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ADHD Medications Side Effects

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Are ADHD medications appropriate for you or your child? What you should know, including common side effects and how to take them safely.

What You Should Know About ADHD Medication

In children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), formerly known as ADD, medication can help lessen hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity symptoms. On the other hand, medication has risks and adverse effects, and it isn’t the sole therapy choice. It’s critical to discover the facts about ADHD medicine, whether you’re a parent or a patient, so you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you or your child.

The first step is to comprehend what drugs for ADHD can and cannot achieve. ADHD medication may aid in the improvement of concentration, impulse control, planning, and task completion. However, it isn’t a miracle medication that will solve all of your or your child’s issues. 

Even if the medicine is effective, a child with ADHD may experience forgetfulness, emotional problems, and social awkwardness, or an adult may experience disorganization, distractibility, and interpersonal issues. That’s why it’s critical to make lifestyle adjustments like frequent exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and getting enough sleep.

ADHD is not cured by medication. It can alleviate symptoms while being taken, but the symptoms return after the medicine is stopped. Additionally, some people benefit more from ADHD medication than others. Some people see tremendous improvements, while others see only little improvements. 

Because everyone reacts to ADHD medicine differently and in unpredictable ways, it should always be tailored to the individual and continuously monitored by a specialist. When ADHD medicine is not closely controlled, it becomes less effective and more dangerous.

ADHD stimulant medicines

The most prevalent type of medication used for attention deficit disorder is stimulants. They have the greatest experience treating ADHD and the most scientific evidence to back up their effectiveness. Stimulant medications include Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine, which are all extensively used.

Stimulants are thought to function by boosting the amount of dopamine in the brain. Motivation, pleasure, attentiveness, and movement are all linked to dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Stimulant drugs improve concentration and focus while lowering hyperactive and impulsive behaviors in many people with ADHD.

Stimulants that act quickly vs. those that act slowly

Short-acting and long-acting stimulants are available for ADHD. Short-acting stimulants must be taken 2-3 times per day and peak after several hours. Long-acting or extended-release stimulants are taken once a day and last 8-12 hours.

Because persons with ADHD have a hard time remembering to take their medicines, long-acting versions of ADHD medication are frequently recommended. It is considerably easier and more convenient to take only one dose every day. The following are some of the most common stimulant side effects:

  • Feeling nervous and restless
  • Sleeping problems
  • Appetite loss.
  • Headaches
  • stomach ache
  • Irritability and mood swings are two symptoms of irritability.
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • A pounding heartbeat
  • Tics

Personality changes may occur as a result of stimulant medicines. Some people become introverted, sedentary, inflexible, or less spontaneous and chatty. Others develop obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Since stimulants raise blood pressure and heart rate, many experts worry about the dangers of taking these ADHD drugs for extended periods.

Concerns about the safety of stimulant medications

Beyond the potential side effects, there are a number of safety concerns associated with the use of stimulant medications for ADHD.

Impact on a child’s developing brain. The long-term impact of ADHD medication on the youthful, developing brain is not yet known. Some researchers are concerned that the use of drugs such as Ritalin in children and teens might interfere with normal brain development.

Heart-related issues. ADHD stimulant medications have been found to cause sudden death in children and adults with heart conditions. The American Heart Association recommends that all individuals, including children, have a cardiac evaluation prior to starting a stimulant. An electrocardiogram is recommended if the person has a history of heart problems.

Psychiatric problems. Stimulants for ADHD can trigger or exacerbate symptoms of hostility, aggression, anxiety, depression, and paranoia. People with a personal or family history of suicide, depression, or bipolar disorder are at particularly high risk and should be carefully monitored when taking stimulants.

Potential for abuse. Stimulant abuse is a growing problem, particularly among teens and young adults. College students take this medication for a boost when cramming for exams or pulling all-nighters. Others abuse stimulant meds for their weight-loss properties. If your child is taking stimulants, make sure he or she isn’t sharing the pills or selling them.

ADHD stimulants are not recommended for those with:

  • Any type of heart defect or disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Glaucoma
  • High levels of anxiety
  • A history of drug abuse

Non-stimulant medications for ADHD

In addition to the traditional stimulant drugs, several other medications are used to treat ADHD, including Strattera, atypical antidepressants, and certain blood pressure medications. In most cases, non-stimulant medications are considered when stimulants haven’t worked or have caused intolerable side effects.

Strattera

Strattera, also known by its generic name atomoxetine, is the only non-stimulant medication approved by the FDA for ADHD treatment. Unlike stimulants, which affect dopamine, Strattera boosts the levels of norepinephrine, a different brain chemical.

Strattera is longer-acting than stimulant drugs. Its effects last over 24 hours—making it a good option for those who have trouble getting started in the morning. Since it has some antidepressant properties, it’s also a top choice for those with co-existing anxiety or depression. Another plus is that it doesn’t exacerbate tics or Tourette’s Syndrome.

On the other hand, Strattera doesn’t appear to be as effective as stimulant medications for treating symptoms of hyperactivity. Common side effects of Strattera include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain or upset stomach
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mood swings

Straterra can also cause insomnia and appetite suppression, but these side effects are more common in stimulants.

Other medication options

The following medications are sometimes used “off-label” for treatment purposes. They should only be considered when stimulants or Strattera aren’t viable options. High blood pressure medication for ADHD – Certain blood pressure medications can be used to treat ADHD. Options include clonidine (Catapres) and guanfacine (Tenex). But while these medications can be effective for hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggression, they are less helpful when it comes to attention problems.

Antidepressants for ADHD – For people suffering from both ADHD and depression, certain antidepressants, which target multiple neurotransmitters in the brain, may be prescribed. Wellbutrin, also known by the name bupropion, is most widely used. Wellbutrin targets both norepinephrine and dopamine. Another option is the use of tricyclic antidepressants.

Deciding whether or not to take ADHD medication

Even when armed with all the facts, deciding whether or not to take ADHD medication isn’t always easy. If you’re unsure, don’t rush the decision. Take your time to weigh the options. And if the medication is for your child, be sure to get their input in the decision-making process.

Most importantly, trust your instincts and do what feels right to you. Don’t let anyone pressure your child into medication if you’re not comfortable with it. Remember: medication isn’t the only treatment option. For young children especially, medication should be viewed as a last resort, not the first course of treatment to try.

Questions to ask an ADHD specialist

Consulting with an ADHD specialist or an experienced psychiatrist can help you understand the pros and cons of medication. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What ADHD treatments do you recommend?
  • Can the symptoms be managed without medication?
  • What medications do you recommend, and what are the side effects?
  • How effective is medication for ADHD?
  • How long will the medication be necessary for treatment?
  • What factors will influence the decision to stop medication?

ADHD medication alone is not enough

Treatment for attention deficit disorder isn’t just about seeing doctors or taking medication. There are many ways to help yourself or your child tackle the challenges of ADHD and lead a calmer, more productive life. With the right tips and tools, you can manage many of the symptoms of your ADHD on your own. Even if you choose to take medication, healthy lifestyle habits and other self-help strategies may enable you to take a lower dose.

Exercise regularly. Exercising is one of the most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, affecting focus and attention. Try walking, skateboarding, hiking, dancing or playing a favorite sport. Encourage your child to put down the video games and play outside.

Eat a healthy diet. While diet doesn’t cause ADHD, it does have an effect on mood, energy levels, and symptoms. Set regular snack and meal times. Add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet and make sure you’re getting enough zinc, iron, and magnesium.

Get plenty of sleep. Regular quality sleep can lead to a vast improvement in the symptoms of ADHD. Simple changes to daytime habits go a long way toward resting well at night. Have a set bedtime and stick to it. Avoid caffeine later in the day.

Maintain a positive attitude. A positive attitude and common sense are your best assets for treating ADHD. When you are in a good frame of mind, you are more likely to be able to connect with your own needs or your child’s.

Try therapy. ADHD professionals can help you or your child learn new skills to cope with symptoms and change habits that are causing problems. Some therapies focus on managing stress and anger or controlling impulsive behaviors, while others teach you how to manage time, improve organizational skills, and persist toward goals.

Guidelines for taking ADHD medication

If you decide to take medication for ADHD, it’s important to take the drug as directed. Following your doctor and pharmacist’s instructions will help you maximize the effectiveness of medication for ADHD and minimize the side effects and risks. Here are some guidelines:

Learn about the prescribed medication. Find out everything you can about ADHD medication your child is taking, including potential side effects, how often to take it, special warnings, and other substances that should be avoided, like over-the-counter cold medication.

Be patient. Finding the right medication and dose is a trial-and-error process. It will take some experimenting and open, honest communication with your doctor.

Start small. It’s always best to start with a low dose and work up from there. The goal is to find the lowest possible dose that relieves you or your child’s symptoms.

Monitor the drug’s effects. Pay close attention to the effect the medication is having on your or your child’s emotions and behavior. Keep track of any side effects and monitor how well the medication is working to reduce symptoms.

Taper off slowly. If you or your child wants to stop taking medication, call the doctor for guidance on gradually decreasing the dose. Abruptly stopping medication can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, depression, and headaches.

Talking to your child about ADHD medication

Many kids and teens with ADHD don’t take their medication correctly or stop taking it without talking to their parents. if your child is on ADHD meds, make sure that they understand how to take the medication correctly and why following prescription guidelines are important.

Encourage your child to come to you with any medication-related concerns so you can work together to solve the problem or find another treatment option. It’s also important to remember that ADHD medication should never have a numbing effect on a child’s energy, curiosity, or enthusiasm. A child still needs to behave like a child.

Dealing with side effects

Most children and adults taking medication for ADHD will experience at least a few side effects. Sometimes, side effects go away after the first few weeks on the medication. You may also be able to eliminate or reduce unpleasant side effects with a few simple strategies.

Loss of appetite. To deal with reduced appetite, eat healthy snacks throughout the day and push dinner to a later time when the medication has worn off.

Insomnia. If getting to sleep is a problem, try taking the stimulant earlier in the day. If you or your child is taking an extended-release stimulant, you can also try switching to the short-acting form. Also avoid caffeinated beverages, especially in the afternoon or evening.

Stomach upset or headaches. Don’t take the medication on an empty stomach, which can cause nausea, stomach pain, and headaches. Headaches can also be triggered by medication that’s wearing off, so switching to a long-acting drug may help.

Dizziness. First, have your or your child’s blood pressure checked. If it’s normal, you may want to reduce your dose or switch to a long-acting stimulant. Also, make sure you’re drinking enough fluids.

Mood changes. If medication is causing irritability, depression, agitation, or other emotional side effects, try lowering the dose. Moodiness may also be caused by the rebound effect, in which case it may help to overlap the doses or switch to an extended-release medication.

If troublesome side effects persist despite your best efforts to manage them, talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose or trying a different drug. Many people respond better to the long-acting or extended-release formulations of ADHD medication, which build gradually in the bloodstream and then wear off slowly. This minimizes the fluctuation in medication levels and causes less of a rebound effect, where symptoms return worse than before.

If you are interested in more relevant articles, here’s an article about ADHD in toddlers.