What medications are used to treat ADHD?

Public Domain from NIH 11/30/2023

Medication won’t “cure” ADHD. But it can help improve focus, attention, and impulse control.

 Finding the right medication can take time.

If you or your child has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might be curious about medications for treating its symptoms. ADHD medications work best when combined with other treatment strategies such as therapy and behavior management.

To find a treatment that works well, you’ll need to work closely with a health care provider who specializes in ADHD treatment.

Here’s some information about different medications so you can make an informed decision.

Stimulant ADHD medications

Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamine are commonly prescribed to manage ADHD. They work by increasing levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain involved in focus and concentration. 

Stimulant medications are available in different forms. Some are short-acting (lasting a few hours), and others are long-acting (lasting throughout the day).

Like any medication, stimulants can have side effects. People taking stimulants may have decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, and increased heart rate or blood pressure. 

Also, stimulants can interfere with certain medications and medical conditions. Because of this, they may not be safe or recommended for some people. 

Nonstimulant ADHD medications

Nonstimulant ADHD medications are another option. They may work for people who can’t take stimulants or prefer not to take them, or if stimulant medications don’t work for them. These medications include atomoxetineclonidine, and guanfacine

Some people may find these medications easier to tolerate. However, they are not always as effective. 


Although antidepressants are not specifically approved to treat ADHD, they can sometimes help manage symptoms. The doctor may prescribe antidepressants alone or in combination with one or more ADHD medications. They are especially helpful when a patient also has conditions like anxiety, depression, or mood disorders.

Finding the right medication

There’s no one-size-fits-all ADHD treatment. Everyone’s experience with ADHD is different, and finding the most effective treatment takes time. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey:

  • Ask questions. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the different medications that are available. Ask about potential benefits and side effects and how they may interact with other medications or medical conditions. 
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Always take ADHD medications exactly as prescribed. This includes the dose and timing. 
  • Communicate clearly and openly with your health care provider. Follow up often to discuss how the medication is affecting your or your child’s symptoms. If you notice any dramatic changes or negative side effects, let your doctor know right away. 
  • Be patient. Finding the right medication can take time. A health care provider can help you figure out the medication, or combination of medications, and dosage that works best for you.

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