ADHD Medication for Adults

Medication for ADHD

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If you are an adult who has been diagnosed with ADHD, either recently or when you were a child, you may be wondering if medication is right for you at this point in your life. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, many adults with ADHD find that medication can be an effective treatment option.

People with ADHD who take ADHD medication may find that it helps improve their quality of life. However, this is not a cure. Medication is most often used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes therapy and other lifestyle changes.

If you are considering taking medication for ADHD, it is important to work with a qualified mental health professional to make sure that it is the right decision for you. This article will provide an overview of some of the most common medications used to treat ADHD in adults.

How Medication Can Help Adults With ADHD

There are a number of ways that medication can help adults with ADHD:

  • Medication can improve focus and concentration, which can help individuals to be more productive at work or school.
  • Medication can help to reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity, which can improve an individual's ability to interact with others.
  • Medication can help to improve sleep and appetite.

ADHD medications can be one tool that helps improve quality of life. However, they should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other interventions. The goal of medication intervention for ADHD is to help the individual be the best version of themselves, not to change who they are or "fix" them.

Different Types of ADHD Medication Available

There are a number of different options available when it comes to ADHD medication for adults. The type of medication that is best for you will depend on your specific symptoms and biological factors such as genetics.

All medications come with risks for side effects, and if you experience a side effect that is intolerable, ask your prescriber about changing your medication to something that works better for you.

Some common medications used to treat ADHD in adults include:


Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed type of medication for ADHD. They work by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which can help to improve focus and concentration.

Common stimulants include the following:

Stimulant medication can be short-acting or long-acting. Short-acting medications enter your system quickly after they are taken, and long-acting (or extended-release) medications take longer to process. Some people are prescribed doses of both short and long-acting stimulants to address symptoms quickly while ensuring that the medication is effective for as long as they need.

While everyone's response to medication is slightly different, common side effects for stimulant medication include decreased appetite, irritability, sleep disturbance, and headaches, though research shows that these side effects are usually mild.


Non-stimulants are another option for ADHD medication. These drugs work by increasing the levels of norepinephrine in the brain, which can help with focus and concentration. Non-stimulants are recommended if you've found that stimulants have been unhelpful or if stimulants are not a good fit with other prescribed medications or existing medical conditions.

Common non-stimulants include the following:

  • Strattera (atomoxetine)
  • Intuniv (guanfacine)
  • Kapvay (clonidine hydrochloride)

Side effects of these medications include difficulty sleeping, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, and increased blood pressure.


Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat ADHD, especially if you also have symptoms of depression. In addition to treating comorbid depression, antidepressant medications can improve ADHD symptoms by impacting neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

Research has shown that antidepressant medication can help those with ADHD reduce impulsive and aggressive behaviors and increase attention span. These drugs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can help improve mood.

Common antidepressants include the following:

Antidepressant side effects include abnormal bleeding, cardiovascular issues, dry mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, and sexual side effects. In addition, in a small number of cases, SSRI medication can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, leading the FDA to implement a black box warning in 2004.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which type of ADHD medication is best for you. Stimulants are generally the first line of treatment, but if you cannot tolerate them or they are not effective, there are other options available. If you experience concerning side effects, let your prescriber know right away, and they can help you adjust and find the right medication and dosage to meet your needs.

How to Find the Right Medication and Dosage

It is important to work with your doctor to find the right medication and dosage for you. Everyone responds differently to medication, so it may take some trial and error to find the right one for you. It is also important to be patient when starting a new medication. It can take several weeks for the full effects of the medication to be seen.

Risks and Side Effects of ADHD Medication

There are some risks and side effects associated with ADHD medication. Common side effects include the following:

Some people may also experience more serious side effects, such as anxiety or depression. It is important to talk to your doctor about any potential side effects before and after starting a new medication.

Stimulant medications, in particular, have the potential for dependence. Non-stimulant medications can also cause dependence, although this is less common.

While people with ADHD have a higher lifetime risk for substance use disorders than those without ADHD, research has shown that stimulant treatment for ADHD does not increase the risk of dependence. In addition, prescribed stimulant medications are often not habit-forming.

Impulsivity and sensory-seeking behavior can increase the risk of substance dependence; however, stimulant treatment for ADHD reduces these symptoms in individuals with ADHD.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it is important to get help. There are a number of treatment options available for people with substance misuse problems.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Tips for Living Well With ADHD

There are a number of things you can do to help manage your ADHD and live well:

  • Seek community support. Connecting with other people who share your diagnosis can help you feel less alone. In addition, people can share different tips and tricks that helped them, which can help you discover what works best for you. CHADD is one organization for people with ADHD and their families that provides this community.
  • Find what works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and accommodations or tips that work for one person might cause problems for someone else. Notice what schedule, environment, or accommodations help you feel your best.
  • Move when you need to move. Many people with ADHD struggle with sitting or being still for long periods of time. You can use fidget toys or make a point of getting up and moving around frequently during the day to help with focus.
  • Try body doubling for productivity. Body doubling refers to having another person present while trying to complete a task. They do not have to help with the task, but their presence can help cue you to finish what you started.
  • Habit stack to get into routines. ADHD can make it difficult to make and stick to a routine, even though routine can help with executive functioning and impulse control. Habit stacking makes it easier to make and maintain routines.
  • Figure out your sleep schedule. Many people with ADHD struggle with getting adequate sleep and feeling rested. Finding out what sleep schedule and routine helps you feel rested can improve your relationship with sleep.

If you are considering medication for ADHD, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your options. Medication is not the only treatment available for ADHD, and it is okay if you decide it is not the right option for you. Even if you find medication helpful, other treatments, such as therapy, lifestyle changes, and support groups can also help.

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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.
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By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.

Originally written by
Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

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