Medications to Treat ADHD in Children and Adults

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In addition to behavioral therapies, medications for ADHD can be very helpful in reducing impulsiveness and hyperactivity and increasing focus and attention. Let's gain an understanding of the types of prescription medications people with ADHD can use to feel better and improve their symptoms.

Stimulants

Stimulant medications are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD and have been found to be very effective in alleviating ADHD symptoms. Stimulants increase the level of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This improves inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in people with ADHD.

While stimulants are the classic medication of choice for ADHD and are approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment in children, many people either cannot tolerate stimulant therapy or don't respond to it. Also, some people respond to one kind of stimulant and not another.

Some common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability

Less-common side effects that may occur include:

  • Mild stomachaches
  • Nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Slight increase in blood pressure and heart rate

Understanding and anticipating these side effects is helpful, as they can affect your adherence or willingness to take the medication. If you do experience any side effects from your stimulant medications, please discuss them with your doctor. Also, be safe and don't stop or change the dosage of your medication without medical guidance.

Stimulants can come in a number of forms, like shorter- and longer-acting medications. Extended-release stimulants are those that provide a longer-lasting, continuous level of medication. They dissolve slowly and release the drug over time. The older forms of immediate release require that medication be taken every three to five hours.

Some stimulant medications for ADHD include:

  • Adderall (amphetamine, dextroamphetamine)
  • Concerta or Daytrana (methylphenidate)
  • Desoxyn (methamphetamine)
  • Dexedrine or Zenzedi (dextroamphetamine)
  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
  • Metadate CD, Methylin, Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)

Non-Stimulants

The FDA approved a non-stimulant medication called Strattera (atomoxetine) for the treatment of ADHD in children, adolescents, and adults—it's actually the first medication approved by the FDA for treating ADHD in adults.

Strattera is a good option for people who cannot tolerate or take a stimulant medication for their ADHD. It's also a good option for people who are at risk for abuse or dependence on stimulant medications.

Similar side effects are seen with Strattera as with the stimulant medications, although they tend to be milder. These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue

Other Medications

Sometimes a person fails to respond to stimulants or Strattera for their ADHD or the side effects are intolerable. In these cases, a doctor may try another medication, like clonidine or guanfacine, which are FDA-approved in the U.S. for treatment in children and adolescents. If a person can tolerate stimulants, clonidine or guanfacine may also be given in addition to a stimulant to increase its effects.

In 2021, the FDA also approved a new non-stimulant medication for ADHD for children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17). Qelbree (viloxazine), a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, is an extended-release medication.

Less commonly, a doctor may prescribe a medication like the antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) to treat ADHD. Bupropion is not FDA-approved for treating ADHD—meaning there is not enough scientific data to back up its effectiveness and safety in treating ADHD.

What This Means for You

ADHD can be effectively treated with either behavioral therapies and/or medication. That being said, it's important for individuals on medications for their ADHD to see their doctor on a regular basis.

Be sure that your doctor or healthcare professional is experienced specifically with ADHD. This ensures that you'll be getting valuable input from a knowledgable source who can better answer your questions about different treatment types.

ADHD Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Mind Doc Guide

Medication benefits, side effects, and dosages need to be carefully monitored to ensure your safety and optimization of your health. If you're starting a new medication (or are already on medication) be sure to communicate any side effects, however minor, with your doctor as well.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nageye F, Cortese S. Beyond stimulants: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials assessing novel compounds for ADHD. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2019;19(7):707-717. doi:10.1080/14737175.2019.1628640

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Strattera highlights of prescribing information. Revised February 2020.

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Qelbree highlights of prescribing information. Revised April 2021.

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