Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Its active ingredient is a combination of the stimulants amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which have a paradoxical calming effect in people with ADHD. While many patients find Adderall to be highly effective, it has some negative side effects, and can be habit forming or even dangerous for people with certain medical conditions. However, a number of viable alternatives exist for ADHD patients unsuited for Adderall treatment.
Methylphenidate is the most common drug used to treat ADHD, marketed under many different brand and generic names including Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin and Daytrana. Most brands are available in short-acting tablets, though some have mid-acting tablets, and Concerta offers a unique extended-release design. Daytrana also comes in patch form. In general, methylphenidates work very quickly---usually within an hour---but extended-release medications may have a slower onset and longer duration.
Like most ADHD medications, methylphenidate is a stimulant of the central nervous system (CNS), so side effects like insomnia, weight loss and irritability are common. There is potential for dependency or abuse, but extended-release medications have a lower risk.
Dextroamphetamine, marketed as Dexedrine and Dextrostat, is one of the active ingredients in Adderall, so its effects are closer to Adderall's than most other ADHD drugs. Common side effects are insomnia, weight loss, irritability, headache and stomachache, nearly identical to Adderall's. Dextroamphetamine's effects may last longer than those of short-acting methylphenidates, but wear off faster than Adderall's. Dextroamphetamine has a high abuse potential, except when taken in Dexadrine's spansule form.
Vyvanse, or lisdexamfetamine, does not become active until fully absorbed by the digestive system, when it converts to dextroamphetamine. According to Health and Life, this means Vyvanse may be "smoother, last longer, and have less variability" than Adderall, and have less abuse potential because it produces less of a high if snorted or injected. It reduces impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, but can be less helpful for concentration, and may not be as strong as Adderall.
Unlike most ADHD drugs, clonidine isn't contraindicated for patients with motor tics or Tourette's syndrome---in fact, it is a common treatment for Tourette's. ADHD patients with additional symptoms like severe impulsiveness, hyperactivity or aggression may find clonidine helpful. Clonidine is also distinct from other ADHD drugs because it stimulates appetite and helps treat insomnia, sometimes even causing excessive sleepiness during the day. Clonidine's brand name is Catapres, which comes in both tablet and patch forms.
As the only nonstimulant ADHD drug available, Strattera is an excellent alternative for patients who want or need to avoid stimulants. While other medications take effect almost immediately, Strattera must accumulate in the system first, so it takes a few days to start working and may take up to a month to become fully effective. Because of its low potential for abuse, Strattera isn't scheduled as a controlled narcotic. According to A. D. D. WareHouse's medication chart, side effects include appetite loss, sedation and lightheadedness in children, and insomnia, sexual side effects and increased blood pressure in adults. Strattera may be dangerous for people with cardiovascular problems.
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