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ADHD Medications and Side Effects

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 09, 2021

Medication is an important part of your ADHD treatment. Doctors can choose from many types of drugs 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 find the best combination.

Medications may not work for all ADHD symptoms or affect everyone the same way. A combination of medication, therapy, behavior changes, and skills training is often the most effective treatment. This is called multimodal treatment.

The ones most widely used to treat ADHD include:

  • Stimulants. 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 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.
  • Non-stimulants. In cases where stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, non-stimulants might help. These medications can improve symptoms like concentration and impulse control.
  • Antidepressants. People with ADHD often have depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder too. They may take an antidepressant to control mental health issues or other conditions along with a stimulant for ADHD.

Types of Short-Acting Stimulants and Side Effects

Side effects of short-acting stimulants include loss of appetite, weight loss, sleep problems, crankiness, and tics. You have to take them often.

The FDA has issued a warning about the risk of drug abuse with amphetamine stimulants. FDA safety advisers are also concerned that all amphetamine and methylphenidate stimulants used for ADHD may make heart and psychiatric problems more likely.

Drug Name
Brand Name
Duration
4-6 hours
Dextroamphetamine
Zenzedi
3-4 hours
Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine
4-6 hours
Dexmethylphenidate
4-6 hours
Methylphenidate
Methylin, Ritalin
3-4 hours

Types of Intermediate and Long-Acting Stimulants and Side Effects

Side effects of these medications include loss of appetite, weight loss, sleep problems, crankiness, and tics. Long-acting medicines may have greater effects on appetite and sleep. The FDA warns about the risk of drug abuse with amphetamine stimulants. FDA safety advisers are also concerned that all amphetamine and methylphenidate stimulants used for ADHD may make heart and psychiatric problems more likely.

Drug Name
Brand Name
Duration
Notes
Amphetamine sulfateDyanavel8-12 hoursOral solution/liquid
Amphetamine sulfateEvekeo6 hours 
DextroamphetamineDexedrine Spansule6-8 hours 
Dextroamphetamine and amphetamineAdderall XR8-12 hours 
Dextroamphetamine and amphetamineMydayis12 hours 
6-10 hours
 
10-12 hours
 
10-12 hours
Chewable tablet
MethylphenidateAptensio XR10-12 hours 
MethylphenidateConcerta8-12 hours 
MethylphenidateCotempla XR ODT8-12 hoursOral disintegrating tablet/dissolvable
MethylphenidateDaytrana transdermal patchUp to 10 hoursMay cause skin irritation or discoloration
MethylphenidateMetadate CD,Ritalin LA8-10 hours 
MethylphenidateMetadate ER,Methylin ER6-8 hours 
MethylphenidateRitalin SR4-8 hours 
MethylphenidateQuillichew ER

12 hours

Chewable tablet
MethylphenidateQuillivant XR10-12 hoursOral solution/liquid
Serdexmethylphenidate and dexmethylphenidateAzstarys24 hoursCapsules which can be taken apart and sprinkled

 

Types of Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications and Side Effects

Non-stimulant medications usually take a while to start working. It could be several weeks before you feel the full effects. Also, they may not work as well as stimulants. Some non-stimulant medications may raise the risk of suicidal thoughts and death by suicide in teens. The FDA warns that anyone taking atomoxetine (Strattera) should be monitored for suicidal thoughts, especially during the first few weeks. Common side effects of these drugs include fatigue, upset stomach, dry mouth, and nausea. Your blood pressure often rises when you stop taking them.

Drug Name
Brand Name
Duration
Notes
24 hours
Sleep problems, anxiety, fatigue, upset stomach, dizziness, dry mouth. Although rare, can cause liver damage. Higher risk of suicide in adults ages 18-24.
4-6 hours
Fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, crankiness, behavior problems, low blood pressure. Stopping this medicine suddenly can result in high blood pressure.
Clonidine
Up to 7 days
Fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, crankiness, behavior problems, low blood pressure. Stopping this medicine suddenly can result in high blood pressure.
12 hours
Fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, crankiness, behavior problems, low blood pressure. Stopping this medicine suddenly can result in high blood pressure.
24 hours
Fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, crankiness, behavior problems, low blood pressure. Stopping this medicine suddenly can result in high blood pressure.
GuanfacineTenex6-8 hoursFatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, crankiness, behavior problems, low blood pressure. Stopping this medicine suddenly can result in high blood pressure.
ViloxazineQelbree12 HoursTiredness, sleepiness, cnausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, irritability, decreased appetite

 

Types of Antidepressant ADHD Medications and Side Effects

These medications can be used off-label to treat ADHD symptoms. That means doctors can prescribe them even though they haven’t been approved by the FDA for use with ADHD, Side effects often include trouble sleeping, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, sweating, and changes in sex drive. The FDA has also warned about a connection between antidepressants and a higher risk of suicide in adults ages 18-24, especially in the first 1 or 2 months.

Drug Name
Brand Name
Duration
Notes
4-5 hours
Headaches. Although rare, may make you more likely to have seizures.
12 hours
Headaches. Although rare, may make you more likely to have seizures.
24 hours
Headaches. Although rare, may make you more likely to have seizures.
8-24 hours
Not recommended for children. Associated with rare cases of fatal heart problems.
8-24 hours
Anxiety, fatigue, upset stomach, dizziness, dry mouth, higher heart rate, risk of heart arrhythmias.
NortriptylineAventyl, Pamelor8-24 hoursAnxiety, fatigue, upset stomach, dizziness, dry mouth, higher heart rate, risk of heart arrhythmias.

 

ADHD Medicines and Safety

Experts generally consider these medicines safe when they are monitored properly by a professional. Serious problems are rare. Discuss the risks and benefits of these drugs with your doctor.

Treatment for ADHD and Other Conditions

Up to 80% of people with ADHD also have another mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and substance use disorders. These issues and their treatment can affect ADHD, and vice versa. For example, some stimulant medications can make anxiety symptoms worse. But your doctor can often safely combine treatments for depression and ADHD. Your treatment plan will depend on your overall mental health.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “FDA Directs ADHD Drug Manufacturers to Notify Patients about Cardiovascular Adverse Events and Psychiatric Adverse Events.” 

FDA: “FDA Proposes New Warnings about Suicidal Thinking, Behavior in Young Adults Who Take Antidepressant Medications.”

National Resource Center on ADHD: “Managing Medication for Adults with ADHD.” 

National Resource Center on ADHD: “Medications Used in the Treatment of ADHD.”

Pliszka, S. and the AACAP Study Group, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2007.

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

Intuniv website.

UpToDate: “Approach to treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults,” “Pharmacology of drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents.”

CHADD: “Medication Management.”

Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services: “Stimulant and Related Medications:Use in Pediatric Patients.”

National Institutes of Health: “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.”

CDC: “Dealing with ADHD: What You Need to Know.”

Mayo Clinic: “Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children,” “Clonidine (Oral Route),” “Guanfacine (Oral Route).”

FDA.

American Family Physician: “Multimodal Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children.”

BMC Psychiatry: “Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach.”

Anxiety & Depression Association of America: “Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Psychiatry: “Major Depression with ADHD.”

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