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ADHD

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ADHD medication guide

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Jan 26, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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Looking for the right ADHD medication can be overwhelming—especially since there’s a wide range of medications available. It can be hard to know which one will work best for you with the fewest side effects. That’s where our ADHD medication guide comes in. Consider it your go-to resource to have those meaningful discussions with your mental healthcare provider. 

Inside our ADHD medication guide, we provide details about each medication, how it works, potential side effects, contraindications, and health warnings. With this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to work with your healthcare provider to find the perfect match for your needs.

With Klarity, you can book an online appointment within the next 48 hours and connect with a licensed provider who can determine the best medication for your symptoms and write a prescription. We’ll then send your Rx to your preferred pharmacy immediately so you can start your treatment as soon as possible.

Medication for ADHD symptom relief is a click away.
Find a provider and have an appointment in as little as 24 hours.

Schedule an appointment today to get prescribed the right ADHD medication for you (if applicable).

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Types of ADHD medication

There are two main types of ADHD medication: stimulant and non-stimulant. Non-stimulant medication has a lower risk of adverse effects. This means some people may prefer non-stimulants over stimulants if they have a heart condition or experience negative side effects like an increased heart rate, anxiety, or loss of appetite. 

That said, stimulants are most often prescribed to treat ADHD because they work for 70-80% of people who experience symptoms. Choosing the right medication will depend on your current symptoms, health history, and the recommendation of your healthcare provider.

Stimulant ADHD medication

Stimulant ADHD medications increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help improve focus and concentration. These medications can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, affecting sleep cycles and appetite. Some common stimulants include methylphenidate, amphetamines, and dextroamphetamine. 

Non-stimulant ADHD medication

Non-stimulant ADHD medications are typically the second or third option for treatment because they can take longer to work and aren’t as effective for everyone. 

Like stimulants, these non-stimulant medications increase levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and can be used as an alternative for those who do not respond well to stimulants. Common non-stimulants include Atomoxetine and Guanfacine. 

Stimulant ADHD medication options

There are several options for stimulant ADHD medication. These medications fall into three categories: Methylphenidate, Dextroamphetamine, and Amphetamine. 

Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate is the most commonly prescribed stimulant medication for ADHD. This stimulant is available in several brand names, including Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Metadate, and comes in different forms, from immediate-release tablets to extended-release tablets and capsules. 

Concerta

Concerta (methylphenidate in its generic form) is an extended-release tablet taken once daily and designed to last the entire day. Take this medication as prescribed to avoid habit formation and adverse side effects. You should not use Concerta if you have glaucoma, Tourette’s, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid, seizures, or severe anxiety. 

Side effects of Concerta include:

  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Mood changes 
  • Fast heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Focalin

Focalin (dexmethylphenidate in its generic form) is a mild stimulant that affects chemicals in the brain associated with hyperactivity and impulse control. This medication is an immediate-release or extended-release capsule typically taken once or twice a day, respectively. Common side effects of Focalin include loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, or fever. 

You should not take Focalin if you are allergic to dexmethylphenidate or methylphenidate. Avoid Focalin if you have a history of heart problems, a congenital heart defect, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease or sudden death. 

Metadate, Metadate CD, Metadate ER

Metadate (methylphenidate in its generic form) is a prescription medication used to treat symptoms of ADHD and Narcolepsy to help you pay attention, stay alert, and control impulsive behaviors. This medication comes in both immediate-release and extended-release capsules from 10 mg to 50 mg. 

Common side effects of Metadate include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Fast heart rate
  • Pounding heartbeats
  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache

You should not use Metadate if you have circulatory problems, heart issues, glaucoma, a history of Tourette’s, or severe anxiety.

Methylin, Methylin ER

Methylin (methylphenidate in its generic form) is used to treat ADHD and Narcolepsy and should be taken exactly as directed by your healthcare provider to avoid habit formation. This medication comes as an extended-release tablet, capsule, chewable tablet, and oral solution and should be taken as prescribed. 

Common side effects of Methylin include:

  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Mood changes
  • Fast heart rate
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Indigestion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

You should not take Methylin if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart issues, thyroid problems, a family history of tics or Tourette’s syndrome, or severe anxiety. 

Ritalin, Ritalin LA, Ritalin SR

Ritalin (methylphenidate in its generic form) is a stimulant used to treat ADHD and Narcolepsy as part of a total treatment program. Ritalin comes in immediate-release and extended-release capsules taken two to three times or once a day, respectively. This medication can be habit-forming, so taking it exactly as instructed by your healthcare provider is essential. 

Common side effects of Ritalin include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Mood changes (anxiety, feeling nervous)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain or indigestion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Do not take Ritalin if you experience heart issues, psychosis, circulatory problems, Glaucoma, high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid, family or personal history of muscle twitches or Tourette’s, or severe anxiety.  

Dextroamphetamine

Dextroamphetamine is another type of stimulant medication used to treat ADHD. This medication works by boosting the levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain to help you focus and concentrate better. Dextroamphetamine is available in several brand names, including Dexedrine and Adderall. 

Dexedrine

Dexedrine is prescribed to treat symptoms of ADHD and Narcolepsy, helping you pay attention, stay focused, control impulsivity, and stay awake during the day. It comes in extended-release capsules with dosages from 5 mg to 15 mg daily. Before taking Dexedrine, tell your care provider about any allergies or other medications you’re taking.

Common side effects of Dexedrine include:

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in sex drive or ability 

You should not take Dexedrine if you have glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, anxiety, or if you or anyone in your family has ever had an irregular heartbeat, depression, bipolar disorder, mania, tics, or Tourette’s Syndrome.

Dextroamphetamine Sulfate ER

Dextroamphetamine Sulfate treats ADHD and Narcolepsy, helping you pay attention, stay alert, and manage impulsive behaviors. This medication may also help you organize tasks and improve your listening skills. You’ll take this medication in capsule form typically once or twice a day, although it should be taken before noon, so there’s not much time to take it on a twice a day dosing schedule, depending on the recommendation of your care provider. 

Some common side effects of Dextroamphetamine Sulfate include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

You should not take Dextroamphetamine Sulfate if you’re allergic to amphetamine or lisdexamfetamine or if you experience any other allergies. Tell your provider if you have circulatory problems, mood conditions, personal or family history of mental health issues, heart problems, stroke, or high blood pressure. 

Amphetamine

Amphetamine is also a type of stimulant medication used to treat ADHD. Like other stimulants, this medication increases the presence of neurotransmitters in your brain to help you pay attention, stay awake, and focus. It’s available in several brand names, including Adderall.

Adderall, Adderall XR

Adderall treats ADHD and Narcolepsy, containing a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, both central nervous system stimulants associated with hyperactivity and impulse control. Adderall comes as an immediate-release tablet or an extended-release capsule in 5 mg to 30 mg, depending on your provider’s recommendation.

Common side effects of Adderall include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Dry  mouth
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness

Do not take Adderall if you have Glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, severe anxiety or agitation, high blood pressure, heart disease, vascular disease, or a history of drug or alcohol misuse. 

Lisdexamfetamine 

Lisdexamfetamine is a stimulant used to treat ADHD and binge eating disorders. It works by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which improve focus and attention while reducing impulsivity. 

Vyvanse

Vyvanse is used to treat ADHD and binge eating disorders. This medication comes in a capsule form or a chewable tablet typically taken once daily with a dosage ranging from 10 to 70 mg. 

The most common side effects of Vyvanse include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach pain
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting

You should not take Vyvanse if you have a heart condition, circulatory problems, psychiatric issues, or kidney problems. 

Stimulant warnings

When taking any stimulant medication, it’s important to monitor your symptoms. If you experience signs of heart problems, psychosis, circulation problems, or a painful penis erection beyond four hours, contact your healthcare provider immediately. You should also avoid stimulants if you’ve taken an MAO inhibitor within two weeks of starting the new medication.

Sometimes taking stimulants can result in reactions like Serotonin Syndrome or have a negative effect on pregnant people, which is why you must consult your care provider before pursuing them as an effective treatment.

Serotonin syndrome

Serotonin Syndrome is a serious drug reaction that occurs when there’s too much serotonin in your system. This reaction can result from taking medications that impact the amount of serotonin in your body. Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome include:

  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Fast heart rate
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Twitching 
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Serotonin Syndrome can be fatal if left untreated, so you must contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of those symptoms. 

Warnings for pregnancy

Talk to your care provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding before taking a stimulant. Some research has shown that taking stimulants while pregnant can increase the risk of congenital disabilities, low birth weight, and gestational hypertension. 

Dependency warning

Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms, but they also come with a risk of dependency. These medications work by altering brain chemistry to improve focus and attention. However, for some individuals, they can also be habit-forming, and misuse of these medications can lead to dependence, tolerance, and potential addiction. 

It’s crucial to take stimulant medications exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider to minimize the risk of dependency. Do not increase the dosage or frequency without medical guidance. 

Stimulant medications should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can monitor your progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Regularly communicate with your healthcare provider about your medication’s effectiveness and any concerns you may have regarding dependency. They can provide guidance, monitor your usage, and help you navigate any challenges during your treatment journey.

Symptoms of overdose

Taking stimulants exactly as prescribed is essential to avoid overdosing. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Panic
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased body temperature
  • Tremors, seizures, or convulsions
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of consciousness

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call emergency services and seek help immediately. 

Non-stimulant ADHD medication options

If you cannot take or do not respond well to stimulants, non-stimulant options may be your best bet when treating your ADHD symptoms. Non-stimulant medications come in three categories: Atomoxetine, Buproprion, and Alpha-2 Agonists. 

Atomoxetine

Atomoxetine is prescribed to help improve focus and decrease impulsivity in children and adults. This medication is considered a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) and works by increasing the levels of norepinephrine in the brain associated with regulating behavior. 

Strattera

Strattera is the brand name version of Atomoxetine used to treat symptoms of ADHD. This medication comes in a capsule from 10 mg to 100 mg. Your healthcare provider will determine the best dose for you, depending on your medical history and current symptoms. 

Side effects of Strattera include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling tired
  • Dizziness
  • Increased sweating
  • Urination problems
  • Impotence 

You should not take Strattera if you have glaucoma, adrenal gland tumors, heart disease, coronary artery disease, or moderate to severe high blood pressure. Additionally, you should avoid taking Strattera if you’ve taken an MAO inhibitor in the past two weeks. Talk to your care provider if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding before taking Strattera to ensure it’s safe for you.

If you experience suicidal thoughts or changes in mood while taking Strattera, contact your care provider immediately.

Bupropion

Bupropion is another non-stimulant option sold under the brand names Wellbutrin IR, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL. It’s an antidepressant that treats Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and can also treat ADHD. This medication works by inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to improve focus and attention. 

Wellbutrin IR, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL

Wellbutrin is used to treat MDD and seasonal affective disorder. This medication can also be used in an off-label capacity to treat symptoms of ADHD like impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. 

Common side effects of Wellbutrin include: 

  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Sleep problems
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Fast heartbeats
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hostility
  • Rash
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination 
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle or joint pain 

You should not take Wellbutrin if you have an alcohol use disorder due to seizures, seizure disorder, eating disorder, glaucoma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or have taken an MAO inhibitor within the past 14 days. 

Alpha-2 agonists

Alpha-2 agonists are another non-stimulant primarily used to treat high blood pressure, but they’re also used off-label to treat ADHD symptoms. These medications work by activating alpha-2 receptors in the brain, relaxing blood vessels to reduce blood pressure, improving focus and attention, and reducing impulsivity. 

Clonidine

Clonidine is also used to treat high blood pressure. Still, it can be prescribed off-label to treat symptoms of ADHD, affecting the part of the brain associated with attention and impulsivity. This medication comes as a tablet and an extended-release tablet, typically taken one or two times a day, depending on your care provider’s recommendations. 

Common side effects of Clonidine include: 

  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Decreased sexual ability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Constipation 

You should talk with your doctor if you have any allergies, are taking any medications, supplements, or vitamins, or are pregnant before taking Clonidine. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe side effects like the following.

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Hoarseness 

Catapres patch

A Catapres Patch is a transdermal therapeutic system that comes as an adhesive patch containing Clonidine to lower high blood pressure and prevent strokes, heart attacks, and kidney problems. The Catapres Patch can also be used to treat symptoms of ADHD. It’s applied once a week, delivering the medication consistently throughout each day. 

You may experience the following side effects at the site of the Catapres Patch:

  • Skin redness or rash
  • Itching or blistering

If these side effects persist or worsen, contact your healthcare provider immediately. 

Guanfacine

Guanfacine is often prescribed to treat high blood pressure, and the extended-release tablets can be used as part of a treatment program to manage symptoms of ADHD. This medication is a member of the centrally acting alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonists and decreases the heart rate by widening the blood vessels to improve circulation. 

Typically taken once a day, your care provider may prescribe anywhere from 1 to 4 mg, depending on your health history and symptoms. 

Common side effects of Guanfacine include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sexual ability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

Before taking Guanfacine, discussing any other medications, vitamins, and supplements you take with your care provider is important. Having the full picture of your health history will allow your provider to make safe recommendations for your care. 

Can I become dependent on non-stimulant ADHD medications?

Non-stimulant medications, such as Strattera and Wellbutrin, have a lower risk of dependency compared to stimulant medications. However, though addiction is less likely, individuals taking these medications should still take care to use them properly to avoid complications. To reduce your risk of dependency even further, follow the prescribed dosage and schedule consistently, and avoid altering the regimen without medical guidance.

Additionally, while the risk of dependency is lower, each individual may react differently to non-stimulant medications. Your healthcare provider will monitor your progress and adjust the treatment plan as necessary, ensuring optimal benefits and minimizing any potential risks. Maintain open and honest communication with your healthcare provider throughout the treatment process. Discuss any concerns or questions you have about dependency, and follow their guidance to manage your ADHD symptoms effectively.

By working closely with your healthcare provider, following their instructions, and openly discussing any concerns, you can minimize the risk of dependency and achieve the best possible outcomes in managing your ADHD.

How to decide which ADHD medication works best for you

Stimulants are often the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but they may not work for everyone (especially if you have a heart condition or other underlying issues). The effects of non-stimulant ADHD medications can take longer to manifest, but they can be useful for people who cannot take stimulants or do not respond well to them. 

Ultimately which ADHD medication works best for you depends on your current symptoms, health history, and the recommendation of your mental healthcare provider.

Licensed healthcare providers on Klarity help you find the right ADHD medication

At Klarity, we understand the importance of finding the right medication to manage your ADHD. That’s why every provider on Klarity is licensed to evaluate your symptoms and medical history, and determine which prescription will work best for you.

Plus, with online appointments available in 48 hours or less, you can get access to this high-quality healthcare from the comfort of your home—and flat fees mean you can get the care you need whether or not you have insurance.

Book an online appointment on Klarity today to speak to a qualified medical professional about which medication is right for you.

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