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ADHD Medications

ADHD Basics


Updated April 29, 2014

Originally, parents only had two ADHD medications (Ritalin and Adderall) to choose from, and they came in just a few dosages.

That often meant that a child had to tolerate any side effects, such as weight loss, insomnia or irritability, that he had if he wanted to continue taking the medication.

Fortunately, there is now a much greater choice in ADHD medications, and each is available in a wide range of dosages. This makes it much easier to fine-tune a child's dosage to maximize the medication's benefits and minimize, or eliminate, any possible side effects.

ADHD Medications

Commonly used ADHD medications include:

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) based:

Amphetamine based:


  • Strattera
  • Intuniv - extended release Guanfacine
  • Kapvay - extended release Clonidine

These medications differ in how long they last (short acting vs. long acting), their side effects (which can differ from one child to another) and what form they are available in (capsules, patch, pills, etc.).

Short v. Long-Acting ADHD Medications

In addition to grouping ADHD medications by ingredient, it is sometimes helpful to group them by how long they last or control ADHD symptoms:

Short-Acting ADHD medications can last from 3 to 4 hours for Ritalin to 4 to 6 hours for Adderall and Focalin:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Focalin
  • Methylin Chewable Tablets and Oral Solution
  • Ritalin

Intermediate-Acting ADHD medications can last about 4 to 6 hours:

  • Dexedrine Spansule
  • Metadate ER
  • Ritalin SR

Long-Acting ADHD medications can last from 8 to 10 hours for Ritalin LA to 10 to 12 hours for Adderall XR, Concerta and Vyvanse:

  • Adderall XR
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana (This Ritalin patch basically works as long as your child wears it, so it can be used as a short-acting ADHD medication on some days simply by taking it off early.)
  • Focalin XR
  • Quillivant XR (oral suspension)
  • Intuniv (nonstimulant)
  • Kapvay (nonstimulant)
  • Metadate CD
  • Ritalin LA
  • Strattera (nonstimulant)
  • Vyvanse

Why would you want your child to take a medication that only lasts a short amount of time?

One benefit is that some children are sensitive to ADHD medications, and a long-acting medication can simply last too long, leading to trouble eating at night and going to sleep.

The other big benefit is that most short-acting ADHD medications, including Adderall and Ritalin, are now generic and so less expensive than most long-acting medications.

The long-acting ADHD medications can be advantageous, though, because your child doesn't have to take a dose at school.


American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry. Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 2007;46(7).

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

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