From Childhood to Adulthood
thirds of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are likely to grow up to be adults that
continue to have the condition. As a result, an estimated four
percent of adults end up with ADHD.
If you were that hyperactive kid, you may find yourself
calmer as a grown-up, but perhaps still working on problems with organization
and impulsivity. You may want to explore medication options with your doctor to
keep ADHD from impinging on your work.
Choices and Mechanisms
Adults with ADHD can take either stimulant or nonstimulant
medication. Both types of medication work by blocking certain chemicals in the
brain. For example, scientists
believe that stimulants work by blocking
the reuptake in the neurons of norepinephrine, a stress hormone, and dopamine, a chemical
In simpler terms, stimulants rev up people who don’t have
attention deficits. But they have a calming effect on people with ADHD.
The Most Common Choice
Stimulants such as methylphenidate tend to work well for three out of four patients,
according to a study at
Massachusetts General Hospital led by Thomas J. Spencer. They are
considered the first-line
choice for treating ADHD.
Methylphenidate is sold under the brand names of Ritalin,
Concerta, Metadate, and Daytrana. Doctors also can prescribe amphetamine
compounds, which increase dopamine. This allows you to increase your focus. Amphetamine
compounds include Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse.
You can also take atomoxetine, which is sold under the brand
name Strattera. This drug works to strongly increase levels of norepinephrine.
It can be taken long-term if necessary.
The first nonstimulant drug approved for adult ADHD, atomoxetine
may lead to hepatitis or liver injury in rare cases. Talk to your doctor
immediately if you notice any yellowing of your skin or eyes. These are
telltale signs of jaundice.
Still, atomoxetine provides a valuable option if you can’t
take stimulants and need a medication that allows once-a-day dosing.
The FDA doesn’t officially approve them for adult ADHD, but
antidepressants can help if you have a complex case. If you have ADHD and
depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction to nicotine, bupropion may be
able to help. Known by the brand name Wellbutrin, buproprion affects the brain
Tricyclic antidepressants also can work by increasing norepinephrine.
Your doctor may prescribe a tricyclic if you have tics, anxiety, or depressive
symptoms. These drugs often interact with diabetes or high-blood pressure medications.
Guanfacine and Clonidine
Guanfacine is sold under the brand name Tenex or Intuniv. Clonidine
is sold as Catapres. Both take
several weeks to work and come from sources used to fight high blood pressure.
These medications work well for certain cases of ADHD in children and adults.
Clonidine may reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity, but not
inattention. It may help particularly if you have Tourette’s syndrome or tics.
Guanfacine has less of a sedating effect than clonidine. It lasts longer, and
helps you focus better.
Potential Side Effects
Carefully go over any medication you receive with your
doctor and pharmacist. Look over the labels and literature. Don’t use stimulant
drugs and atomoxetine if you have:
- structural heart problems
- high blood pressure
- heart failure
- rhythm disturbances
Stimulants can decrease appetite, or lead to headaches or
sleeplessness. Check the packaging of antidepressants for warnings regarding
potential irritability, anxiety, insomnia, or mood changes.
Managing Your Life
Medication provides just half the treatment picture for the
adult with ADHD. You can also initiate calm and focus by setting up your
environment effectively. Install a large bulletin board to organize your
schedule and contacts. Designate specific spots to store your keys, wallet, and
Cognitive behavioral therapy may help you take additional
steps in mastering organizational, study, and social skills. A therapist can
help you work on time management and ways to curb impulsive behavior.