Antidepressants for Adult ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 19, 2021

A lot of adults with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) take stimulant drugs to manage their symptoms. But if you don't get better with those medicines, or you don’t like how they make you feel, your doctor may suggest you try an antidepressant.

Stimulants like dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Ritalin) don't work perfectly for everyone. Your symptoms might not improve or you may get side effects like an upset stomach, problems with sleeping, or nervousness.

How Antidepressants Can Help With ADHD Symptoms

Like stimulants, antidepressant drugs raise your brain's levels of chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Doctors have found that these drugs can help people with ADHD improve their attention span. They also help keep a lid on behavior like being impulsive, hyperactive, or aggressive.

Some adults with ADHD also have depression and anxiety. Antidepressant drugs might be an option if that's your situation, since they can treat these conditions as well ADHD.

Types of Antidepressants for Adult ADHD

Although doctors prescribe antidepressants to treat ADHD, the FDA hasn't specifically approved them for that purpose. Your doctor may suggest one of four types:

The right antidepressant for you depends on your specific symptoms and other health problems.

Keep in mind that antidepressants take between 2 and 4 weeks to start working. It's important to follow your doctor's instructions on how often to take them, even if you don't notice any change in symptoms at first.

When it comes to improving your concentration or attention span, antidepressants usually don't work as well as stimulants and other drugs made specifically to treat ADHD. But how well they work is an individual thing. For some folks with ADHD, antidepressants can be a big help.

Some people shouldn't take antidepressants. For instance, they may not be right if you have a history of manic behavior from bipolar disorder. Also, it's not a good idea to take Wellbutrin if you have had seizures or a history of epilepsy.

Side Effects of Antidepressants

The side effects can depend partly on the type of antidepressant drug you're taking.

For example, tricyclic antidepressants can cause side effects like a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure, as well as some heart issues. Wellbutrin can cause anxiety, headaches, and rashes. MAOIs can cause problems like gaining weight and trouble sleeping.

Antidepressants can also have side effects like an upset stomach and constipation. You could get drowsy, dizzy, sweaty, and have blurred vision. Other possible problems include:

Tell your doctor about any past medical problems, especially things like heart trouble, seizures, or high blood pressure, which can cause side effects for people taking some antidepressants.

Also, some antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms or other side effects if you miss a dose or don't take them exactly as prescribed. Make sure you follow your doctor's instructions when taking these drugs.

Show Sources


Cleveland Clinic: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy," "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy: Procedure Details," "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy: Risks / Benefits," "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Nonstimulant Therapy (Strattera) & Other ADHD Drugs."

Advances in Therapy: "Antidepressants in the treatment of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review."

Journal of Psychopharmacology: "The Use of Antidepressants to Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults."

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): "Medication Management."

American Family Physician: "Tricyclic Antidepressants for the Treatment of ADHD in Children and Adolescents."

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