Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect children and adults. It’s often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence — in fact, an estimated 6.1 million children and teens were diagnosed with ADHD in 2016.
If you’re one of the millions of people in the United States affected by ADHD, your mental health provider may have prescribed a medication called Adderall®.
Adderall is a stimulant medication that’s used to treat ADHD. Although it’s generally effective, it has the potential to cause adverse side effects — an issue that causes many people to look into Adderall alternatives.
Below, we’ve covered what Adderall is, as well as how it works to reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms. We’ve also discussed several common alternatives to Adderall that you might want to consider if you suffer from ADHD.
Adderall is a brand name for a medication that contains a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine.
Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine are central nervous system stimulants. They work by increasing the levels of certain natural chemicals in your brain. In people with ADHD, this can help to improve focus, self-control, cognitive function and treat common ADHD symptoms.
In addition to ADHD, medications that contain dextroamphetamine and amphetamine are also prescribed to treat issues such as narcolepsy (a sudden need to sleep and excessive daytime tiredness.
Adderall is effective, but it can cause side effects such as nervousness, headaches, dry mouth, diarrhea, nausea and changes in your sex drive or sexual performance.
Because of these issues, it’s far from uncommon for people with ADHD to look into alternatives to Adderall. The good news is that several options are available, from other drugs for ADHD to natural nootropic supplements that may help with focus and brainpower.
Several alternatives to Adderall are available, including other prescription medications used to treat ADHD. Some of these medications have similar effects on brain function to Adderall, but may be less likely to cause adverse effects or more suited to your specific needs.
When Adderall isn’t effective at treating your ADHD or causes too many unwanted side effects, your mental health provider might recommend using a different prescription medication to treat ADHD and improve your cognitive performance.
Related post: Does Adderall Cause Hair Loss?
Prescription ADHD medications fit into two categories: stimulants and nonstimulants. Stimulant medications, like Adderall, work by increasing levels of chemicals that stimulate brain activity.
Nonstimulant ADHD medications work by increasing levels of certain natural chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which are involved in regulating moods and mental focus.
Stimulant medications for ADHD include lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse®) and methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®). Nonstimulant medications for ADHD include clonidine (Kapvay®), atomoxetine (Strattera®) and guanfacine (Intuniv®).
Lisdexamfetamine is a long-acting stimulant medication. It’s a prodrug of dextroamphetamine, meaning it’s converted into an active form within your body. Your healthcare provider may give you this medication if they have concerns about medication misuse with other ADHD drugs.
Methylphenidate works by increasing levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. It’s available in several different forms, including an immediate-release tablet that lasts for three to four hours and as an extended-release tablet that’s used once per day.
Clonidine is a nonstimulant medication that belongs to a class of drugs called centrally acting alpha-agonist hypotensive agents. It works by targeting parts of your brain that manage your impulsivity and attention.
In addition to treating ADHD, clonidine is typically used as a treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure).
Atomoxetine is a type of selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or SNRI. It’s used with other medications to reduce impulsiveness, control hyperactivity and increase your ability to focus on specific tasks.
As a treatment for ADHD, atomoxetine works by increasing your levels of norepinephrine — a brain chemical that’s responsible for regulating certain aspects of your behavior.
Guanfacine is a medication for ADHD and high blood pressure. It works by dilating your blood vessels and improving blood flow. It also targets the parts of your brain that regulate attention and impulse control.
All of these medications require a prescription for use, meaning you’ll need to talk to a medical professional in order to purchase and use them.
If you’re currently prescribed Adderall and think switching medications may be a good idea for you, make sure to let your healthcare provider know. They may suggest adjusting your dosage or trying a new medication to control your ADHD symptoms.
Currently, there aren’t any over-the-counter medications or supplements for ADHD that have been approved by the FDA. However, some medications and supplements available over the counter may help to improve your mental clarity, memory retention and energy levels.
Some over-the-counter cognitive enhancement supplements are marketed as “smart drugs” or nootropics.
When you’re looking at supplements, it’s important to keep in mind that they aren’t approved to treat specific conditions such as ADHD. As such, they shouldn’t be viewed as replacements for medications like Adderall.
Put simply, if you have ADHD, don’t suddenly stop taking your Adderall or any other prescription drug in order to “replace” it with a supplement.
Instead, it’s best to view supplements as potential performance boosters that may help with your focus, concentration or stress levels.
It’s also important to talk to your healthcare provider before using any supplements, especially if you’re already prescribed medication for ADHD or other mental health issues.
When you’re comparing supplements for brain health and function, look for the following active ingredients:
Pycnogenol. A type of maritime pine bark extract, pycnogenol is a herbal ingredient in certain supplements. Limited scientific research, including one small study published in 2006, suggests that it may offer benefits as a natural supplement for ADHD.
While this research is promising, it’s important to keep in mind that pycnogenol has not been approved by the FDA and shouldn’t be viewed as a natural alternative to Adderall and other ADHD drugs.
Caffeine. Caffeine is a popular stimulant that can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks and dietary supplements for increasing your mental energy.
Although caffeine isn’t viewed as a herbal supplement for ADHD, there’s some scientific evidence to suggest that it may help to facilitate better memory and learning, especially in suboptimal alertness conditions.
L-theanine. L-theanine is a non-protein amino acid that’s found in green tea. It’s often referred to as a natural nootropic, with research suggesting that it may enhance verbal fluency and certain other aspects of brain performance.
Creatine. Although it’s best known as a physical fitness supplement, research suggests that creatine — a natural substance that’s found in your muscle cells — may also provide benefits for mental function and cognitive health.
In a review of six clinical trials, a team of researchers found that oral creatine use might help to improve intelligence and short-term memory.
Fish oil. While fish oil isn’t linked to immediate improvements in mental function, studies suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids it contains may help to shield your brain against the cognitive decline that can occur as you get older.
For example, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases that can reduce your brain function.
In addition to using medication, making small changes to your habits and lifestyle can often help to make ADHD less severe. Try the tips and techniques below to improve your ability to manage your ADHD symptoms:
Consider behavioral therapy. Certain types of behavior therapy, such as organizational skills, can help to make dealing with ADHD easier. Consider taking part in therapy either on its own or in combination with medication to better manage your ADHD symptoms.
Seek treatment for other mental health issues. ADHD often occurs with other mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders. If you have ADHD, consider talking to a professional if you have concerns about your general mental health.
You can get expert help by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, or using our online mental health services.
Make sure to get enough sleep. Research shows that ADHD is associated with sleep disturbances, and sleep disturbances may be a risk factor for the development of ADHD symptoms.
If you have ADHD, try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. If you’re below the age of 18, you should aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep each night for optimal wellbeing and mental health.
Use to-do lists and other tools to stay organized. Part of therapy for ADHD involves learning how to use to-do lists, calendars and other tools to organize your day and stay focused.
If you find it hard to stay organized, try writing down a list of your daily tasks, or using a to-do list app on your phone or computer. Make it a goal to stay focused until you finish every item on your list.
Keep yourself physically active. Exercise can help with many mental health disorders, and ADHD is no exception. In fact, a small but growing volume of research suggests that regular exercise can improve executive functioning and reduce ADHD symptoms.
Try to keep yourself physically active, even if it’s only for 20 minutes a day. According to the CDC, even 150 minutes of weekly physical activity (for example, a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood) can provide physical and mental health benefits.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Your diet can have a real impact on your brain health and mental performance. For example, research shows that eating a balanced breakfast has important, measurable benefits for attention span, memory and school performance.
Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Plan your meals ahead of time and prioritize healthy ingredients such as fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources over sugars, fatty foods and other unhealthy food choices.
Try mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditationinvolves training your attention to focus on the present, then accepting feelings and sensations. Some research suggests that mindfulness training may help to reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms.
Try practicing mindfulness meditation at home by setting aside five to 15 minutes a day to meditate. You can also join a local meditation class to meditate with others.
Popular Adderall alternatives include lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta), clonidine (Kapvay), atomoxetine (Strattera) and guanfacine (Intuniv). Currently, all of these medications require a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.
Although there’s no over-the-counter drug for ADHD, some supplements may also help to boost your focus, memory recall and other aspects of your mental function.
If you feel like you’d benefit from a little extra help focusing, falling asleep or simply unwinding at the end of the day, you can access safe, proven options with our range of specialty supplements for men.