Medications to Treat ADHD in Children and Adults

Stimulants and Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications

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

Stimulants to Treat ADHD

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 neurotransmitter 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 FDA-approved for treatment in children, about 10 to 30 percent of children and adults do not tolerate stimulant therapy or do not respond to it, according to a 2009 study in CNS Drugs. 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, and/or irritability. Mild stomach aches, nausea, blurry vision, and a slight increase in a  blood pressure and heart rate may occur.

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. 

There are a number of forms of stimulants available, like shorter and longer-acting medications. Extended release stimulants are those that provide 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 3 to 5 hours.

Types of stimulant medications for ADHD include:

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

Non-Stimulants to Treat ADHD

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a non-stimulant medication called Strattera (atomexetine) 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, and fatigue. 

Other Medications for ADHD

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 US for treatment in children and adolescents. If a person can tolerate stimulants, clonidine or guanifacine may also be given in addition to a stimulant to increase its effects.

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

What Does This Mean for Me if I or My Child Has ADHD?

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. Medication benefits, side effects, and dosages need to be carefully monitored to ensure your safety and optimization of your health. 

Sources:

De Sousa A & Kalra G. Drug therapy of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: current trends. Mens Sana Monogr. 2012 Jan-Dec;10(1):45-69.

National Institute of Mental Health. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-The Treatment of ADHD. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2006./p>

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Directs ADHD Drug Manufacturers to Notify Patients about Cardiovascular Adverse Events and Psychiatric Adverse Events. FDA News Release. Feb. 2007.

Wigal SB. Efficacy and safety limitations of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder pharmacotherapy in children and adults. CNS Drugs. 2009;23 Suppl 1:21-31.

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