Family Health Guide

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Adult ADHD: Medication

The first line of treatment for ADHD is stimulant medications such as Ritalin or Adderall. Experts estimate that 80 percent of all adults with ADHD get immediate symptom relief from stimulants. For doctors, the response to stimulants is an indication of the accuracy of their diagnosis; if the drugs work, the patient’s symptoms probably were the result of ADHD. (There are of course instances where patients are not responsive to the stimulant.) Stimulant side effects are generally less pronounced in adults than children.

If stimulants prove ineffective, Strattera, a non-stimulant, has been approved for use in adults. Strattera increases the levels of the neurotransmitter/hormone norepinephrine to the brain. Researchers think this chemical plays a key role in focus and attention. This drug may also reduce anxiety. Strattera can cause some rare but very serious side effects, including jaundice and other liver problems, and suicidal thinking.

Antidepressants are not approved for treating ADHD, but are sometimes used “off label” to treat adults with ADHD when stimulants don’t work. Antidepressants have more unpleasant side effects, including weight gain and loss of interest in sex, than stimulants.