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Drug Treatment of ADHD

Medication therapy is an important component of treating ADHD. There are many types of drugs that can be used to control symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD medications are available in short-acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. It may take some time for a doctor to find the most effective drug, dosage, and schedule for someone with ADHD.

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Stimulants for ADHD

A class of drugs called psychostimulants or stimulants have been used to effectively treat ADHD for several decades. These medicines help those with ADHD to focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. Stimulant medications are effective in 70% to 80% of patients.

Stimulants are used to treat both moderate and severe ADHD. They may be helpful in children, adolescents, and adults who are having difficulty with ADHD symptoms at school or at work, as well as at home. Some stimulants are approved for use in children over age 3, while others are approved for children over age 6. 

 A list of stimulant drugs to treat ADHD includes:

 Note that only some of these stimulants, like Adderall XR, Concerta, Vyvanse, Quillivant XR, and Focalin XR, are FDA-approved for use in adults.

Nonstimulant Drugs Approved to Treat ADHD

In cases where stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, nonstimulants might help. The first nonstimulant medication approved by the FDA was Strattera. It's now used in children, adolescents, and adults. The FDA then approved a second nonstimulant drug, Intuniv, for children and teens between ages 6 and 17 and recently approved the non-stimulant Kapvay for use alone or in combination with a stimulant to enhance effectiveness. These medications can all improve concentration and impulse control.

What Other Medications Are Used to Treat ADHD?

When stimulants and nonstimulants are not effective or well-tolerated or when certain conditions are present, several other medications are available to treat ADHD. These medications include:

Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD sometimes have side effects, but these tend to happen early in treatment and are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Decreased appetite/weight loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Jitteriness

Rarely, medications for ADHD can cause more serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions like depression, psychosis, or anxiety. So, before you or your children start taking any ADHD medication, make sure you talk to a doctor about your medical and family history, as well as discuss the potential risks.

In most cases, side effects can be relieved using one of the following strategies:

  • Changing the medication dosage
  • Adjusting the schedule of medication
  • Using a different medication

Always consult your health care provider before making any changes in your ADHD treatment regimen.

 

 

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 21, 2014
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