Most Prescribed ADHD Medications

What ADHD medication can help you best? Contact a licensed healthcare provider online to learn more and start treatment.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition associated with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. According to a systematic review, it affects the lives of 2.58% [1*] of adults worldwide. If untreated, ADHD can significantly impact different areas of life, and in severe cases, it can be considered a disability.

Medication is often the first-line choice for ADHD treatment. Below, you will find a detailed review of the most commonly prescribed options, their features, and side effects.

See a healthcare professional specializing in ADHD online.

What Is the Most Effective Treatment for ADHD?

ADHD treatment is usually comprehensive and involves a combination of medications, behavioral therapy, and changes in daily routines. The effectiveness of the same approach may vary for different patients, which is why the treatment plans are always personalized. 

The choice of interventions depends on the symptoms, their severity, and specific difficulties faced in daily life. However, medications are frequently the first step. They tend to bring effects relatively fast and pave the path for behavioral changes achieved during psychotherapy.

What Is ADHD Medication Supposed to Do?

ADHD can hinder the transfer of information [2*] from one neuron to another, which impacts both attention and focus. So, the primary goal of ADHD medication is to increase the efficiency of neurotransmitters. This helps reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness, enhances focus and concentration, and addresses other symptoms.

Your path to ADHD management starts here
Every ADHD journey is unique. Learn more about the most common treatment approaches.

Types of ADHD Medication

There is no one best ADHD medication for adults, their choice is wide, and what helps one person may not be as effective for another. All of them are divided into two major types: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulant ADHD Medication

Stimulants are known to be the most effective medications for ADHD. They help to reduce hyperactivity, lack of concentration, and fidgeting. Stimulants boost the level of dopamine and norepinephrine—two crucial brain chemicals. Increased levels of these neurotransmitters further enhance focus, energy, and alertness. Two major categories of stimulants are amphetamine salts and methylphenidate.

Adderall, Vyvanse, Dexedrine

Medications with amphetamine salts as a part of their composition act on the brain to speed up its functions and neurotransmission. They are known to control the symptoms presenting from childhood by improving both brain function and abnormalities linked to ADHD [3*] . Different types of amphetamines are used in ADHD medications. For example, Adderall includes amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, Dexedrine contains dextroamphetamine, and the active ingredient of Vyvanse is lisdexamfetamine. Amphetamines are controlled substances, and they must be obtained only by prescription and under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin, Metadate

Methylphenidate is another stimulant of the central nervous system. It impacts brain chemicals, specifically influencing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Methylphenidate usually has milder effects compared to amphetamines but still is a potent medicine for ADHD [4*] .

Brand nameRelease typeDuration (hours)
Amphetamine salts
Adderall XRExtended-release10-12
VyvanseExtended-releaseUp to 14
Ritalin LAExtended-releaseUp to 8
Metadate ERImmediate-releaseAbout 8
Metadate CDExtended-releaseAbout 8
Methylin IRImmediate-release3-4
Methylin ERExtended-releaseAbout 8
Quillivant XRExtended-releaseUp to 12
DaytranaExtended-releaseUp to 10
Aptensio XRExtended-releaseUp to 12
Focalin XRExtended-release8-12
The duration of effects and response to treatment may differ among patients. 
Consult your healthcare provider to learn more.
ADHD may affect different areas of life
Learn more about ADHD symptoms, causes, available treatments, and self-help techniques.

Non-stimulant ADHD Medication

Just like stimulants, non-stimulant ADHD medications also work by improving brain functions to lower hyperactivity, lack of focus, and impulsiveness. However, non-stimulants work through different mechanisms and brain chemicals as compared to stimulants. Also, their effects are noticed after a longer period of time: it may take a few days or weeks to observe significant and sustainable improvement.

Desipramine (Norpramin), amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep, Vanatrip)

This class of medication is less common compared to some other types of antidepressants. Still, some tricyclics can be prescribed for ADHD to help keep a balance of norepinephrine and serotonin. This effect helps with stress management.

Healthcare professionals may prescribe antidepressants for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who did not benefit from stimulant medications. They impact impulsivity and inattention and improve emotional regulation in the short term.

Atomoxetine (Strattera), viloxazine (Qelbree)

These medications increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Their primary effects include improved attention and concentration. In addition, they may be helpful if a person has symptoms of depression or anxiety in addition to ADHD.

Guanfacine (Intuniv), clonidine (Kapvay)

These medications can be prescribed for ADHD for several reasons:

  1. They may be beneficial for those who do not tolerate stimulants well.
  2. By influencing alpha-2 receptors in the brain, they can help regulate norepinephrine levels. It helps regulate attention span and impulsiveness.
  3. Guanfacine affects brain areas responsible for memory and concentration hence improving them.
  4. Sedative properties or antihypertensives can also be beneficial for managing sleep difficulties and mood swings, including aggression, which sometimes occur as side effects of stimulants.
Different symptoms may need different treatment
Confused about the types of ADHD and the specifics of managing them? Our comprehensive guide breaks it down.

Immediate-release vs Extended-release Medications

The main difference between immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (ER) formulations is the amount of time needed to release the active ingredients into the body. Immediate-release medications have a quicker onset of action, while extended-release tablets work slower. Both of them have pros and cons, and even the same medication can be produced in different formulations to meet the needs of patients.

In addition and because of working relatively fast, immediate-release medications have a shorter duration of effects. Therefore, they may require more frequent dosing throughout the day. On the other hand, extended-release medications are typically prescribed for less frequent dosing due to their prolonged effects and concentration in the body.

Note that it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on the frequency and dosing to minimize the risk of side effects.

The Newest ADHD Medications

Newer ADHD medications include viloxazine (Qelbree), a non-stimulant option. Additionally, there are several new stimulant medications, such as:

  • Cotempla: methylphenidate extended-release orally disintegrating tablets
  • Adhansia: methylphenidate hydrochloride
  • Aptensio XR, Jornay PM: methylphenidate hydrochloride extended-release medication
  • Dyanavel XR: amphetamine extended-release oral suspension
  • Adzenys XR-ODT: amphetamine
  • Mydayis: mixed salts of a single-entity amphetamine product

Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Any medication for ADHD requires a prescription, and the treatment process should be supervised by a healthcare professional. One reason for that is the potential for side effects: these effects vary depending on the class and composition of medication, the dosage, and the patient’s individual response, among other aspects. Moreover, the same medication may cause different adverse effects in different patients with the same diagnosis while some people will not experience any side effects in the same situation. Still, it’s important to be informed about potential effects.

The side effects typically subside in the short term; promptly consult with your healthcare provider if the side effects are severe or prolonged.

Side effects of ADHD treatment with stimulants [5*] may include the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Sudden recurrence of ADHD symptoms
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability
  • Edginess

Side effects of non-stimulants for ADHD depend on the class of the prescribed medication and other factors. Some common ones include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Contact your healthcare provider to learn more about the potential side effects of the specific medication.

Who can diagnose and treat ADHD?
Read our guide on how to choose a healthcare professional who can assess your symptoms and find appropriate treatment.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The speed of action of the same medication may vary in different patients because it also depends on the individual health specifics. In general, the fastest-acting ADHD medication is typically the immediate-release formulation of stimulant medications such as amphetamines or methylphenidate. These medications may start working within 30 minutes to one hour after ingestion. However, the duration of effectiveness is relatively short, usually lasting around 4-6 hours. Remember to monitor your response to medication and consult your physician to learn more.

Side effects can vary from person to person, as individual responses to medications can differ. Non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine (Strattera) [6*] and guanfacine (Intuniv) [7*] are often considered to have a milder side effect profile compared to stimulant medications. Contact your healthcare provider who will tell you how to treat ADHD in your particular case and what potential side effects you may experience.

Stimulants are considered to be the most commonly prescribed ADHD medications. These include amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) which often serve as the first-line ADHD treatment due to their effectiveness. However, the prescription medication should be determined by a healthcare professional based on a comprehensive evaluation. Also, note that there is no one most effective ADHD medication for adults, the efficacy of each medicine may vary from person to person, and only a healthcare professional can determine the most suitable option.
Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed to help individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder improve their focus. Medications containing amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) are known to increase attention span and concentration in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These medications work by affecting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to enhance focus and reduce impulsivity.
Adderall is among the most popular ADHD medications. It belongs to the class of stimulants and is widely used to help manage inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, its effects are not guaranteed for everyone with ADHD. Your healthcare provider will determine the most suitable medication for you, which may or may not be Adderall.

Learn more about ADHD


7 sources
  1. The prevalence of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A global systematic review and meta-analysis
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  2. The Emerging Neurobiology of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The Key Role of the Prefrontal Association Cortex
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  3. Effect of Psychostimulants on Brain Structure and Function in ADHD: A Qualitative Literature Review of MRI-Based Neuroimaging Studies
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  4. Methylphenidate for attention-deficit disorder in adults: a narrative review
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  5. Using Stimulants for Attention-Deficit Disorder: Clinical Approaches and Challenges
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  6. Atomoxetine and osmotically released methylphenidate for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: acute comparison and differential response
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  7. Evidence-based pharmacological treatment options for ADHD in children and adolescents
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