Why are antidepressants used to treat adults with ADHD?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Antidepressants are prescribed for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who are not able to take stimulant medications. Adults may choose antidepressants because they experience uncomfortable side effects from stimulant medications, including:

  • increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • headaches
  • trouble sleeping, anxiety, or other mood changes
  • a reduction in appetite or undesired weight loss

Other adults are not able to take stimulant medications because they have other conditions, such as a tic disorder, mental illness, or other medical problem. For these adults, antidepressants offer an alternative treatment for ADHD. One benefit to using antidepressants to treat ADHD is that the medication can also treat any underlying problems with anxiety or depression. Drawbacks to using antidepressants for ADHD include side effects and delayed efficacy, according to
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Certain types of antidepressants are sometimes used to treat adults with ADHD, especially if stimulant drugs aren’t a good choice or cause intolerable side effects. They help you focus, control your actions, sit still, and remain quiet (when you need to be). Wellbutrin (bupropion) works well for many adults with ADHD. Other antidepressant drugs that affect the brain chemical norepinephrine also may be effective. Keep in mind, however, that treatment of ADHD with antidepressants is considered “off-label.” These medications are approved by the FDA, but not for ADHD specifically.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.