Stimulant vs. Non-Stimulant ADHD Meds


Stimulant vs Non-Stimulant ADHD Meds: Ultimate Guide

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Have you been finding it hard to pay attention or noticed an increased sense of impulsivity in your life? Then you may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which through Klarity can be treated and managed through medication. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects adults throughout their daily life. It’s characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. 

There are two main categories of ADHD medications: stimulants and non-stimulants. In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences between them, their effectiveness, potential side effects, and how to determine which medication may be right for you.

Why wait to prioritize your mental health? Get started now on Klarity for a happier, healthier life.

Stimulant For ADHD

Types of Stimulants

Stimulant medications are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These medications are highly effective in managing ADHD symptoms and have been used successfully for many years. They primarily function by increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, which, in turn, helps enhance focus and reduce impulsivity.

There are two primary categories of stimulant medications commonly employed to treat ADHD:

Immediate-Release Stimulants

Immediate-release stimulant medications are known for their rapid onset of action, making them an ideal choice for individuals who require flexible control over their medication regimen. These medications are designed to provide quick symptom relief and are typically taken multiple times throughout the day. By taking immediate-release stimulants as needed, patients can adjust their medication schedules to better align with their daily activities and demands.

Immediate-release stimulants can be particularly helpful during situations where prompt symptom management is necessary. For example, they might be taken before a challenging task or during periods when heightened focus and attention are required.

Extended-Release Stimulants

Extended-release stimulant medications offer a different approach to managing ADHD symptoms. These medications are formulated to release their active ingredients gradually over an extended period, usually spanning an entire day. As a result, they provide a more consistent and sustained effect compared to their immediate-release counterparts.

Extended-release stimulant medication is typically taken just once daily, making it a convenient option for individuals seeking long-lasting symptom control without needing to remember to take multiple doses throughout the day. This extended duration of action can be particularly advantageous for those in need of symptom relief throughout their work or school day and well into the evening.

Patients who opt for extended-release stimulants appreciate the convenience and stability they provide. These medications can help maintain focus, attention, and impulse control over an extended duration, enhancing an individual’s ability to meet their daily responsibilities effectively.

Common ADHD Stimulant Medications

There are two primary categories of stimulant medications commonly prescribed to individuals with ADHD:

Methylphenidate-Based Medications

Methylphenidate-based medications are a class of stimulant drugs that work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and norepinephrine. These medications are available under various brand names, with Ritalin and Concerta being among the most well-known examples.

  • Ritalin: Ritalin is a short-acting methylphenidate-based medication that provides rapid symptom relief. It is typically taken multiple times a day, which allows for flexibility in dosage adjustments to match an individual’s daily schedule and needs.
  • Concerta: Concerta, on the other hand, is an extended-release methylphenidate medication. It offers a consistent and sustained effect throughout the day, requiring only a once-daily dose.

Amphetamine-Based Medications

Amphetamine-based medications also enhance the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These medications are another commonly prescribed category of stimulants for ADHD. Two well-known examples are Adderall and Vyvanse.

  • Adderall: Adderall is a blend of amphetamine salts and is available in immediate-release and extended-release forms. The immediate-release version provides rapid symptom relief but requires multiple doses throughout the day. The extended-release option, known as Adderall XR, offers a more prolonged effect.
  • Vyvanse: Vyvanse is an extended-release amphetamine medication that provides a consistent and extended duration of symptom control. It is typically taken once daily and has a lower potential for misuse due to its prodrug formulation.

Common Stimulant Dosages

The appropriate dosage of stimulant medications for ADHD is not one-size-fits-all. Dosages are individualized and determined by healthcare providers based on a variety of factors, such as the patient’s age, weight, and the specific medication being prescribed. It’s essential for patients and their caregivers to strictly follow the healthcare provider’s recommendations for dosage in determining the proper amount of ADHD medication to take.

ADHD Stimulant Effectiveness

Stimulant medications are renowned in the healthcare industry for their effectiveness in managing ADHD symptoms. Many individuals experience remarkable improvements in attention, focus, and impulse control when taking the properly prescribed stimulant medication. These medications help bring about a sense of clarity and calmness, making it easier for individuals with ADHD to engage in tasks that require sustained attention.

Side Effects of Stimulant ADHD Meds

While stimulant medications can be highly effective in managing ADHD symptoms, they are not without potential side effects. Common side effects associated with stimulant ADHD medications may include:

  • Insomnia: Stimulant medication can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Appetite Suppression: Some individuals may experience a decrease in appetite while taking stimulant medications, which can lead to weight loss.
  • Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Stimulants can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, which may be concerning for individuals with cardiovascular issues.
  • Nervousness or Anxiety: Stimulants can sometimes lead to feelings of nervousness or anxiety, especially at higher doses.

Potential Risks of Stimulants

There are potential risks associated with the use of stimulant medications, primarily related to the dangers of misuse, dependency, or abuse of controlled substances. These medications have the potential to be diverted for non-medical use due to their stimulating effects. Immediate-release stimulant medications also have a higher risk for abuse because the medication is absorbed faster.

Therefore, it’s crucial to use stimulant medications only under the guidance and supervision of a qualified healthcare provider who can closely monitor their usage.

Despite this possibility, stimulant medications, whether methylphenidate-based or amphetamine-based, are valuable tools in managing ADHD symptoms. They are highly effective, providing individuals with improved attention, focus, and impulse control. However, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects and the risk of misuse. Using these medications as prescribed and under the supervision of a primary care physician or psychiatrist is essential for safe and effective treatment.

Non-Stimulant For ADHD

How Quickly Do Non-Stimulants Work?

Non-stimulant medications used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) differ significantly in their mechanism of action compared to that of stimulants. While stimulant medications provide rapid symptom relief, often within hours of taking the first dose, non-stimulant medications typically have a different timeline for effectiveness.

Non-stimulant medications do not work as quickly as stimulants. They have a gradual onset of action, which means it may take some time for their therapeutic effects to become noticeable. In most cases, individuals who are prescribed non-stimulant medications for ADHD may need to use the medication consistently for several weeks before experiencing the full benefits. 

Healthcare providers typically monitor the progress of patients using non-stimulant medications and may make adjustments to the dosage or treatment plan as needed. This monitoring ensures that the medication is tailored to the individual’s specific needs and that the desired effects are being achieved.

Common ADHD Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications

Non-stimulant medications offer an alternative approach to managing ADHD symptoms, especially for individuals who do not respond well to stimulants or have concerns about their potential side effects. Here are some common non-stimulant medications used to treat ADHD:

Atomoxetine (Strattera)

Atomoxetine, often sold under the brand name Strattera, is a non-stimulant medication approved for the treatment of ADHD in both children and adults. Unlike stimulants, Atomoxetine does not affect dopamine levels. Instead, it primarily targets norepinephrine neurotransmitters in the brain. This unique mechanism of action makes it a suitable choice for those who cannot tolerate stimulant medications or have a history of substance abuse.

Guanfacine (Intuniv)

Guanfacine, marketed as Intuniv, is another non-stimulant medication prescribed for ADHD. It belongs to a class of drugs called alpha-2 adrenergic agonists. Intuniv acts by affecting certain receptors in the brain, resulting in a calming effect. It’s often used as an adjunct treatment or when stimulants are not effective alone. It can help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve focus.

Clonidine (Kapvay)

Clonidine, available under the brand name Kapvay, is also classified as an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist and is used to manage ADHD symptoms. Like Guanfacine, Clonidine has a calming effect and can help individuals with ADHD by reducing impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity. It may be prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for ADHD.

Common Non-Stimulant Dosages

The appropriate dosage of non-stimulant medications for ADHD will be determined by your healthcare provider. Dosages are highly individualized and depend on several factors, including the patient’s age, weight, severity of symptoms, and how they respond to the medication. It’s critical to follow the healthcare provider’s instructions carefully and not adjust the dosage without their guidance.

ADHD Non-Stimulant Effectiveness

Non-stimulant medications can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms, particularly in cases where stimulants are not suitable or have not provided the desired relief. They work by targeting different neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine or receptors responsible for regulating attention and impulse control.

The effectiveness of non-stimulants may not be as rapid as stimulant-based medications, and it often takes several weeks of consistent use to see the full benefits. Patience and close monitoring by a healthcare provider are essential during this observational period.

Side Effects of Non-Stimulants

While non-stimulant medications offer advantages in terms of reduced risk of dependence or abuse compared to stimulants, they can still have side effects. Common side effects of non-stimulant ADHD medications may include:

  • Drowsiness: Some individuals may experience drowsiness, especially when starting the medication. It is often recommended to take these medications at bedtime to minimize this side effect.
  • Fatigue: A feeling of tiredness or fatigue can occur, although this side effect tends to diminish as the body adjusts to the medication.
  • Dizziness: Some individuals may experience dizziness, particularly when standing up quickly. It’s essential to rise slowly from a seated or lying position to minimize this risk.
  • Dry Mouth: Dry mouth can also be a side effect of non-stimulant medications. Staying well-hydrated and using sugar-free lozenges or gum can help alleviate this symptom.

Potential Risks of Non-Stimulants

While non-stimulant medications have a lower potential for dependence or abuse compared to stimulants, they should still be used as prescribed and closely monitored by a healthcare professional. It’s essential to communicate any side effects or concerns with your healthcare team to ensure the medication remains safe and effective for you.

Non-stimulant ADHD medications such as Atomoxetine, Guanfacine, and Clonidine offer valuable alternatives for individuals with ADHD, particularly those who may not respond well to stimulants or have specific concerns. These medications can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms, but like all medications, they come with potential side effects that should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Ultimately, the choice of medication and dosage should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and circumstances.

Stimulants vs. Non-Stimulants Breakdown

Understanding the differences between stimulant and non-stimulant medications is crucial for individuals and their healthcare providers when determining the most suitable treatment approach for ADHD. Let’s break down the key distinctions:

1. Mechanism of Action:

  • Stimulants: Increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, enhancing focus and attention.
  • Non-Stimulants: Target different neurotransmitters or receptors, offering an alternative mechanism of action.

2. Onset of Action:

  • Stimulants: Provide rapid symptom relief, often within hours of the first dose.
  • Non-Stimulants: Typically require several weeks of consistent use to reach their full effectiveness.

3. Duration of Effect:

  • Stimulants: Offer either short-acting or extended-release options for flexibility.
  • Non-Stimulants: Generally provide a consistent and sustained effect throughout the day.

4. Suitability:

  • Stimulants: Commonly prescribed as the first-line treatment for ADHD due to their effectiveness.
  • Non-Stimulants: Preferred when stimulants are not well-tolerated or not as effective.

5. Potential Side Effects:

  • Stimulants: May cause side effects such as insomnia, appetite suppression, and increased heart rate.
  • Non-Stimulants: Side effects can include drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and dry mouth.

6. Risk of Dependency:

  • Stimulants: Have a potential risk of misuse, dependency, or abuse.
  • Non-Stimulants: Generally have a lower risk of dependency.

How to Know Which ADHD Medication is Right For You

Selecting the most appropriate ADHD medication is a decision that should be made in consultation with a qualified healthcare provider. Remember that finding the right ADHD medication may take time, and it’s essential to be patient and persistent. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you determine which medication may be right for you:

  • Consultation: Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider who specializes in ADHD treatment. Be prepared to discuss your medical history, current symptoms, and any concerns or preferences you have regarding medication.
  • Evaluation: Your healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, which may include psychological assessments and interviews to assess the severity of your symptoms and rule out other underlying conditions.
  • Trial Period: Based on their evaluation, your healthcare provider may recommend an initial medication. If stimulants are chosen, you’ll typically start with a low dose and gradually adjust until the optimal dosage is reached. For non-stimulants, consistent use over several weeks may be necessary.
  • Monitoring: Your healthcare provider will closely monitor your progress, including assessing the medication’s effectiveness and any side effects you may experience.
  • Open Communication: Maintain open communication with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns or experience side effects, don’t hesitate to discuss them. Adjustments to your treatment plan can often address these issues.
  • Lifestyle Considerations: In addition to medication, consider implementing lifestyle changes, such as time management strategies, exercise, and a balanced diet, to complement your treatment.
  • Regular Follow-ups: Schedule regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of your medication and make any necessary adjustments.

Meet With a Provider for ADHD Treatment Today

If you suspect you have ADHD or have been diagnosed with the condition, seeking professional treatment is crucial for effectively managing symptoms and improving your quality of life. Schedule a consultation with a certified healthcare provider who specializes in ADHD to discuss your options and begin the journey toward a more manageable and fulfilling life.


Tariq, Osama. “Stimulant vs Non Stimulant ADHD Meds: Key Differences.” Choosing Therapy. <>

Bailey, Eileen. “Concerta vs. Ritalin: An ADHD Medication Comparison.” ADDitude Magazine.


Bhandari, Smitha. “Vyvanse and Adderall: What’s the Difference?” WebMD.


Rodden, Janice. “Non-Stimulant ADHD Medication Overview.” ADDitude Magazine.


Medically Reviewed By Dr. Zoe Russell

Dr. Zoe Russell received a dual bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, pursued a master’s degree in public health from Michigan State University, and received her doctorate in osteopathic medicine from Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2021. Currently, Dr. Russell is completing her residency training in family medicine and hopes to specialize in female reproductive and mental health.

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