All About ADHD Medications

Health Writer
Thinkstock

There are numerous medications used to treat ADHD. Traditionally, stimulant medication was the primary treatment, however, today there are also non-stimulant medications. In some cases, antidepressants or high blood pressure medication have also been found to be helpful.

Amphetamine based ADHD medications

There are a few different active ingredients in the amphetamine class of medications: amphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine and lisdexamfetamine. These medications help to increase attention and decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity. Medications in this category include:

  • Adderall and Adderall XR
  • Dexedrine
  • Evekeo
  • ProCentra
  • Zenzedi
  • Vyvanse

The effects of amphetamine medications can last anywhere from four hours to 12 hours, depending on whether it is short-acting, long-acting or extended release. Your doctor can help you decide which is best for you.

Side effects of amphetamine based ADHD medications can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Tics

Side effects often disappear after taking the medication for a few weeks. If your side effects continue or if they are interfering with your daily function, talk to your doctor.

Methylphenidate based ADHD medications

Medications containing methylphenidate are central nervous system stimulant medications. These medications help to increase attention and decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity. Medications included in this category are:

  • Concerta
  • Daytrana patch
  • Focalin, Focalin XR
  • Metadate ER, Metadate CR
  • Methylin, Methylin ER
  • Quillivant
  • Ritalin, Ritalin SR, Ritalin LA

Most methylphenidate based medications are available as long-acting. While these are convenient, they can increase side effects, especially with appetite and sleep problems.

Side effects of methylphenidate based medications are similar to those of amphetamine based medications and include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Tics

Not everyone experiences side effects from these medications. Many people use these medications daily without experiencing any significant problems.

Non-stimulant medications for ADHD

Some people either can’t or prefer not to take stimulant medications. Non-stimulant medications.affect the neurotransmitters in the brain and can provide relief from ADHD symptoms. They are taken once per day and the effect lasts for 24 hours, however, you might need to continue to take them for several weeks before seeing the effects.  The two non-stimulant medications available are:

  • Strattera
  • Intuniv

As with stimulants, non-stimulant medication can interfere with sleep. Other side effects include:

  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth

In addition, Intuniv can cause low blood pressure and heart rhythm changes.

Using blood pressure medications to treat ADHD

Clonidine, Catapres and Kapvay are blood pressure medications which can help to increase attention and decrease impulsivity. These can be used alone or in combination with stimulant medications to boost their effectiveness.

Side effects of blood pressure medications can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability
  • Low blood pressure

If you are taking one of these medications, you should not stop taking it without first talking to your doctor. Stopping it suddenly can result in spikes to your blood pressure.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants have not been approved by the FDA to treat symptoms of ADHD, however, because depression is a common comorbid condition, some people are prescribed antidepressants. Many antidepressants are not recommended for children under the age of 17 because they can cause suicidal thoughts in children.

For more information on ADHD treatments:

Frequently Asked Questions About ADHD Medications

Is it Safe to Use ADHD Medication Long-term?

Tips for Managing Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Pros and Cons of Using Strattera

Treating ADHD: When Stimulant Medications Don’t Work