Drugs to treat ADHD in children and adults

In addition to behavioral therapy, drugs to treat ADHD are very helpful in reducing impulsivity and ADHD, as well as increasing concentration and attention. Let’s find out what prescription drugs are available to people with ADHD to make them feel better and improve their symptoms.


Stimulant drugs are the most commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of ADHD and have been found to be very effective in relieving the symptoms of ADHD. Stimulants increase the levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This can improve the inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity of ADHD patients.

Although stimulants are the classic drug of choice for ADHD and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of children, many people either cannot tolerate stimulant therapy or do not respond to it. In addition, some people respond to one stimulant but not to another.

Some common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Increased anxiety
  • irritability

Less common side effects that may occur include:

  • Mild stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Slight increase in blood pressure and heart rate
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It is helpful to understand and predict these side effects because they can affect your adherence or willingness to medications. If you do experience any side effects of stimulant medications, please discuss with your doctor. In addition, please pay attention to safety and do not stop or change the drug dosage without medical guidance.

Stimulants can take many forms, such as short-acting and long-acting drugs. Sustained-release stimulants are those that provide longer-lasting, sustained drug levels. They dissolve slowly and release the drug over time. Older immediate-release forms require the medication to be taken every three to five hours.

Some stimulant drugs for ADHD include:

  • Adderall (amphetamine, dextroamphetamine)
  • Concerta or Daytrana (methylphenidate)
  • Desoxyn (methamphetamine)
  • Dexedrine or Zenzedi (dextroamphetamine)
  • Focalin (dex methylphenidate)
  • Metadate CD, Methylin, Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)


The FDA has approved a non-stimulant drug called Strattera (tomoxetine) for the treatment of ADHD in children, adolescents and adults-it is actually the first drug approved by the FDA to treat ADHD in adults.

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Strattera is a good choice for people who cannot tolerate or take stimulants to treat ADHD. This is also a good choice for people who are at risk of abusing or relying on stimulant drugs.

The side effects of Strattera are similar to stimulant drugs, although they tend to be milder. These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • irritability
  • sleep disorder
  • Dizziness
  • stomach ache
  • fatigue

Other drugs

Sometimes a person does not respond to ADHD stimulants or Strattera, or the side effects are unbearable. In these cases, doctors may try another drug, such as clonidine or guanfacine, which has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of children and adolescents in the United States. If a person can tolerate stimulants, in addition to stimulants, clonidine or guanfacine can also be given to increase its effects.

In 2021, the FDA also approved a new non-stimulant drug for ADHD in children and adolescents (6 to 17 years of age). Qelbree (viloxazine) is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and a sustained-release drug.

Less commonly, a doctor may prescribe a drug, such as the antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) to treat ADHD. Bupropion has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of ADHD-which means that there is not enough scientific data to support its effectiveness and safety in the treatment of ADHD.

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What this means to you

ADHD can be effectively treated with behavioral therapy and/or medication. That being said, it is important for people who are taking ADHD medication to see a doctor regularly.

Make sure your doctor or healthcare professional has specialized experience with ADHD. This ensures that you will get valuable input from knowledgeable sources who can better answer your questions about different types of treatments.

ADHD discussion guide

Get our printable guide to make an appointment for your next doctor to help you ask the right questions.

The benefits, side effects, and dosages of drugs need to be carefully monitored to ensure your safety and optimize your health. If you are starting a new medicine (or are already taking medicine), be sure to communicate with your doctor about any side effects, no matter how minor.