Medications for adults living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be stimulants and non-stimulants. Doctors may also prescribe certain other medications off-label.
According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), more than 75% of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are likely to have symptoms persist into adulthood. Adults may be calmer but still have trouble with organization and impulsivity.
Some ADHD medications that are used to treat ADHD in children can help control symptoms that linger into adulthood. In this article, we’ll go over the different types of ADHD medication, as well as other management techniques.
Stimulant and nonstimulant medications are used to treat ADHD. Stimulants are considered the first-line choice for treatment. They help adjust the levels of two chemical messengers in your brain called norepinephrine and dopamine.
Stimulants increase the amounts of norepinephrine and dopamine that are available to your brain. This allows you to increase your focus. It’s thought that norepinephrine causes the main action, and dopamine reinforces it.
Stimulants that can be used to treat adult ADHD include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) as well as amphetamine compounds like:
- amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
- dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
- lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
Atomoxetine (Strattera) is the first nonstimulant drug approved to treat ADHD in adults. It’s a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, so it works to increase levels of norepinephrine only.
Although atomoxetine seems to be less effective than stimulants, it also seems to be less addictive. It’s still effective and a good option if you can’t take stimulants. You only have to take it once per day, which also makes it convenient. It can be used for long-term treatment if necessary.
In 2022, a new nonstimulant option was approved by the FDA for both adults and children over 6 years of age. Viloxazine (Qelbree) has been used as an antidepressant in the UK since the 1970s and is available as a once-a-day pill.
A 2021 clinical trial examining the use of viloxazine in adolescents 13 to 17 years old noted “statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement” in both inattention and hyperactivity and noted that the medication was generally well tolerated.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t officially approved antidepressants for adult ADHD. But some doctors may prescribe antidepressants as an off-label treatment for adults with ADHD that appears alongside other mental health conditions.
Learn more about the connection between ADHD and depression.
Bupropion is also known by its brand name, Wellbutrin. It increases the level of the chemical messenger dopamine. It also slightly increases your level of norepinephrine.
Your doctor may prescribe bupropion to treat your ADHD if you also have depression or use nicotine.
Guanfacine and clonidine
Guanfacine is sold under the brand name Tenex or Intuniv. Clonidine is sold as Catapres. They help regulate the part of your brain that controls your ability to pay attention.
Your doctor may prescribe guanfacine or clonidine to treat your ADHD if you also have tics or anxiety. They both take several weeks to work.
Clonidine may reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity but not inattention. It may be particularly helpful if you have Tourette syndrome.
Guanfacine has less of a sedating effect than clonidine. It lasts longer than clonidine and also helps you focus.
Regardless of what drug you and your doctor decide is best to treat your ADHD, it’s important to know the side effects. Carefully go over any medication prescribed to you with your doctor and pharmacist. Look over the labels and literature.
Stimulants can decrease appetite. They also can lead to headaches and sleeplessness.
Check the packaging of antidepressants. These drugs often include warnings about irritability, anxiety, insomnia, or mood changes.
Don’t use stimulant drugs and atomoxetine if you have:
- structural heart problems
- high blood pressure
- heart failure
- heart rhythm problems
Medication is only half the picture of treatment for adult ADHD.
You can also find calm and focus by setting up your environment effectively. Computer programs can help you organize your daily schedule and contacts. Try designating specific spots to store your keys, wallet, and other items.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, may help you find ways to become better organized and to develop study, work, and social skills that help keep you more focused. A therapist can help you work on time management and ways to curb impulsive behavior.