Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

ADD & ADHD Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Stimulant Drugs for ADHD

Stimulant drugs are the most commonly used treatment for ADHD.

Stimulants are an effective way of managing ADHD symptoms, such as short attention span, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. They may be used alone or in combination with behavior therapy.

Recommended Related to ADD-ADHD

Aging and ADHD

ADHD doesn't just affect kids or young adults. If you're an older adult who often feels distracted and disorganized and struggles to complete tasks, it may be worth finding out if you've been living with undiagnosed ADHD. "I have patients in their 50s, 60s, and early 70s who were never diagnosed before and were prompted to consider ADHD after their child or grandchild got diagnosed. It's highly genetic," says David W. Goodman, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at...

Read the Aging and ADHD article > >

These drugs improve ADHD symptoms in about 70% of adults and 70% to 80% of children. They tend to reduce interruptive behavior, fidgeting, and other hyperactive symptoms, as well as help a person finish tasks and improve his or her relationships.

Improvements in behavior and attention span usually continue as long as the medication is taken, although benefits in social adjustment and school performance have not yet been shown to endure over the long term.

Stimulants are not considered to be habit-forming in the doses used to treat ADHD in children and adolescents, and there is no evidence that their use leads to drug abuse. Nonetheless, there is a potential for abuse and addiction with any stimulant medication, especially if a person has a history of substance abuse and addiction.

Common Stimulants for ADHD

There are many stimulants available to treat ADHD: short acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. Common stimulants include:

  • Adderall (intermediate-acting)
  • Adderall XR (long-acting)
  • Concerta (long-acting)
  • Dexedrine (short-acting)
  • Dexedrine spansule (intermediate-acting)
  • Daytrana (a patch that delivers the drug on a long- or shorter-acting basis)
  • Metadate CD (long-acting)
  • Metadate ER (intermediate-acting)
  • Methylin ER (intermediate-acting)
  • Ritalin (short-acting)
  • Ritalin LA (long-acting)
  • Ritalin SR (intermediate-acting)
  • Vyvanse
  • Quillivant XR (long-acting)

The short-acting forms of the drug are usually taken two or three times a day and the long-acting ones just once a day.

Newer forms of some stimulant drugs may reduce side effects and relieve symptoms for a longer period of time. They include Concerta (10-12 hour duration), Daytrana patch (7- 10 hours, depending on how long it is worn), Ritalin LA (6-8 hours), Metadate CD (6-8 hours), and Adderall XR (10-12 hours).

How Do Stimulants Work for ADHD?

For someone with ADHD, stimulants regulate impulsive behavior and improve attention span and focus by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which help transmit signals between nerves.

Who Should Not Take a Stimulant Drug?

People with any of the following conditions should not take stimulants:

  • Glaucoma (a condition that causes increased pressure in the eyes and can lead to blindness)
  • Severe anxiety, tension, agitation, or nervousness
  • Treatment with a type of medication called monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as Nardil or Parnate, within 14 days of starting stimulant therapy
  • People with motor tics or a personal or family history of Tourette's Syndrome
  • People who are psychotic or have a history of psychosis


What Are the Side Effects of Stimulants?

Common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased blood pressure

These typically resolve after a few weeks of treatment as the body adjusts to the medication.

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Justin Timberlake
brain food
Man distracted while working
young man holding book

concentration killers
Woman taking a vitamin or supplement
ADHD and Substance Abuse
Reduce Side Effects ADHD Medications

boy eating egg
smiling man
ADHD in Marriage and Romantic Relationships
Adult man lying awake in bed

WebMD Special Sections