Ritalin, Adderall, and Other Stimulant Medications for ADHD


As awareness of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has grown, the use of ADHD medication in adults has skyrocketed. Between 2002 and 2005 the number of prescriptions received by adults for the most common ADHD drugs rose by 90%, according to data published in 2006 in The New England Journal of Medicine. Adults now account for about a third of all patients taking ADHD medications.

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The most widely used ADHD drugs are stimulants, such as methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin) and mixed amphetamine salts (Adderall). Many ADHD drugs—Ritalin, most notably—have not been approved by the FDA for use in adults, although physicians do prescribe them to patients off-label.

When it comes to prescribing stimulants, however, doctors shouldnt simply treat ADHD adults as extra-large children. More so than kids, adult patients are often taking medications for other conditions (such as depression or anxiety disorders) that could interact with ADHD meds. Many adults also struggle with heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, which stimulants may exacerbate. Other side effects, including loss of appetite and insomnia, may occur in patients of all ages—although they often subside in the first few weeks of treatment.

Still, medication is widely accepted as the most effective treatment for ADHD. It can drastically improve the quality of life for people who otherwise have trouble succeeding at work, maintaining relationships, and accomplishing their goals. Stimulants can start working in a matter of days, faster than the only approved nonstimulant ADHD medication, Strattera.

Last Updated: January 16, 2009

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