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Medicines for ADHD


ADHD is a problem that most often affects children. Adults may be affected as well. People with ADHD may have problems with:

  • Being able to focus
  • Being over-active
  • Not being able to control behavior

Medicines can help improve symptoms of ADHD. Talk or behavioral therapy can also help. Work closely with your health care providers to ensure that the treatment plan is successful.


Stimulants are the most commonly used type of ADHD medicine. Some medicines are taken more than one time a day, while others are taken only once a day. Your provider will decide which medicine is best.

Know the name and dose of each medicine you take.


It is important to work with your provider to make sure the right medicine is given at the right dose.

Always take your medicine the way it was prescribed. Talk to your provider if a medicine is not controlling symptoms, or if you are having side effects. The dose may need to be changed, or a new medicine may need to be tried.


Some medicines for ADHD wear off over the day. Taking them before going to school or work may allow them to work when you need them the most. Your provider will advise you on this.

Other tips are:

  • Refill your medicine before it runs out.
  • Ask your provider whether your medicine should be taken with food or when there is no food in the stomach.
  • DO NOT reduce your dose to save money. If you are having problems paying for medicine, talk with your provider. There may be programs that provide medicines for free or at a lower cost.


Learn about the side effects of each medicine. Ask your provider what to do in case of side effects. Call your provider if you or your child notices side effects such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Eating less or weight-loss
  • Tics or jerky movements
  • Mood changes
  • Unusual thoughts
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren't there
  • Fast heart beat

DO NOT use supplements or herbal remedies without checking with your provider. DO NOT use street drugs. Any of these may cause your ADHD medicines not to work as well.

Check with your provider about whether any other medicines should not be taken at the same time as ADHD medicines.


Regularly reinforce with your child the provider's treatment plan. Teach your child that these medicines can help him or her feel better and do better in school.

Children with ADHD often forget to take their medicines. Have your child set up a system, such as using a pill organizer. This can remind your child to take medicine.

Keep a close watch on possible side effects. Ask your child to tell you about any side effects. But be aware that your child may not understand when he or she is having side effects. Call the provider right away if your child does have side effects.

Be aware of possible drug abuse. Stimulant-type ADHD medicines can be dangerous in high doses. To ensure your child uses medicines safely:

  • Talk to your child about the dangers of drug abuse.
  • Teach your child not to share or sell their medicines.
  • Monitor your child's medicines closely.


Feldman HM, Reiff MI. Clinical practice. Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. N Engl J Med. 2014;370:838-846. PMID: 24571756

Prince JB, Wilens TE, Spencer TJ, Biederman J. Pharmacotherapy of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the life span. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 49.

Review Date: 3/4/2015
Reviewed By: Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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