Types of Stimulants Used to Treat ADHD


Ritalin Pills
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Medications may be used as an intervention for ADHD as a part of a larger treatment plan that may also include education, organizational strategies, behavior therapy, parent training, coaching, counseling, and support. Medications do not “cure” ADHD, rather they help reduce distractibility, improve focus and concentration, and decrease impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

Not every person with ADHD needs medication in order to function effectively. Many need medical interventions during certain periods of their lives and are then able to manage without medication. There is no shame associated with the use of medication to treat ADHD; it is simply one of several treatment options available.

How Stimulants Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Stimulants are the most commonly used medicine for the treatment and management of ADHD symptoms. Stimulants “stimulate” the brain to make slightly more of the neurotransmitters that help us focus, organize, plan and control impulses. Stimulants have been found to be effective in treating ADHD throughout the lifespan, so they may be effective for children, teens, and adults.

There has been some concern in the general public that stimulants may pose an increased risk for substance abuse. However, studies find that appropriate treatment of ADHD (which often includes the use of stimulants) actually reduces the risk of future substance abuse disorders. Substance abuse appears to be more prevalent in those with ADHD who do not receive treatment. Stimulants are generally considered safe and to be the most effective medication used to treat ADHD.

The most common side effects of stimulants include decreased appetite, headache, stomachache, irritability, and difficulty sleeping. These side effects mostly occur early on in treatment, but if they persist a simple adjustment of the time or dose of medicine is often helpful.

Types of Stimulants Used to Treat ADHD

Stimulants include methylphenidate and amphetamines. Generic class and brand names for stimulants are listed below:

Immediate-Release (short-acting) — Releases the stimulant medication immediately after ingestion. Duration of positive behavioral effects lasts approximately 3 to 6 hours depending on the specific stimulant taken. Often taken two to three times a day.

  • Methylphenidate (Brand names: Ritalin, Methylin, Metadate)
  • Dexmethylphenidate (Brand name: Focalin)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Brand name: Dextrostat, Dexedrine)
  • Mixed amphetamine salts (Brand name: Adderall)

Intermediate-Release (intermediate acting) — Has a slower onset of action. Lasts a little longer than the immediate release, approximately 4 to 8 hours depending on the specific stimulant taken. Often taken one to two times a day.

  • Methylphenidate (Brand names: Ritalin SR, Ritalin LA, Metadate ER, Metadate CD, Methylin ER
  • Dextroamphetamine (Brand name: Dexedrine Spansule)

Extended-Release (once-daily preparations) — Comprised of both the immediate and extended release preparations, so it not only releases the stimulant medication immediately after ingestion but also again approximately 4 to 6 hours later. Duration of positive behavioral effects lasts 10 to 12 hours. Taken once daily.

  • Methylphenidate (Brand name: Concerta)
  • Mixed amphetamine salts (Brand name: Adderall XR)
  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Brand name: Vyvanse)
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Article Sources
  • Russell Barkley. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment (Third Edition). Guilford Press. 2006.