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



Science-based ADHD testing in Philadelphia with Renewing Mindsets leads to accurate diagnosis and treatments that transform lives for the better.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition affecting over 6 million children in the U.S. alone. Characterized by difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, ADHD frequently persists from childhood into adulthood, causing impairment across multiple settings. The good news is that ADHD is highly treatable when identified properly. Medication is one of the most effective options for managing ADHD symptoms long-term. The two main categories of medication are stimulants and nonstimulants, which have key differences in their mechanisms of action, side effects, abuse potential and more. Finding the right medication requires a thorough ADHD assessment, diagnosis, and specialized care from providers like those at Renewing Mindsets serving Philadelphia and the Main Line.


How Stimulants and Nonstimulants Work


Stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are usually the first choice for treating ADHD. As the name suggests, these medications stimulate the central nervous system by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain. This stimulation improves concentration, focus, motivation, and impulse control.


Nonstimulants like Strattera, Intuniv, and Wellbutrin work differently to regulate neurotransmitters indirectly through other mechanisms in the brain. While they may take longer to take effect, nonstimulants provide an alternative option that avoids the crashes and spikes of stimulants. They have a lower risk of abuse and dependence.


Psychotherapists consider many factors when determining medication for ADHD, including the individual's symptoms, history, co-occurring disorders, and substance use risk. Stimulants tend to be prescribed more often, but nonstimulants serve an important role, especially when stimulant side effects are intolerable or the risk of stimulant misuse is high.


Key Differences Between Stimulant and Nonstimulant Medications


Mechanism of Action

Stimulants: Increase dopamine and norepinephrine

Nonstimulants: Regulate neurotransmitters indirectly


Onset and Duration

Stimulants: Rapid onset, short-acting or extended release

Nonstimulants: Slower onset, all-day coverage


Common Side Effects

Stimulants: Appetite loss, insomnia, headaches

Nonstimulants: Fatigue, irritability, stomach upset


Abuse Potential

Stimulants: Higher abuse and dependence risk

Nonstimulants: Lower abuse risk


Approved Ages

Stimulants: Ages 3 and older

Nonstimulants: Ages 6 and older


Delivery Methods

Stimulants: Tablets, capsules, liquids, patches, powders

Nonstimulants: Capsules and tablets


Examples of ADHD 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)


Optimizing Treatment Through Comprehensive ADHD Evaluations


Thorough assessment and diagnosis should come first when treating ADHD, before considering medication options. At Renewing Mindsets, we conduct comprehensive ADHD evaluations for children, teens, college students, and adults. Our licensed psychologists and psychiatrists take a detailed history and use multiple rating scales backed by research to provide an accurate diagnosis. We screen for co-occurring conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, learning disabilities, and substance abuse that may overlap with ADHD. Identifying these issues is key for creating the most effective treatment plan.

The clinical assessment includes:


  • Patient interview on current symptoms, medical/family history

  • ADHD rating scales and questionnaires

  • Cognitive testing when appropriate

  • Inventory of current life functioning and impairment

  • Physical exam and lab tests to rule out other causes when needed


Our goal is to reach an accurate ADHD diagnosis through this rigorous assessment process. We then make personalized medication and treatment recommendations tailored to the needs of each patient.


Beginning ADHD Medication Treatment


For those who choose to begin ADHD medication, our board-certified psychiatrists provide a comprehensive initial consultation. This appointment involves:


  • Thorough review of the evaluation results and diagnosis

  • Education about ADHD as a neurobiological disorder

  • Discussion of treatment options including stimulant vs. nonstimulant medications

  • Collaborative decision-making around selecting a medication

  • Review of medication benefits, side effects, and risks

  • Written prescription for the chosen ADHD medication


Starting medication for ADHD requires finding the optimal dose that improves symptoms without adverse effects. Our psychiatrists see patients frequently at the outset to closely monitor effects and adjust the dosage until it is just right. We also provide ongoing medication management long-term to assess efficacy, support compliance, and modify treatment when needed. Our medication management services combine psychotherapy, coaching, classes, and support groups for the best outcomes.


The Difference Early Treatment Can Make


Treating ADHD early and effectively makes a profound difference across the lifespan. Identifying ADHD in elementary school prevents children from irreparably falling behind academically and socially. Intervening in middle school or high school helps get students back on track to graduate and pursue college. Treatment in the college years helps students overcome ADHD-related obstacles to complete their degree.


For adults, properly treating ADHD means being able to succeed long-term in careers, sustain healthy relationships, avoid substance misuse, and fully realize their potential. Ongoing medication and therapy provides the brain with the support and structure needed to actively manage ADHD at each stage of life.


While ADHD is not completely curable, it is highly treatable with evidence-based interventions. 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 thrive with ADHD at any age.


Why Choose Renewing Mindsets for ADHD Care?


Renewing Mindsets provides comprehensive ADHD treatment from initial testing through ongoing medication management and therapy. Our coordinated team offers:


  • ADHD assessments and diagnosis for all ages

  • Psychiatric services including medication management

  • Individual and family therapy

  • ADHD coaching and support groups

  • Cognitive testing and vocational counseling

  • Treatment for co-occurring mood/anxiety disorders

Our experienced mental health professionals offer flexible appointment times including evenings and weekends. We provide in-person visits and telehealth options for convenience.


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

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