ADHD and Fatigue: Studies and Treatment

Tiredness is a common symptom of ADHD

Recent research has found a connection between chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Specifically, studies indicate fatigue may be a notable symptom in adult ADHD. Therefore, healthcare providers should look for ADHD, or a history of it, in people with ME/CFS or other types of persistent fatigue.

A pile of Ritalin pills on a table
Richard Seagraves / Getty Images

This article explains ADHD fatigue and how to treat it.

Early Research Into an ADHD and ME/CFS Link

Research is emerging on ADHD fatigue. For example, in 2007, a study led by J. L.Young looked at a possible connection between ADHD (inattentive type), ME/CFS, and fibromyalgia. According to the abstract:

"In an outpatient psychiatric clinic, a number of adult patients who presented primarily with symptoms of ADHD, predominately inattentive type, also reported unexplained fatigue, widespread musculoskeletal pain or a pre-existing diagnosis of CFS or FMS. As expected, ADHD pharmacotherapy usually [improved] the core ADHD symptoms of inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Less expected was the observation that some patients also reported [improvement] of pain and fatigue symptoms."

This finding led to increased interest in the use of ADHD medications—such as Ritalin—to relieve some of the cognitive challenges related to ME/CFS and other kinds of chronic fatigue.

2013 Study Supports Findings

Young's later study looked at three cases of ME/CFS in people who'd responded poorly to treatment. Researchers found that all three met the criteria for ADHD, and all three responded well to psychostimulant medications, which are a common part of ADHD treatment. They say the patients saw improvements in ADHD fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunction, and other symptoms. According to their abstract:

"...all patients were found to meet criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and underwent a standard regimen of a psychostimulant medication. After treatment with psychostimulants, the three patients reported improved symptoms of fatigue and pain, and cognitive and core ADHD symptoms."

Researchers concluded that ADHD and ME/CFS may share a common underlying mechanism and that over time, ADHD may develop into chronic fatigue syndrome and pain. (It's unclear whether this would most appropriately be considered a new form of ADHD or a subset of ME/CFS.)

From previous research, we know that ME/CFS and ADHD both involve neurotransmitter dysregulation that may involve serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. However, that alone isn't enough to confirm more than a very loose relationship—neurotransmitters perform different jobs in different regions, and different jobs within a region based on specific receptors, so it's a complicated matter.

As we learn more about these conditions and their underlying mechanisms, we may grow to better understand the relationship.

Other Research

This is an area of research that's drawn some on-going attention. Other studies have confirmed the link between ME/CFS and adult ADHD, especially in people who are also depressed. (It's likely not a coincidence that depression involves dysregulation of the same neurotransmitters.)

At least one study, published in Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, helps shore up the evidence that methylphenidate (the drug in Ritalin) could have a promising role in ME/CFS treatment.

Should You Consider Ritalin for ME/CFS?

While research does suggest a connection, ADHD pharmaceuticals are not typically prescribed for chronic fatigue that's not caused by ME/CFS. Some healthcare providers do prescribe ADHD medications off-label for ME/CFS, and these drugs work for some (but not all) people.

If you are experiencing ADHD fatigue, difficulty with staying focused and attentive, and especially if you're depressed, this may be a medication to bring up with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get energy if you have ADHD?

    The same things that help generally boost energy can help with ADHD fatigue. Regular exercise, healthy sleep routines, a nutritious diet, and reducing stress are good lifestyle habits that can improve energy levels. Also, try to avoid relying on stimulants like caffeine since these are short-lived and can make you more tired in the long run.

  • Does Adderall help fatigue?

    Adderall is a neurostimulator medication that treats ADHD. Some healthcare providers also use it to treat chronic fatigue because it helps people stay alert and awake.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Young, JL, Redmond JC. Fibromylagia, chronic fatigue, and adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the adult: a case study. Psychopharmacol Bull. 2007;40(1): 118-126.

  2. Young JL. Chronic fatigue syndrome: 3 cases and a discussion of the natural history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Postgrad Med. 2013;125(1):162-168.

  3. Choudhury A, Sahu T, Ramanujam PL, et al. Neurochemicals, behaviours and psychiatric perspectives of neurological diseases. Neuropsychiatry. 2018;08(01). doi:10.4172/neuropsychiatry.1000361

  4. Valdizán Usón JR, Idiazábal Alecha MA. Diagnostic and treatment challenges of chronic fatigue syndrome: role of immediate-release methylphenidate. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008;8(6):917-927. doi:10.1586/14737175.8.6.917

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.