Six-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of desipramine for adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Sep;153(9):1147-53. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.9.1147.


Objective: Despite the increasing awareness of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults, there are a limited number of controlled pharmacologic studies of this disorder; most of the trials have focused on the psychostimulants. Because the tricyclic anti-depressant desipramine has been found to be effective in treating ADHD in pediatric groups, the authors tested its efficacy in adults with ADHD.

Method: The authors conducted a randomized, 6-week, placebo-controlled, parallel-design study of desipramine at a target daily dose of 200 mg in 41 adult patients with DSM-III-R ADHD. They used standardized structured psychiatric instruments for diagnosis and, as the dependent variables (outcome), used separate assessments of ADHD, depressive, and anxiety symptoms at baseline and at each biweekly visit.

Results: There were highly significant differences in the reduction of ADHD symptoms between adults receiving desipramine and placebo. Within the desipramine-treated group, there were clinically and statistically significant differences between baseline and the week 6 end point for 1) reduction of 12 of 14 symptoms of ADHD and 2) decreases in the broad categories of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. In contrast, placebo-treated patients showed no differences between baseline and end point for any of the ADHD symptoms assessed. According to strict, predefined criteria for response, 68% of desipramine-treated subjects and no subjects in the placebo group were considered positive responders. Response to desipramine was independent of dose, level of impairment, gender, or lifetime psychiatric comorbidity with anxiety or depressive disorders.

Conclusions: These results, similar to findings in children and adolescents with ADHD, indicate that desipramine is effective in the treatment of ADHD in adults.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Desipramine / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Placebos
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Class
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wechsler Scales


  • Placebos
  • Desipramine