What should I know about taking ADHD medication for myself or my partner?

There are quite a few individuals who have recently been evaluated, or will be evaluated for ADHD showing up on the forum these days, and others whose partners/spouses show signs of ADHD.  It is valuable to know some basic information about ADHD medications, as that is what most doctors will recommend as a way to work with ADHD symptoms.  What follows is a very brief overview and is not intended in any way to replace your doctor’s recommendations in regard to medications.

The first type of medications often recommended is stimulants.  Medications in that category are the amphetamines such as Adderall and Vyvanse, and Methylphenidates such as Ritalin and Concerta.  These medications inhibit the reuptake of dopamine and norepinenephrine, making them more accessible in the brain. Amphetamines also facilitate the release of dopamine.*

The second class of medications is non-stimulants, for those who are sensitive to stimulant drugs due to heart issues, and other reasons.  An example of these drugs is Strattera.  They don’t target dopamine, and therefore don’t have as much to do with the pleasure center of the brain.  Those concerned about addiction issues will sometimes prefer this class of medication to stimulants.

Sometimes other medications such as Wellbutrin, (Buproprion in generic form), are used, which are not specifically ADHD medication, but are known to be supportive in increasing norepinephrine, and impacting dopamine levels.

And finally, there are the alpha agonists such as Kapvay and Intuniv, which are meant to lower blood pressure.  They can reduce hyperactivity, reduce aggression and impact mood.  These can be very powerful medications, and of course, should be monitored closely by a doctor.

When first prescribed, any of these medications should be closely monitored.  It’s important to keep in mind that it may take some trial and error before the right medication at the right dosage is determined.  You or your partner will need to have patience, and expect to go through potentially a few doctors’ visits before everything seems just right.  It is important to report any side effects to your doctor.  If possible, it is most preferable to see a doctor who specializes in ADHD.

Stimulant medications will not make a person with ADHD more hyperactive.  They have the opposite effect, and instead should help you to feel more focused and less distracted, as they stimulate the frontal portions of the brain, parts that are underactive in ADHD individuals.

There is a small chance that one can become tolerant to ADHD medications.  If this is true in your case, and you find that they are not having the same effect as when you initially started taking them, some minor adjustments to dosage may need to be made, or a change in medication may be called for.

If you find there is an increase in aggression or anger, this may be an indication of another underlying condition.  In this case, a medication adjustment might be needed, or there may be a need for something else, such as Wellbutrin, to be added to calm any mood dysregulation.

It is O.K. to drink caffeine, and small amounts of alcohol, while on these medications, but certainly, it is never a good idea to take in large quantities of alcohol with any such drug.

Most importantly, because stimulants are a regulated substance, you are required see and consult with your doctor regularly, and report any side effects or discomfort to him or her immediately.


*From The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD, p.24.