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As an adult, ADHD symptoms can affect every aspect of your life -- undermining your performance at work, your relationships, and your self-esteem.

The good news is that adults with ADHD have a lot of effective treatments options, including ADHD medications. But if you've just been diagnosed, you probably have a lot of questions about treatment. Which approach will work best? What are the risks? Here are some answers that every adult with ADHD needs to know.

Understanding Adult ADHD

While often thought of as a condition that only children have, ADHD can persist into adulthood, affecting about 10 million to 12 million adults in the U.S. Most are never diagnosed, and at least 75% of them aren't receiving any treatment.

What are some adult ADHD symptoms?

  • Poor attention
  • Restlessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Disorganization
  • Tendency to lose things
  • Procrastination
  • Trouble finishing tasks
  • Forgetfulness

ADHD can have severe consequences. Without treatment, adults with ADHD are more likely to:

  • Be unemployed or underemployed
  • Earn a lower salary
  • Abuse substances
  • Get in serious car accidents
  • Get divorced or separated

While there is no cure for ADHD, treatments can keep it under control.

ADHD Medication

Medication is a standard adult ADHD treatment. Here are answers to some important questions about ADHD drugs.

  • What drugs are available? The FDA has approved five medications for adult ADHD. Four are stimulants: Adderall XR, Focalin XR, Vyvanse, Quillivant XR, and Concerta. There's also one approved non-stimulant medication, Strattera. In some cases, doctors may use other medicines that are not specifically approved for ADHD. These include ADHD drugs that are used for children, as well as some antidepressants and certain blood pressure medicines.
  • How well do they work? Very well, experts say. They also work very quickly -- within a few days you should see an effect.
  • What are the side effects? Side effects are generally mild and include insomnia, upset stomach, appetite loss, and irritability. Most symptoms will fade over time. ADHD medications also pose a small increased risk of more serious problems, especially to those with underlying health issues. People with heart problems, high blood pressure, other psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, or any other medical condition should discuss the risks with their doctors before starting ADHD medication.
  • What if ADHD drugs don’t help? There are a number of things your doctor can try. He or she will probably change the dose first. If that doesn't help, you could go onto a different ADHD medication. For reasons that can’t be predicted, some people do well on one medicine but not another. Finding the best fit can take some trial and error.
  • Are there other options besides ADHD medications? Talk it over with your doctor. Just keep in mind that many studies have shown that drugs are by far the most effective ADHD treatment.

It's possible you may need other medicines. As many as 40% of adults with ADHD have overlapping or comorbid psychiatric disorders, like anxiety disorders or depression. These conditions may need treatment with medications, too.