ADHD Treatment:
Medications for ADHD

In some cases, medications may be useful for treating ADHD. This is especially true when the psychological stress seems to be very high or the symptoms lead to problems in everyday life (such as anxiety in the workplace due to insufficient concentration and attention).

Preparations for the treatment of ADHD often lead to a reduction of symptoms.

This is how ADHD medications work:

  • The drugs change the interaction of certain messenger substances in the brain (neurotransmitters)
  • The concentration and duration of action of the messengers dopamine and norepinephrine are changed
  • The symptoms are usually reduced very quickly
Good to know: In many cases, drug-based treatment for ADHD is combined with psychotherapy.

What medications are
available for treating ADHD?

For the treatment of adult ADHD, drugs containing methylphenidate and atomoxetine have been approved in most countries of the European Union. In several countries, a medication containing the drug Lisdexamphetamine also has a license for treatment of adults with ADHD.

Methylphenidate: A Gold Standard
of Drug-Based Treatment

Methylphenidate and Lisdexamfetamine are number one choices for treating ADHD in adults – Experts talk about the so-called "gold standard".1 Their effectiveness and safety have been demonstrated in various studies.

1 Kemmerich, R., ADHS von A bis Z: Kompaktes Praxiswissen für Betroffene und Therapeuten. 1. Auflage, Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart, 2017: 53 und 239

An ADHD medication containing methylphenidate can only be prescribed by a doctor.

Methylphenidate: Profile

  • Mode of Action
    • Increases the concentration of dopamine in the brain
    • Improves the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Treatment Process
    • Physical examination prior to commencing drug-based treatment
    • Dosage Phase: Gradual increase in dose until the individual target dose is reached (until optimum effectiveness)
    • Generally leads to a substantial improvement in ADHD systems in a short period of time
    • Treatment needs to be reviewed at regular intervals (approximately once a year)
  • When methylphenidate is not suitable (examples)
    • Cardiac arrhythmias
    • Hypertension
    • Substance abuse
    • Alcohol abuse
    • Pregnancy
  • Duration of Action
    • Capsules containing methylphenidate last approximately eight hours – it is generally sufficient to take a capsule once or twice a day
  • Tolerance
    • If all important factors are clarified before the start of treatment, taking ADHD medication is generally low in risk and has few side effects
    • When taken as prescribed, there is no evidence that methylphenidate creates a dependency
    • Regular check-ups are customary (body weight and mental and cardiovascular status must be monitored continuously)
  • Possible side effects of methylphenidate (Examples)

    Side effects usually occur only when starting to take the medication and often recede over time:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Sleep disorders
    • Headaches
    • Slightly increased blood pressure and pulse
    • Increased sweating

    For a detailed list of possible side effects, please read the patient leaflet of the respective ADHD medication.

ADHD Medications: Effects

Many sufferers report a clear improvement in ADHD symptoms within a short time after taking MPH based ADHD mediations.

The usual positive effects are:

  • Increase in the ability to concentrate
  • Better control over one's own behaviour (reduction in impulsiveness)
  • Reduction in motor hyperactivity and inner restlessness

This is often the necessary basis to enable further therapeutic measures such as psychotherapy.

Medications for ADHD –
Yes or No?

Whether or not to use drugs to treat ADHD is a very individual decision.

Questions that sufferers should ask themselves are:

  • How strongly do I feel the psychological suffering that comes from the symptoms of ADHD?
  • Do I have any particular problems in everyday life that I could better cope with by reducing the symptoms?

If these central issues can be addressed through drug therapy then – in consultation with your doctor – you could opt for medication. Additional psychotherapy can then be a good option for obtaining specific strategies for everyday life in the long term.

UPDATE: A recent study proves drug-based ADHD treatment for adults is more successful than just psychotherapy on its own. The COMPAS Study (December 2015), supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), compared the administration of medication with and without group psychotherapy and non-drug therapies.
Philipsen Alexandra, et. al. Effects of Group Psychotherapy, Individual Counseling, Methylphenidate, and Placebo in the Treatment of Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015 Dec 1;72(12):1199-210. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2146.
Mike P. (28 years old) I have the impression that I can concentrate much better on my meetings than before. Because this was one of my main problems in the workplace, that often afterwards I could not remember the content and had to talk to colleagues about what had been agreed. Now I manage to stay on the ball during the entire meeting without any problems Actually, it would have been typical for me to suddenly think of something else while listening and just not be able to hear parts of the meeting.