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Demystifying Stimulant vs. Nonstimulant Options for ADHD Treatment in Philadelphia & The Main Line


ADHD experts in Philadelphia with Renewing Mindsets deliver gold-standard assessments, informing treatment like medication and coaching.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, affecting over 6 million children in the U.S. Characterized by difficulty focusing, excessive activity, and impulsiveness, ADHD often persists into adulthood and causes impairment across major life areas. The good news is ADHD is highly manageable with evidence-based treatment. Medication is a cornerstone of treatment for most people with ADHD. The two main medication categories are stimulants and nonstimulants, which have key differences in how they work, side effects, abuse potential, and more. Finding the optimal ADHD medication requires comprehensive testing, diagnosis, and specialized care from providers like Renewing Mindsets serving Philadelphia and the Main Line.


How Stimulants and Nonstimulants Differ


Stimulant medications like Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and Concerta are usually the first choice for treating ADHD. Stimulants act by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain. This stimulation improves concentration, motivation, focus, and impulse control.

Nonstimulant medications like Strattera, Intuniv, and Wellbutrin have different mechanisms of action to regulate neurotransmitters indirectly. While slower to take effect, nonstimulants provide a smoother, subtler treatment option with less risk of abuse and dependence.


Providers weigh many factors when selecting ADHD medication, including the patient's symptoms, coexisting disorders, history, and risk of misuse. While stimulants are prescribed more often, nonstimulants play an important role, especially when stimulant side effects are intolerable or abuse risk is elevated.


Key Differences Between Stimulant and Nonstimulant Medications


Mechanism

Stimulants: Increase dopamine/norepinephrine levels

Nonstimulants: Regulate neurotransmitters indirectly

Onset and Duration

Stimulants: Rapid onset, short or extended release

Nonstimulants: Slower onset, all-day coverage

Side Effects

Stimulants: Decreased appetite, insomnia, headaches

Nonstimulants: Fatigue, stomach upset, irritability

Abuse Potential

Stimulants: Higher risk of abuse/dependence

Nonstimulants: Lower risk of abuse

Approved Ages

Stimulants: Ages 3 and up

Nonstimulants: Ages 6 and up

Delivery Method

Stimulants: Tablets, capsules, liquids, patches, powders

Nonstimulants: Capsules and tablets


Examples of Medications in Each Category


Stimulant Examples

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Daytrana)

  • Amphetamine (Adderall, Vyvanse, Evekeo)

  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)

  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)


Nonstimulant Examples

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)

  • Clonidine (Kapvay)

  • Guanfacine (Intuniv)

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)


The Role of Comprehensive ADHD Testing and Diagnosis


Thorough evaluation and diagnosis should come first when exploring ADHD treatment options like medication. The team at Renewing Mindsets provides comprehensive clinical assessment and testing for ADHD in children, adolescents, college students, and adults.


Our licensed mental health professionals take a detailed history and incorporate multiple rating scales backed by research to reach an accurate ADHD diagnosis. We screen for overlapping conditions like anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, and substance abuse that may mimic ADHD symptoms. Identifying co-occurring issues is key for creating the optimal treatment plan.


The ADHD assessment includes:


  • Clinical interview on symptoms, history, functioning

  • Validated ADHD rating scales/questionnaires

  • Cognitive testing when appropriate

  • Inventory of current life impairment

  • Physical exam and lab tests when warranted


Through this rigorous process, we obtain the information needed to make the right ADHD treatment recommendations for each patient.


Starting ADHD Medication Treatment


For those who decide medication is the right choice, our board-certified psychiatrists provide a comprehensive initial consultation. This appointment covers:


  • Thorough review of evaluation results and diagnosis

  • Psychoeducation about ADHD as a neurobiological disorder

  • Discussion of treatment options including stimulant vs. nonstimulant medications

  • Collaborative decision-making around choosing a medication

  • Review of medication benefits, side effects, and risks

  • Written prescription for the selected ADHD medication


Finding the optimal dose is crucial when starting ADHD medication. Our mental health professionals monitor patients closely at the outset to carefully adjust the dosage for maximum benefit and minimal side effects. We also provide ongoing medication management long-term to assess effectiveness, support adherence, and modify treatment as needed. Our medication services are combined with counseling, coaching, classes, and support groups for the best outcomes.


Why Early Treatment Matters


Treating ADHD early and consistently makes a profound difference across the lifespan. Diagnosing ADHD in elementary school prevents children from irreparably falling behind in school and socially. Intervening in middle school and high school helps students improve grades, self-esteem, and graduation prospects. Treating ADHD properly during the college years helps students overcome obstacles and successfully complete their degree.


For adults, effective ADHD treatment means being able to thrive in careers, have healthy relationships, avoid substance misuse, and fully realize their potential. Ongoing medication and therapy provides the support and structure needed to actively manage ADHD at each stage of life.


While not completely curable, ADHD is highly treatable with evidence-based care. Our compassionate providers help patients and families understand ADHD as a biological disorder and remove blame or stigma. We empower those we treat with the latest tools and strategies to live full lives with ADHD.


Why Choose Renewing Mindsets for ADHD Treatment?


Renewing Mindsets offers comprehensive ADHD care from testing and diagnosis through ongoing medication management, counseling, and coaching. Our services include:


  • ADHD evaluations for all ages

  • Psychiatric services and medication management

  • Individual and family therapy

  • ADHD coaching and support groups

  • Cognitive testing and vocational counseling

  • Treatment for co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders


Our experienced medical team provides flexible appointment times, including evenings and weekends, both in-person and via telehealth.


If you suspect you or a loved one may have undiagnosed ADHD, contact Renewing Mindsets today to schedule a consultation. We create customized treatment plans to help every patient succeed and thrive with ADHD. Call (484) 948-5400 or book your appointment online now.

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