A guide to ADHD medication
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that can cause changes in people’s behavior. A person with ADHD may seem restless and have difficulty concentrating and controlling their impulses.
Doctors may diagnose ADHD during childhood, but adults will sometimes receive a diagnosis.
Stimulants for ADHD
Stimulant drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD in children and teenagers. These drugs are short-acting, and their effects usually last around 4 hours. However, some newer drugs can last up to 12 hours.
Between 70–80% of people react positively to stimulant medications, but it is sometimes necessary to try a different dosage or medication before you notice an improvement in your symptoms.
It is important not to stop taking these medications or change the dosage without talking with your doctor first.
Here is a list of commonly prescribed stimulant drugs:
- Amphetamine (Evekeo): Amphetamines are taken daily. The dosage can vary from 12.5 milligrams (mg)–80 mg. In the short term, these drug types can help reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms.
- Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine): Also known as dexamphetamine, this drug and its effect can last up to 12 hours. Dextroamphetamine has a daily dosage that can vary between 5–40 mg. A 2022 study found that this type of drug is well-tolerated by children and teenagers and that helped improve their symptoms.
- Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin): This drug comes in tablets or long-acting capsules. Dexmethylphenidate increases the number of specific substances in your brain and can help manage ADHD symptoms.
- Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse): This daily drug has doses varying from 30–70 mg, and according to a 2017 review, demonstrates a consistent improvement in ADHD symptoms. The effect of its long-acting capsules can last up to 14 hours.
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta): This drug is either in tablet or capsule form. Concerta is a common extended-release form of methylphenidate.
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Nonstimulant ADHD drugs
Doctors prescribe nonstimulant drugs to improve concentration and manage impulses. However, it may take between 3–6 weeks before ADHD symptoms begin to improve. In some cases, doctors may prescribe nonstimulant drugs alongside stimulant ones to enhance their effect.
You should not suddenly stop taking these medications or change the dosage without first speaking with your doctor.
Here’s a list of commonly prescribed nonstimulant medications:
- Atomoxetine (Strattera): This drug can treat both children and adults with ADHD. The daily adult dosage is 40 mg for 3 days, then increased, if needed, to a maximum of 100 mg. For children, the dosage can vary from 0.5 mg per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) to 1.4 mg/kg or 100 mg, whichever is less.
- Clonidine (Kapvay): Clonidine is a medication doctors can prescribe for ADHD and hypertension as it reduces blood pressure and heart rate by relaxing blood vessels. Clonidine is available as tablets, injections, and transdermal patches. However, for ADHD, doctors only prescribe a 0.1-mg extended-release tablet.
- Guanfacine (Intuniv): Doctors prescribe this medication for children between 6–17 years. Similar to clonidine, guanfacine lowers your heart rate and blood pressure so it can help treat people with attention deficit or impulsivity. There is currently no sufficient evidence to guarantee the safety and efficiency of this drug for adults.
- Viloxazine (Qelbree): Viloxazine is an FDA-approved nonstimulant drug for children between 6–17 years. Doctors recommend a starting dose of 100 mg for children ages 6–11 and 200 mg for those ages 12–17. This daily medication has a maximum dosage of 400 mg.
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Doctors often prescribe bupropion for depression, but it can also help improve ADHD symptoms.
When to see a doctor
When you take ADHD medication, it’s important to meet with a doctor regularly so they can monitor your treatment.
You may also want to see a doctor if you have any side effects from your medication.
Sometimes, it may take some time before you start seeing the benefits of a new therapy. However, if after taking regular ADHD medications, you notice your symptoms worsening, contact a doctor.
People with ADHD may have difficulty focusing for prolonged periods or controlling their impulses, and doctors can recommend medications to improve these symptoms.
There are two general medications available for ADHD, known as stimulants and nonstimulants.
Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD. They are fast acting, but the effects do not last more than 14 hours.
Nonstimulant medications have a longer lasting effect. They can be prescribed alongside stimulant drugs, but it can usually take a few weeks before you notice initial improvements.
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- Castells X, et al. (2018). Amphetamines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6513464/
- Cutler AJ, et al. (2022). Efficacy and safety of dextroamphetamine transdermal system for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Results from a pivotal phase 2 study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8972004/
- Dexmethylphenidate. (2019). https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a603014.html
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- Methylphenidate for adults. (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/methylphenidate-adults/
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- Ota T, et al. (2021). Evaluating guanfacine hydrochloride in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adult patients: Design, development and place in therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8123957/
- Poitras D, et al. (2018). Guanfacine hydrochloride extended-release for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: A review of clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and guidelines. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537958/
- Saef MA, et al. (2022). Protriptyline. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499828/
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