Non-Stimulant vs Stimulant ADHD Medication: Similarities & Differences

Non-Stimulant vs Stimulant ADHD Medication: Similarities & Differences

"...In some cases, people would like to find an alternative to address symptoms not being addressed by their drugs"

When it comes to ADHD medication, the two most talked about options are non-stimulant and stimulant meds. Both types of medication target chemicals in the brain to improve attention while reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity. Though the aim of these drugs is the same, there are also key differences, from the specific chemicals they contain to their side effects. While many individuals do find great success by using stimulant or non-stimulant medication, in some cases, people would like to find an alternative to address symptoms not being addressed by their drugs, such as anxiety or mood regulation. Or they may be afraid to increase their dosage and make side effects more severe. To help you figure out how to choose ADHD medications when there are so many options available, we’re gathering all the information we know to help you make an informed decision.

ADHD Stimulant Medication

Stimulant medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD. They work by targeting brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. Prescribed since the 1960’s, these drugs are fast-acting and can be taken as needed (for immediate release options) or once a day (extended release).1 Though widely prescribed and effective for many, these drugs do contain synthetic chemicals that may cause side effects in some users. In some cases, users will switch from one drug to another or choose other types of ADHD medications to avoid such side effects. We’ll list the most common brand names for ADHD stimulant meds below, along with each of the drug’s reported side effects.

    • Adderall: Introduced in the 1990s, Adderall consists of chemicals dextroamphetamine sulfate, amphetamine sulfate dextroamphetamine saccharate, and amphetamine (D,L)-aspartate monohydrate. Potential side effects include: insomnia, dry mouth, upset stomach, and loss of appetite. 
    • Ritalin: The first drug approved for ADHD, Ritalin is faster acting than Adderall and consists of methylphenidate. Side effects may include: nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, heartburn, headache, and nausea.
    • Dexedrine: Similar to Adderall, Dexedrine targets the same brain chemicals, but consists solely of the chemical dextroamphetamine sulfate. Possible side effects include: headache, dry mouth, constipation, weight loss, and sexual side effects.
    • Concerta: As an extended-release drug, Concerta works slower than many other stimulant ADHD medications and consists of methylphenidate hydrochloride. Side effects in some users include: irritability, insomnia, racing heart, excessive sweating, and nausea. 
    • Focalin: Considered stronger than Ritalin and Concerta, Focalin is made of the chemical dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride. Side effects may include: rapid heartbeat, insomnia, abdominal pain, headache, and nervousness. 
    • Vyvanse: Consisting of lisdexamfetamine, Vyvanse makes the body absorb the chemical lysine first before it can feel the effects of the stimulant, meaning it sticks around in the body for a longer period of time. Potential side effects include: higher blood pressure, stomach pain, dry mouth, dizziness, insomnia, and headaches. 

ADHD Non-Stimulant Medication 

Though stimulants are the primary drugs prescribed for ADHD, in some cases, a doctor will prescribe non-stimulant ADHD meds if a patient doesn’t respond to stimulant drugs, if the side effects are too strong, or to avoid drug interactions. Though non-stimulant medication also targets brain chemicals to control symptoms of ADHD, the drugs often work slower than stimulant medication and are typically dosed for daily use. While some individuals take stimulant drugs as needed, non-stimulant drugs will stop working if they are stopped at any time. Even though many individuals choose non-stimulant medication to avoid the side effects of stimulant drugs, non-stimulant drugs do carry their own risks. Below are the most common non-stimulant ADHD medications and their associated side effects.  

    • Strattera: Consisting of the chemical atomoxetine, Strattera raises the chemical norepinephrine in the brain and is not a controlled substance like stimulants. Possible side effects include: significant abdominal pain, nausea, and drowsiness.
    • Kapvay: Made with the chemical clonidine hydrochloride, Kapvay is an extended-release drug for ADHD that is primarily used to treat hypertension. Potential side effects include: dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and constipation.
    • Intuniv: A long-acting form of guanfacine, Intuniv is similar to Kapvay in that its primary use is for hypertension, though it is also prescribed for ADHD. Side effects may include: drowsiness, dizziness, headache, irritability, and decreased appetite.
    • Wellbutrin: Typically prescribed for ADHD if there is a co-occurring condition like anxiety or depression, Wellbutrin consists of the chemical bupropion and increases the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Side effects may include: headache, weight loss, insomnia, nausea, and dry mouth.
    • Qelbree: Prescribed to children aged six to 17, this drug consists of viloxazine, which slowly increases norepinephrine in the brain. Possible side effects include: increase in blood pressure, suicidal ideation, fatigue, headache, and loss of appetite.  

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Which Meds Are Better For You?

It’s important to note that while stimulant and non-stimulant medication for ADHD carry side effects and risks, some users find great success by taking these prescription drugs.2 And some individuals report that their side effects eventually go away. But for others, side effects persist, making other types of treatment more appealing. For some, the best way to figure out which meds are best for them or their child is through trial and error.  

Beyond traditional stimulant and non-stimulant drugs, there are also homeopathic medications like Brillia. Unlike stimulants and non-stimulants, Brillia uses antibodies instead of synthetic chemicals, offering a gentle and impactful alternative to prescription medication. Brillia works by targeting a protein in the brain called S100B, a crucial regulator of mood, focus, and neuroplasticity. Studies show that when this protein is out of balance in the body, we can experience symptoms like irritability, restlessness, and inattention. Brillia’s targeted antibodies reduce these symptoms by locating and attaching to the S100B protein to control its activity in the body without causing any off-target side effects. 

Brillia for Children is safe for children five to 18 years old and is available without a prescription or official diagnosis. Brillia for Adults is ideal for adult ADHD and is also available without a prescription or diagnosis.   

Medication Management for ADHD

Whether you are taking stimulant, non-stimulant, or homeopathic medication for ADHD, it’s important to follow the dosing requirements indicated on the label and to support your treatment with healthy lifestyle habits. If you are taking Brillia, these healthy lifestyle habits are conveniently outlined in our Five-Pillar methodology, and intended to maximize Brillia’s effects on ADHD and anxiety symptoms. These habits include eating well, getting adequate sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. If you are already taking a prescription drug for ADHD, you may find that Brillia is a suitable medication to add to your regimen to address symptoms not being targeted by your current medication like anxiety and mood regulation. This is completely safe to do as there are no contraindications associated with Brillia. Some users even choose to take Brillia instead of increasing the dosage of their current medication or they switch over entirely once Brillia has built up in their system (over two to three weeks). If you are planning on discontinuing prescription medication, we always advise you to ask your doctor first.

Find more information on how Brillia works and explore more resources on managing ADHD at the Brillia blog.   

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