What is stimulant therapy?

Stimulant therapy is the most commonly used treatment for Attention-Deficit Disorder/ Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD.

Stimulants are an effective way of managing ADHD symptoms such as short attention span, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. They may be used alone or in combination with behavior therapy.

These drugs improve ADHD symptoms in about 70% of adults and 70% to 80% of children shortly after starting treatment. Improvements include reduced interrupting, fidgeting, and other hyperactive symptoms, as well as improved task completion and home relationships.

Improvements in behavior and attention span usually continue as long as the medication is taken, although benefits in social adjustment and school performance have not yet been shown to endure over the long term.

These medications are not considered to be habit-forming when used to treat ADHD in children and adolescents, and there is no evidence that their use leads to drug abuse. Nonetheless, there is a potential for abuse and addiction with any stimulant medication, especially if a person has a history of substance abuse. Recent research, nevertheless, shows that individuals with ADHD had a lower incidence of substance use disorder if they were medically treated than if they were not treated.

Common stimulants for the treatment of ADHD

There are many stimulants available: short acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. Common stimulants include:

  • Adderall® (intermediate-acting)
  • Adderall XR® (long-acting)
  • Concerta® (long-acting)
  • Daytrana® (long-acting patch)
  • Dexedrine® (short-acting)
  • Dexedrine® Spansule® (intermediate-acting)
  • Focalin® (short-acting)
  • Focalin XR® (long-acting)
  • Metadate CD® (long-acting)
  • Metadate® ER (intermediate-acting)
  • Methylin™ ER (intermediate-acting)
  • Ritalin® (short-acting)
  • Ritalin LA® (long-acting)
  • Ritalin SR® (intermediate-acting)
  • Vyvanse® (long-acting)

The short-acting forms of the drug are usually taken 2 or 3 times a day and the long-acting ones just once a day.

Newer forms of some stimulant drugs may reduce side effects and relieve symptoms for a longer period of time. They include Concerta (10 to 12 hour duration), Ritalin LA (6 to 8 hours), Metadate CD (6 to 8 hours), and Adderall XR (10 to 12 hours), Vyvanse (up to 13 hours), Focalin XR (12 hours) and Daytrana (10 to12 hours).

Who should not take a stimulant drug?

  • Patients with any of the following conditions or drug treatments should not take stimulant therapy: Allergy or sensitivity to stimulant medications.
  • Patients with glaucoma (a condition that causes increased pressure in the eyes and can lead to blindness).
  • Patients with severe anxiety, tension, agitation, or nervousness.
  • Patients undergoing treatment with a type of medication called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as Nardil® (phenelzine) , Parnate® (tranylcypromine), Marplan® ( isocarboxazid), or Eldepryl® (selegeline) within 14 days of starting stimulant therapy.
  • Patients with motor tics or a personal or family history of Tourette's Syndrome.
  • Patients who have current psychotic episodes or a personal history of psychosis.
  • Patients with overactive thyroid.
  • Patients with coronary artery disease.
  • Patients with heart or blood vessel disease.
  • Patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure.
  • Patients with certain types of irregular heart beat.
  • Patients with a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

It is important to note that this is not an all inclusive list. Your physician will need to evaluate your complete medical history and regimen of medications, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements to help determine if you would be able to take a certain stimulant.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/23/2016.


  • Patient Education documents from Lexi-Comp Online, Lexi-Drugs Online, Hudson, Ohio: Lexi-Comp Inc.;2013, January 2013.
  • Carenotes from Micromedex Healthcare Series [Internet database]. Greenwood Village, Colo: Thomson Reuters (Healthcare) Inc. Updated periodically.
  • Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach by Joseph T. Dipiro, Robert L. Talbert, Gary C. Yee, Gary R. Matzke, Barbara G. Wells, and L. MIchael Posey Chapter 65 Childhood Disorders pp. 1029-1040. Seventh Edition McGraw Hill Medical Copyright 2008.

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