Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Adults

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

View ADHD in Adults Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideADHD in Adults Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to ADHD in Adults

ADHD in Adults Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to ADHD in Adults

What is the treatment for adult ADHD? What are adult ADHD medications?

Treatments for ADHD in adults that do not involve medication include education about the illness, participation in an ADHD support group, and instructional training for a number of issues, including career counseling, organizational skills building, parent counseling, financial training, and development of time-management skills. Some adults with this condition may benefit from cognitive behavior therapy, a form of psychotherapy that seeks to help the individual alter patterns of thinking that may interfere with their functioning.

As with the treatment of ADHD in children, adults often benefit from being treated with a stimulant medication. Commonly, the first prescribed stimulant for the treatment of this condition is methylphenidate (Ritalin). Given the longer days and increased responsibilities that adolescents and adults have compared to young children, longer-acting stimulants are usually prescribed. Examples of those medications include long-acting methylphenidate, like Daytrana patches, Concerta, Quillivant, and dexmethylphenidate (Focalin-XR), as well as the long-acting amphetamine salt Adderall-XR. Other long-acting stimulants include lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse). Adults with a more variable schedule, like college students who may take day classes some days and night classes other days, or around-the-clock shift workers like nurses, may prefer shorter-acting stimulants like amphetamine salt (Adderall) or dextroamphetamine sulfate (Zenzedi), or methylphenidate preparations, like Ritalin, Focalin, or Metadate, so they can change the time they take the medication, even on a daily basis, without causing them to have insomnia. While modafinil (Provigil) is also a stimulant and is used to treat sleep attacks (narcolepsy), some research indicates that it may be helpful in treating ADHD while other studies do not show its effectiveness.

Adults whose symptoms early in the morning or late in the evening are an issue, stimulants may not be the optimal medication treatment and, therefore, they may respond better to a nonstimulant medication for treatment of ADHD. Side effects like low appetite, trouble sleeping, tremors, emotional inhibition, less frequently tics, and rarely hallucinations may make taking a stimulant medication an unwise. Using a stimulant to treat ADHD in people who have no history of drug abuse tends to decrease the likelihood of their ever developing a substance abuse problem. However, people with a recent history of alcohol or other drug abuse may want to avoid the small but possible addiction potential of stimulant medication. The long-term impact of addiction to a stimulant may be serious, potentially resulting in having a stroke or heart attack. Individuals who either had less than optimal effects or had significant side effects to taking stimulants may respond better to a nonstimulant medication like guanfacine (Tenex or Intuniv), clonidine (Catapres or Kapvay), or atomoxetine (Strattera), or to taking the prescription supplement phosphatidylserine-omega-3 (Vayarin), which has a specialized delivery system compared to over-the-counter preparations of the omega-3 supplement.

People with ADHD are more likely to develop mood problems as adults. They therefore may benefit from medications like bupropion (Wellbutrin) or venlafaxine (Effexor) that treat both ADHD and depression or anxiety.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2016
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