What Medications Are Available for Adult ADD?

Previously believed to be a disorder that affected children, attention deficit disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD) disorder also affects adults. Symptoms can include impulsive behavior, inattentiveness and agitation. Adults with ADD/ADHD may have difficulties attaining and retaining work, with romantic and social relationships, and with daily tasks including bill-paying. Many adults with ADD/ADHD, who have struggled for years feeling “different,” actually find an ADD/ADHD diagnosis a relief. While medication is not advised for all adults with ADD/ADHD, it helps to learn about the medications available.

As with any prescription used to treat a mental disorder, patience and communication with your health care provider are vital. Advise your health care provider immediately if you have any adverse side effects or are considering discontinuing your medication.


Stimulants have the longest track record for treating this disorder, and include established medications including Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulants increase the dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is regulates memory, mood and reward-seeking behaviors. For many people with ADD/ADHD, stimulant medications improve attention and concentration while managing hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

Stimulants come in both short-acting and time-release formulas. Short-acting stimulants’ effects begin to dip after about four hours and therefore must be taken two or three times daily. Time-release formulas, such as Concerta, last around 12 hours and are typically taken just once a day. Adults with ADD/ADHD often prefer the time-release formulations because they are less likely to forget to take a dose.

Before considering stimulant therapy, discuss possible side effects with your medical provider. Stimulants for ADD/ADHD may increase anxiety, depression and hostility. Adults with personal or familial histories of suicide attempts, anxiety, depression or addiction should be medically supervised while on these medications. Other, less severe side effects include cold feet and hands, insomnia, digestive issues and headaches.

Persons taking stimulant medications may show positive for methamphetamine on drug tests. You may wish to disclose your ADD/ADHD to a potential employer or just suspend use of the medication prior to testing. Always discuss these issues with your health care provider. Stimulants are classified as Schedule Two drugs, which means that pharmacies require patients to show identification with a physical street address. The patient also must have an original paper prescription from the doctor every month and cannot refill by mail. The patient also cannot telephone in the prescription.


Although stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADD/ADHD, nonstimulant medications are also available for the treatment of the condition. Wellbutrin, a popular antidepressant, has shown promise. Wellbutrin is a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI). NDRIs affect norepinephrine and dopamine, allowing them to activate the receptors on the next nerve cell. Strattera, a medication originally researched as an antidepressant, works similarly and is also increasingly used in all ADD treatments.


Provigil, a medication originally designed to address sleep disorders, is also showing potential as an ADD treatment. Provigil stimulates the hypothalamus, a section of the brain. While the drug stimulates the brain, it is not believed to significantly affect the central nervous system, making it an attractive option for those who cannot tolerate Ritalin. Unfortunately, use of Provigil is generally not covered by health insurance, and prescriptions can exceed $200 monthly.

About this Author

Sarah Wyatt is a freelance writer with work appearing in Associated Press, Fodor’s, Outdoors, Women’s International Perspective, Capitol Hill Times, Robinson Newspapers, Mensa Bulletin, Capitol Hill Times, Winds of Change and Recommend.