Non-Stimulant Medications to Treat ADHD

5 types of non-stimulant ADHD medication

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While stimulants are typically the first choice of medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there are several non-stimulant medications that may be prescribed. These include atomoxetine, tricyclic antidepressants, venlafaxine, and bupropion. Of these, atomoxetine has been studied most extensively for use in the treatment of ADHD in adults and children, appears to have fewer side effects than the tricyclic antidepressants, and seems to be more effective than bupropion.

Non-stimulants may be prescribed if you do not respond to stimulants, if side effects of stimulants are too great, if you have a history of certain heart conditions, or if you have a history of drug abuse or bipolar disorder.


Atomoxetine (Brand Name: Strattera) is the first non-stimulant medication that has been FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD in adults and children over the age of 6. Atomoxetine is in the class of medications known as selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Studies have found that this drug improves symptoms of ADHD and reduces oppositional and defiant behavior and anxiety.

Atomoxetine differs from the stimulant medications in several ways. Atomoxetine does not seem to have a potential for abuse and thus is not classified as a controlled substance. It also appears to have a longer onset of action as compared to the stimulants, which work on the day they are taken, meaning that the therapeutic effect of stimulants may be more quickly noticeable as compared to atomoxetine.

It could take at least 6 weeks for atomoxetine to reach maximal therapeutic effect. Once maximal effects are reached, however, they last 24 hours a day and may also have carry-over effects to the next day. Atomoxetine must be taken on a daily basis, whereas doses of stimulants may be skipped—over the weekend, for example.

Side effects of atomoxetine may include stomachaches, weight loss due to decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, increased heart rate and blood pressure, agitation, and irritability.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

The tricyclic antidepressants most frequently used in the treatment of ADHD include desipramine (brand name: Norpramin), imipramine (Tofranil), and amitriptyline (Elavil), and nortriptyline (Pamelor). These antidepressants are typically tried when you haven't shown good response to stimulants. They may also be prescribed if you have symptoms of depression or anxiety in addition to ADHD. Tricyclic antidepressants, like stimulants, are thought to increase the amount of norepinephrine in the brain. Unlike stimulants, it may take several days or even several weeks to see the therapeutic benefits of the tricyclic antidepressants, but once this level is reached, benefits last throughout the day. Tricyclic antidepressants need to be taken daily. Missing a dose or stopping the medicine abruptly may cause aches and flu-like symptoms, so if you're going to go off the medication, you should be tapered off gradually over a period of time.

Common side effects of the tricyclic antidepressants may include, drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, stomachaches, headaches, vivid dreams, and insomnia.

More serious side effects may include problems with heartbeat or heart rhythm, as tricyclic antidepressants can slow down the transmission of the electrical signal to the heart. If there is a family history of heart problems or you have any heart problems, these medications should be used with caution and close medical monitoring. Tricyclic antidepressants may also increase the risk of seizures in patients with a history of seizure disorder. As with all medications, the use of tricyclic antidepressants requires close monitoring and consultation with the prescribing doctor.


Bupropion (brand name: Wellbutrin) is a different type of antidepressant that has been found to reduce symptoms of ADHD and depression in many patients.

Side effects may include irritability, weight loss due to decreased appetite, insomnia, and a worsening of existing tics, and may make some individuals more prone to seizures.


Venlafaxine (brand name: Effexor) is sometimes used to treat ADHD. It helps with concentration and mood. Side effects can include tremor, sleep issues, dry mouth, sexual problems in adults, nausea, and anxiety.

Anti-Hypertensive Drugs

In addition to the above drugs, Clonidine (brand name: Catapres) and guanfacine (brand name: Tenex), are sometimes used to help manage ADHD symptoms. Both these medicines were originally used to treat high blood pressure, but they have also been found to be helpful in reducing hyperactivity and impulsive symptoms. They do not appear to be as effective in improving symptoms of inattention and are usually only used to treat ADHD when you can't tolerate or don't respond to Strattera or stimulants.


Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Medication Management. National Resource Center on ADHD. 2017.

Cleveland Clinic. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Nonstimulant Therapy (Strattera) & Other ADHD Drugs. Updated July 18, 2016.