- ADHD medications are a diverse set of prescription drugs that help people with ADHD to better manage their unwanted symptoms.
- ADHD medication is separated by stimulant and non-stimulant drugs. Stimulant-based ADHD medication treats symptoms by increasing dopamine, while non-stimulant drugs work to increase norepinephrine (adrenaline).
- The right dosage can often help reduce fidgeting, inattentiveness, and losing one’s train of thought in those with ADHD.
- Multimodal therapy is often a successful treatment option for people with ADHD; this treatment approach combines behavior therapies with ADHD medication management.
ADHD medications work to reduce ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, anxiety, and inattention. ADHD medications work primarily by interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain, equalizing or increasing the amounts of certain chemicals.
There’s no single type of ADHD medication that works for everyone, so it can take individuals a little time to find the right prescription with the help of their psychiatric provider. But once they receive the proper medication and dosage, many see an improvement in their symptoms.
How Are ADHD Medications Classified?
ADHD medications are categorized into two groups: Stimulants and non-stimulants.
Stimulants are primarily amphetamines and their derivatives. Stimulant drugs are the most widely used treatment for ADHD. Also worth noting is that around 30% of people with ADHD don’t see any improvements from taking stimulant-based ADHD medication. Stimulants work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain.
Non-stimulants may be prescribed because an individual doesn’t tolerate or see benefits from stimulant-based ADHD medication. In some cases, non-stimulant ADHD medication may also be prescribed for use alongside stimulants to treat symptoms simultaneously.
Non-stimulant ADHD medications function as selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. This drug class ensures the brain has an increased amount of norepinephrine (adrenaline). This helps people focus and regulate their mood without the use of amphetamines.
A special word from Dr. Scott Gordon, Chief Medical Officer at Thriveworks: “At Thriveworks, we do not prescribe stimulant medications to adults for the treatment of ADHD. This is because of their significant risk of abuse and the medical consequences that are associated such as high blood pressure, seizures and strokes when used not as prescribed. Stimulants are also currently the most widely abused prescription medications, even above opioids. As a result of these risks, non-stimulant medications are used at Thriveworks with great clinical success.”
What Is the Most Popular Medication for ADHD?
Methylphenidate is currently the most popular medication for ADHD and is a stimulant. Like other stimulants, it increases activity in areas of the brain associated with attention and behavior. Other popular stimulant-based ADHD medications include:
- Adderall XR (amphetamine)
- Dexedrine (amphetamine)
- Evekeo (amphetamine)
- Quillivant XR (methylphenidate)
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)
- Concerta (methylphenidate)
- Focalin XR (dexmethylphenidate)
Popular non-stimulant ADHD medications consist of:
- Catapres, Catapres-TTS, Duraclon, Jenloga, and Kapvay (clonidine hydrochloride)
- Intuniv and Tenex (guanfacine hydrochloride)
- Strattera (atomoxetine hydrochloride)
- Qelbree (viloxazine)
Can I Treat ADHD Without Medication?
For milder cases of ADHD (often in adults), treatment without medication is possible. For those who wish to counteract their ADHD symptoms without medication, finding a therapist who specializes in CBT or DBT (more on this later) could be beneficial. But typically a blended treatment approach of both medication and therapy works best for all age groups.
How Does ADHD Medication Make You Feel?
Many people with ADHD report that their medication helps reduce the symptoms of the condition so that they’re able to concentrate better, and may have better impulse control. Areas of daily life that were once challenging, such as accomplishing tasks, making moderated decisions, or getting restful sleep, are likely to become significantly easier
For example, when an individual’s ADHD medication starts working, they’ll be able to focus for longer periods of time than before. They might be able to finish a report or a stack of paperwork that was once difficult to sort through.
ADHD medication can help people become more productive, which can lessen the agitation and anxiety stemming from procrastination or wasted time. Someone with ADHD who receives the right dosage and medication may also interrupt people less often and fidget less frequently.
And instead of thought patterns that trampoline from one to the next, the right ADHD medication can help an individual follow a train of thought more effectively — without getting distracted by unwanted thoughts and stimuli.
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What Are the Side Effects of ADHD Medication?
ADHD medications sometimes come with side effects, particularly if they’re stimulant-based. Some of the most common issues individuals may experience are:
Stimulant-based ADHD medications commonly cause reduced appetite. This may just look like someone not eating because they’re not hungry, but in reality, the stimulant medication is suppressing their appetite. Over time, this can lead to unhealthy weight loss.
Headaches, Migraines, and Nausea
The body and brain need time to adjust to a new medication; as a result, headaches or nausea may in some instances develop during the first few weeks of starting a new ADHD medication. Migraines can develop in rare circumstances.
If the side effects become severe or don’t go away within the first few weeks, talk with your psychiatric provider, who might instruct you to take your medication with food, change your dosage, or find an alternative medication.
ADHD medication can potentially cause difficulty sleeping if the medication is still active during the evenings. This can be the case with extended-release ADHD medication (referred to as XR) If you’re prescribed an extended-release medication that causes sleeping issues, one that’s shorter-acting may be prescribed to you instead.
A “Rebound Effect”
A rebound effect refers to when an ADHD medication wears off, and the individual’s ADHD symptoms return, in some cases, more strongly than before. Rebound effects are usually caused by ADHD medication leaving brain receptors abruptly, giving the individual no time to adjust.
Like most other side effects from prescriptions, a rebound effect can be addressed and managed. A psychiatric provider will ask their client to observe when their ADHD medication begins to wear off. Judging from the individual’s experience, a small dose of the drug may be given about a half hour before the rebound usually occurs.
In other cases, a rebound effect may be caused by too small a dosage, or a different ADHD medication could be necessary. In yet other scenarios, a mood disorder can mimic rebound effect symptoms.
Particularly in children, stimulant-based ADHD medication may cause them to develop tics, which are repetitive movements or sounds that are uncontrollable. However, non-stimulant medications affect the brain differently and are less likely to cause tics in children.
In instances where an individual’s dosage is too high, this can cause anxiety, irritability, or mood swings. Some people experience changes in mood with stimulants at any dosage—so sometimes a non-stimulant drug is necessary to address changes in mood.
Others may find that a non-stimulant ADHD medication, combined with an antidepressant medication, helps control mood swings. Mood swings may also be a side effect of depressive disorders, which can often occur simultaneously with ADHD. Those with ADHD are at an elevated risk of developing depression.
Increased Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Those taking stimulant ADHD medication may experience a slight increase in their blood pressure and heart rate but rarely to a degree that is medically significant or dangerous.
Before taking any medication for ADHD, it’s important to tell your provider about any other medical condition you may be at risk for, or other medications you’re currently taking. Knowing your medical history (and your family’s mental and physical health history) also makes it easier for your psychiatric provider to find the ADHD medication that works best for you.
Typically, side effects can be minimized by ensuring you receive the proper type and dosage of your ADHD medication—something that you and your psychiatric provider will work closely together on.
Do ADHD Medications Have Long-Term Effects?
Contemporary psychiatric research remains inconclusive. Some studies indicate that the long-term negative effects of ADHD medication are limited to slightly decreased growth in children, but it’s unknown whether ADHD itself or prescribed medication causes this. The largest risk, as with any prescription, is posed by long-term misuse.
At present, no concrete evidence suggests that properly prescribed ADHD medication causes any significant long-term effects.
What Are 3 Treatments for ADHD?
Most individuals with ADHD require a multimodal mix of both medication and therapy (at least in the short term) to successfully treat their ADHD symptoms. With this in mind, there aren’t just three ADHD treatment strategies to choose from. Instead, an individualized treatment plan might involve combinations of several approaches that work together to reduce symptoms.
Below is a list of three treatment options commonly employed to help people with ADHD.
Medication is typically the cornerstone of an ADHD treatment plan. Providers have many types of drugs to help their clients control the symptoms of this disorder. Besides stimulants and non-stimulants, your psychiatric provider may prescribe you an antidepressant—many people with ADHD suffer from mood disorders, as well.
You and your provider will partner together to find the medication that fits your needs. This includes finding the right dosage, timing, and its effects (fast-acting or extended-release).
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
ADHD medication can be complemented with dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, especially in cases where the individual is struggling with their work and fulfilling day-to-day responsibilities. DBT helps to address specific problems and behaviors by teaching individuals how to restructure their time, identify harmful thought patterns or unhealthy coping mechanisms, navigate conflict, and build a healthier, happier lifestyle.
DBT works particularly well in scenarios where someone is dealing with significant distress as a result of their ADHD symptoms, such as:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The gold standard of behavioral therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a short-term and goal-focused form of counseling that may be used in conjunction with ADHD medication.
A therapist will help individuals with ADHD to:
- Identify and solve harmful behaviors
- Understand the underlying motives for their behaviors
- Develop realistic and sustainable ways to change their behavior
- Change the way the person feels about themselves and their ability to create positive outcomes
This approach is usually seen as the most effective therapeutic treatment for people with ADHD. Challenging (and changing) distorted thoughts, anxiety, and other emotional problems are all possible when CBT methods are implemented.
Does Caffeine Help with ADHD?
A few studies have looked at how coffee can affect ADHD symptoms, but the results have been mixed. Even though caffeine is a stimulant (and offers unique health benefits at the right dosage), it’s not generally recommended because it isn’t proven to be as effective as prescription medications are at treating ADHD symptoms.
The reason why coffee may offer small benefits to those who have ADHD is that caffeine increases wakefulness (like stimulants) but also increases the amount of adrenaline that your brain has. Coffee also stimulates dopamine production, a chemical that has been historically linked to feelings of pleasure while fighting off stress and agitation.
ADHD Medication and Other Treatment Options Can Be Personalized with Your Provider’s Help
There are many different ADHD medications available—and many therapy methods to help treat ADHD. By working with a provider, those with ADHD can find the right medication and dosage for themselves or for their children.
With personalized treatment and a productive client-provider relationship, people of all ages can find relief from their symptoms through ADHD medication and therapies.