Drug Treatments for ADHD

Medication is an important part of your ADHD treatment. Many types of drugs can be used to control symptoms of the disorder.

You and your doctor will work together to figure out which medication is right for you, along with the ideal dose (amount) and schedule (how often or when you need to take it). It may take some time to figure those things out.

Stimulants for ADHD

This group of drugs has treated ADHD for several decades. These medicines might help you focus your thoughts and ignore distractions. Stimulant meds work for 70% to 80% of people.

They’re used to treat both moderate and severe ADHD. They may be helpful for children, teens, and adults who have a hard time at school, work, or home. Some stimulants are approved for use in children over age 3. Others are approved for children over age 6.

Medications come in different forms:

  • Short-acting (immediate-release). These take effect quickly. They can wear off quickly, too. You may need to take these several times a day.
  • Intermediate-acting. These last longer than short-acting versions.
  • Long-acting forms. You might only need to take this kind once a day.

Stimulant medications include:

Nonstimulant Medications for ADHD

In cases where stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, nonstimulants might help. These medications can all improve concentration and impulse control.

Atomoxetine (Strattera) was the first nonstimulant medication approved by the FDA. It’s approved children, adolescents, and adults.

Clonidine hydrochloride (Kapvay) has also been approved for use alone or in combination with a stimulant to boost the effectiveness.

Guanfacine (Intuniv) is approved for children and teens between ages 6 and 17.

What Other Medications Might Help?

Several others are available to treat ADHD. Your doctor might have you try these if:

  • Stimulants and nonstimulants don’t work.
  • Simulants cause side effects that you can’t live with.
  • You have other medical conditions.

These medications include:


Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Stimulants sometimes have side effects, but those tend to happen early in treatment. They’re usually mild and short-lived. The most common ones include:

Rarely, ADHD meds can cause more serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are linked to an increased risk of heart and blood vessel problems. They may make psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, or psychosis worse. The same is true for other types of medications, such as antidepressants, used to treat ADHD. The skin patch for Daytrana has also been known to cause skin discoloration where the patch is applied.

So, before you or your children start taking any medication, talk to your doctor about your medical and family history, and ask about the risks. You’ll also need to let them know about any other medicines or vitamins you may be taking.

In most cases, side effects can get better if your doctor helps you:

  • Change the medication dose.
  • Adjust how often and when you take it.
  • Use a different medication.

Always talk to your doctor before making any changes in your ADHD medication. Changes can cause dangerous side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 12, 2016



Medscape: “Once-Daily Guanfacine Approved to Treat ADHD.”

Intuniv web site.

Attention Deficit Disorder Resources: “Medication Management for Adults with ADHD.”

Strattera web site.

WebMD Medical Reference: “Should My Child Take Stimulant Medications for ADHD? Medical Information.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Questions Raised about Stimulants and Sudden Death.”

HelpGuide.org: “ADD & ADHD Medications.”

News release, Pfrizer. 

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