ADD Medication for Adults

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (previously known as ADD) is a neurological condition that begins in childhood. About 10% to 60% of early ADHD cases progress into adulthood. But while children display serious signs of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity—adults have less intense symptoms of the condition. In particular, behaviors like hyperactivity tend to decrease over time in older people with ADHD. 

Despite having decreased and less intense symptoms, adults with this disorder still require treatment to manage the disruptions lived with on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, daytime sleepiness, poor academic performance, and social functioningare just some of the negative ways this condition affects well-being. 

To improve symptoms, drugs are first-line treatments prescribed by healthcare providers to care for this disorder. Read on to learn about different ADHD medications for adults, and how they improve symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

Experiencing trouble with attention, getting easily distracted, and showing impulsive traits are the broad symptom categories of ADHD. 

This condition may be suspected when a person routinely displays the following behaviors:

  • Challenges with getting started on duties
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Noticeable difficulties with organization and prioritizing tasks
  • Difficulty sustaining focus on tasks that require extended concentration
  • Prone to impulsive behavior
  • Other psychiatric disorders in some patients
  • Substance abuse in patients

People with ADHD may also speak excessively, forget routine obligations, and will often interrupt others during conversations. More symptoms include fidgeting, being prone to losing things, or even struggling to engage quietly in leisurely activities. This condition can affect personal and professional affairs. It may also create a wedge in relationships.

Medications for ADHD

When managing ADHD in adults, drugs are prescribed to enhance attention, boost academic achievements, and improve memory. Medication may also improve mental activity, decrease attention, and limit aggressive behavior. 

Two forms of medication are used to manage ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulant Medication

Stimulant medications have been used for decades to manage ADHD. They include:

Approximately two percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 44 used stimulants for ADHD in 2010. These drugs work by increasing neurotransmitter levels in the brain—particularly dopamine. Dopamine is associated with motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement. Around 70% of adults with this condition report improvement in symptoms after starting these drugs.

These stimulants improve focus in people with ADHD. They are also beneficial for impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. 

Stimulants are broadly classified into short and long-lasting medications:

  • Short-lasting stimulants: These medications are usually taken two to three times a day. Short-acting stimulants have immediate-release formulations—they require around 30-45 minutes after use to impact behavior.These drugs will usually peak within one to two hours and will disappear from the body after five hours. For a full day’s management of ADHD, two to three short-acting stimulants may be required. 
  • Long-lasting stimulants: These drugs are developed to go into effect gradually and to wear off over time following use. Around 49% of adults have prescriptions for long-acting stimulants. These medications are ideal for people that have a hard time remembering to use short-acting drugs at different points of the day. There is also a reduced potential for abuse.

Intermediate treatments also exist. They include medications like Metadate CD and Metadate ER.

Non-Stimulant Medication

Non-stimulant medication is suitable for the 30% of patients that do not respond properly to stimulant medication. Non-stimulants are considered less effective than stimulating counterparts so they are usually a second or third-line treatment for managing ADHD symptoms.

Non-stimulant treatments include tricyclic antidepressants, non-tricyclic antidepressants, specific norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors, alpha-2 noradrenergic agonists, non-schedule stimulants, and others. 

Strattera (atomoxetine) is a non-stimulant medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This drug influences norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter important for energy and attentiveness. By acting as a norepinephrine inhibitor, atomoxetine helps to increase the levels of this chemical messenger in the body.

Qelbree (viloxazine) was also recently approved to treat ADHD in adults. It is also a non-stimulant selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI). 

Side Effects of ADD Medication

Like other drug treatments, ADHD medication may produce adverse effects when administered. 

These side-effects are listed below.

Side Effects of Stimulants

  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tic development
  • Irritability
  • Severe depression

While studies remain inconclusive, there are chances that stimulants increase the risk of abuse. These drugs are also associated with growth suppression in users. 

In addition to side effects, special care is required when looking to begin stimulant medication. In particular, people with the following conditions should steer clear of this treatment:

Side Effects of Non-Stimulants

When using non-stimulants like atomoxetine, caution is required to manage possible side effects. 

These adverse reactions include:

  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness

Side-effects associated with these drugs are typically mild or moderate. 

A Word From Verywell

ADHD is a condition that can have a strong effect on the quality of daily life. Finding the right treatment methods to manage this condition is very important for personal, professional, and social welfare. When looking to get ADHD under control, a healthcare provider should be consulted to prescribe suitable medication, plus other accompanying treatment methods.

12 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.
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By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.