Medications for ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition characterized by such symptoms as hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness. The exact cause for ADHD is unknown, but heredity, changes in brain function, toxin exposure and having a mother who smoked or used drugs during pregnancy contributes to ADHD’s development, says the Mayo Clinic. According to MedlinePlus, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children. It can be treated with a variety of medications.


According to the Mayo Clinic, stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, Methylin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) or a combination of the two are commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. These stimulants balance the neurotransmitters (chemicals) in your brain and help decrease your ADHD symptoms. Stimulants can be either short-acting (4 hours) or long-acting (6 to 12 hours). Side effects of stimulant use include weight loss, poor appetite, trouble sleeping and irritability. In rare cases, stimulants have been linked to heart problems and death. Talk to your doctor about these risks prior to taking stimulant medication.


Atomoxetine (Straterra) is a non-stimulant medication used to manage ADHD. This is typically the second line of treatment when stimulant medications do not work to control your ADHD symptoms. Like stimulants, atomoxetine changes the chemical (neurotransmitter) levels in your brain that lead to hyperactivity and impulsiveness, says It is available as a tablet and is usually taken daily. Harmful side effects may include chest pain, tachycardia (fast heart beats), lightheadedness, fainting, nausea, hypertension (increased blood pressure) and decreased urination. Other mild side effects include trouble sleeping, menstrual cramps, constipation and irritability.

Other Medications

According to the Mayo Clinic, antidepressant medications, clonidine (Catapres) and guanfacine (Tenex) can be used to treat ADHD when stimulants and atomoxetine prove futile. Antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Clonidine and guanfacine are typically used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure), but can also decrease the tics (abnormal movements) of ADHD and help you sleep. Sometimes, they can cause excessive drowsiness, as well.

About this Author

Lisabetta Divita is a physician whose love for writing flourished while she was exposed to all facets of the medical field during her training. Her writings are currently featured in prominent medical magazines and various online publications. She holds a doctorate in medicine, a master’s in biomedicine, and a Bachelor of Science in biology from Boston College.