Antidepressants to Treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Antidepressant medications affect many of the same neurotransmitter levels as stimulants. Fewer studies have been performed regarding the use of these drugs to treat ADHD. The following antidepressants are sometimes used to treat ADHD:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., nortriptyline, Tofranil®, Norpramine®)
  • Bupropion (e.g., Wellbutrin®)
  • Venlafaxine (e.g., Effexor® XR)

Tricyclics (e.g., amitriptyline, clomipramine) have shown some effectiveness, but more research is needed. Children who take tricyclics may have a greater risk for heart problems than adults. Patients taking tricyclics must be monitored for possible cardiac side effects, such as rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure (hypotension).

Bupropion (Wellbutrin®) stimulates the effects of dopamine and may reduce hyperactivity and aggressiveness, which makes it especially useful for children. In adults, it is typically less effective than stimulant medication.

Venlafaxine (Effexor®) affects the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine and may be best suited for reducing attention problems. Some studies have found it to be effective in adults.

Side effects commonly associated with antidepressants include the following:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Feb 2001

Last Modified: 16 May 2011