Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
March 11, 2023

ADHD and Medication: Pros, Cons, and How to Know if it’s Right For You

If you have been diagnosed with ADHD or suspect you might have ADHD, you might be wondering whether you should try medication. 

Medication can be helpful for a lot of people with ADHD. But there are pros and cons. As a therapist for millennials with anxiety and ADHD, I get a lot of clients wondering whether medication might help them. Ultimately, what works for one person won’t work for someone else. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t prescribe medication nor give medical advice. However, I have worked with people who have taken ADHD medication as well as psychiatrists. 

So here are some considerations to take into account when thinking about ADHD and medication. 

ADHD and Medication: Pros and Cons

I wish there were a button to press that could tell you whether medication was right for you, and if so, which one would work best. Obviously, this isn’t the case. It requires trial and error, time, and patience to navigate ADHD and medication. 

Pros of medication can include:

  • Improvement in focus and thinking
  • Decrease in hyperactivity
  • Feeling more operational in life, home, and at work
  • Time and space to work with a therapist to address underlying concerns while you’re feeling functional

Cons of medication can include:

  • Unwanted side effects, like difficulty sleeping, nausea, or increased anxiety
  • Possibly a lot of trial and error to get the right type and dosage of drug
  • Doesn’t address underlying or additional mental health concerns, such as thoughts and beliefs
  • It can be difficult to remember to take meds regularly
  • Potential for dependency (just like with any other type of drug)

In general, if ADHD is impacting your ability to function – to work, to maintain your relationships, to manage important life upkeep – consider medication.

It can give you the boost in executive functioning you need while you work on honing the skills you need to have a happy, healthy life with ADHD. 

Medication and ADHD

Stimulant vs Non Stimulant ADHD Meds

There are two types of ADHD medications: stimulants and non-stimulants. Here’s the difference between stimulant vs non stimulant ADHD meds. 

Stimulant ADHD meds

Stimulant ADHD meds work by increasing neurotransmitters in your brain that help improve executive function.  

The neurotransmitters – dopamine and norepinephrine – help you pay more attention, stay focused, and think more clearly without getting as distracted.

Common examples of stimulants for ADHD include Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta. 

While all stimulants work by increasing neurotransmitter activity in the brain, different medications work on different timelines. There are immediate-acting medications, which work quickly but typically only last 3-5 hours. Then there are longer-acting extended release medications, which can work for up to 16 hours.

Immediate-release medications like Ritalin may be helpful in the short term, but may cause you to crash after a few hours when the drug wears off. Longer-acting medications can take more time to work, but may feel more stable and consistent. 

Stimulants are generally considered safe when used as prescribed. However, stimulants are controlled substances and may be abused if taken improperly. 

Side effects of stimulants can include weight and appetite changes, behavioral changes, sleep changes, mood changes, heart problems, and tics. 

Non-stimulant meds

Non-stimulant meds are the other type of FDA-approved ADHD prescription medication. They aren’t controlled substances, and therefore aren’t likely to be abused. 

They work by increasing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in your brain. They can take longer to start working than stimulants, so you may not feel the effects for a few weeks. However, they can still be effective at improving executive functioning.

Examples of non-stimulants for ADHD include Kapvay, Qelbree, and Strattera. These medications can last up to 24 hours.

Side effects of non-stimulants can include fatigue, nausea, upset stomach, dry mouth, dizziness, and, for Strattera, suicidal thoughts in the 18-24 age range. 

Which Type of Medication Should You Take?

Unfortunately, both stimulants and non-stimulants produce unwanted side effects. They can range from uncomfortable feelings like dry mouth to suicidal thoughts.

To determine the best medication fit for you, you’ll need to talk to your doctor. Here are some things you might want to discuss with them during your appointment:

  • Any history with substance abuse
  • Past medications that did or didn’t work
  • Any current medications you’re taking
  • Other mental health struggles you’re having, such as depression, anxiety, or insomnia

Certain medications can increase the likelihood of anxiety, and others might not mix well with another medication you’re on. Plus, if you have a history of substance abuse and are worried about relapse, stimulants may not be the best choice.

Regardless of which type of medication you choose, it’s important to always follow the prescribed dosage. If you’re prescribed a medication to take daily, don’t skip days. Don’t just take it when you think of it while you’re at work. Set a reminder on your phone, and try and take it around the same time every day.

All in all, medications work well for many people. It fully depends on you, your body, your lifestyle, and your tolerance for trial and error. 

Stimulant vs non stimulant ADHD meds

Medication and ADHD: Three Considerations

Navigating medication and ADHD can be confusing and overwhelming. When it comes to taking medication, there’s no one right answer. There are a lot of factors at play. Furthermore, if you choose the medication route, it may take a while for you to figure out the right type and dose of medication.

Here are three things to keep in mind when trying to decide whether ADHD medication is for you.

  1. ADHD medication isn’t a cure-all.

Medication won’t magically fix all your problems. But for some people, it can certainly help.

Think of medication as a bandaid to cover a wound. The bandaid isn’t actually doing anything to help your wound heal; it’s just covering it for protection. Your body and blood cells are the ones doing the work behind the scenes to heal your wound.

You can think of medication in a similar way. It won’t address the root causes of your challenges. You won’t learn stress management, coping mechanisms, or organization skills from medication. But it can help you function more easily while you build the skills you need to navigate the world with ADHD.

  1. ADHD meds aren’t one-size-fits-all.

You might need to try several different types of ADHD meds before you find the one that works for you. This can be time-consuming and frustrating. Additionally, you may try several types of medications and find that the side effects simply don’t work for you.

The process of finding a medication that actually works can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Ironically, the amount of steps and overwhelm in securing the right-fit medication can scare away people with ADHD. Menial tasks and overwhelm are exactly the types of things that people with ADHD don’t always have the resources to manage.

Working with a therapist who specializes in ADHD can help you figure out whether medication might help. A therapist can also help you organize and plan the steps you need to take to acquire medication. These include finding a doctor in your area, scheduling an appointment, questions to ask them during your appointment, and follow-up tasks to complete. 

  1. ADHD medication works best in conjunction with therapy. 

For a lot of reasons, medication and ADHD are best navigated alongside therapy. 

One reason, like I mentioned above, is that there are too many hoops to jump through in order to get meds. Therapy can help take you through each step so it’s less frustrating and overwhelming.

Another reason that medication and ADHD work best while in therapy is that medication won’t address your underlying behaviors, beliefs, self-talk, and other mental health challenges. Learning to feel more empowered, self-compassionate, and resilient requires changing the way you think. Medication won’t help with that – but therapy will. 

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You Navigate ADHD and Medication

If you want help figuring out whether medication is the right move for you, I'm here to help.

Together, we can talk about whether medication might be right for you, work through your challenges, and come up with a plan to address your underlying thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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