. Neuropharmacology, 57(7-8), 579-589. Link