Are There Drugs Like Adderall and Ritalin That Are Not Addictive?

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Adderall and Ritalin are two of the most widely prescribed medications for the treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Both of these medications contain strong, potentially addictive prescription stimulants as their active ingredients. If you want to avoid stimulant use, which may ultimately end in stimulant addiction and require treatment, you may wonder if there are any non-addictive alternatives to drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. The answer is yes, although these alternatives do not work in the same way as addictive stimulants.

Adderall and Ritalin Essentials

Adderall and Ritalin are both branded medications. Adderall contains two prescription stimulants: amphetamine and a member of the same chemical family called dextroamphetamine. Ritalin contains another stimulant called methylphenidate (as does a third popular ADHD medication, Concerta). Stimulants are helpful in the treatment of ADHD because they can:

  • Change the normal levels of two important brain chemicals (i.e., neurotransmitters), dopamine and norepinephrine, and thereby
  • Improve the ability of children and adults with the disorder to focus and pay attention

Non-Addictive Alternatives

There are several non-stimulant, non-addictive alternatives to pills like Adderall and Ritalin. One of the main options is a medication called atomoxetine, sold under the brand name Strattera. Strattera was the first non-stimulant to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an ADHD treatment. It also stands as the first FDA-approved treatment for the disorder intended for use in adults (although doctors can and do prescribe it for children and teens, as well). Like stimulant ADHD drugs, atomoxetine boosts the brain’s levels of norepinephrine. However, it does not boost levels of dopamine. Doctors also sometimes prescribe non-addictive medications not specifically intended or approved to treat ADHD. The common term for this method of medication prescription is off-label use. It happens when a drug designed for the treatment of one condition also provides significant benefits in the treatment of other conditions. The off-label options for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder include:

  • Antidepressant medications that boost the brain’s norepinephrine levels
  • Certain hypertension medications, including guanfacine (Tenex) and clonidine (Catapres), and
  • The narcolepsy medication modafinil (Provigil), which is sometimes prescribed for adults who don’t respond to standard stimulant-based treatment

ResourcesPsychiatry: Non-Stimulant Treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): Medication Management                                                                              National Institute on Drug Abuse: Stimulant ADHD Medications – Methylphenidate and Amphetamines                                 

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