Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurological disorder. It’s often diagnosed in childhood.
Common ADHD symptoms can include trouble focusing or concentrating, being easily distracted, and trouble sitting still. Medication is used to help manage these symptoms effectively, but they can come with side effects.
ADHD medications are a common way to help people go about their daily lives. Let’s take a look at the different types of ADHD medication, as well as how their side effects might affect you or your child.
Medication is often used along with behavioral therapies to help reduce symptoms. These medications act on brain chemicals that help you better control impulses and behaviors.
Medications for ADHD fall into two groups: stimulants and nonstimulants.
Stimulants increase the norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain, increasing your focus. These drugs include:
Nonstimulants aren’t prescribed as often for ADHD, but may be used if stimulants cause adverse side effects or aren’t effective. Certain nonstimulant drugs increase norepinephrine and other chemicals in the brain, helping with focus and attention.
Nonstimulant drugs can include:
- atomoxetine (Strattera)
- antidepressants like nortriptyline (Pamelor) or bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- guanfacine (Intuniv)
- clonidine (Kapvay)
Each person responds to medication differently, so you might have to try different medications to find the one that works best for you.
Medications always have the potential for side effects. Not everyone will experience the same side effects — or any at all. Some side effects go away, while others may not.
Talk with your doctor about the specific side effects of the medication you’re prescribed, and let them know if you experience any side effects.
ADHD medication can interfere with sleep, especially if the medication is still active at bedtime. If you’re taking a short-acting medication, the second or third dose may be being taken too late in the day and hasn’t worn off.
If you’re taking a long-acting medication, you might want to try one that’s shorter-acting.
Sometimes stimulant medications can cause problems with eating. This may just look like someone not eating because they’re not hungry, but the stimulant medication is active and suppresses the appetite.
Talk with your doctor about how to time your medication to avoid appetite suppression.
Sometimes stimulant medication may cause children to develop tics, or repetitive movements or sounds. If this happens, a different stimulant medication may be tried to see if that relieves the tic.
If the tics remain, a non-stimulant medication may be tried, since these affect the brain differently and are less likely to cause tics.
If a stimulant dose is too high, it can cause sedation, irritability, or tearfulness. This can be taken care of by changing the dosage of the drug. Some people experience changes in mood with stimulants at any dosage. This goes away when they stop the stimulant.
Sometimes a different stimulant medication can help, but sometimes a non-stimulant drug is necessary to address the mood changes. Other times,
Depression often occurs at the same time as ADHD, but both conditions can still be treated. Being aware of the increased risk of depression among people with ADHD can help you address any mood changes that may not be caused by medications.
Nausea and headaches
Any headaches or nausea that result from ADHD medication usually go away within a few weeks. If the nausea and headaches don’t go away, tell your doctor. They may ask you to take your medication with food.
A “rebound effect” is when ADHD medication wears off by the end of the day and a person experiences a return of their symptoms — sometimes more severely than before. This happens because the drug is leaving the brain receptors too quickly.
To counteract this, a small dose of the drug may be given about a half hour before the “rebound” usually occurs. Sometimes a “rebound” effect means the dosage needs to be adjusted, or a different medication is necessary.
For some people, there may be a mood disorder at play, or something else going on. Talk with your doctor about what’s going on presently and different factors that may be contributing to this.
Increase in blood pressure and pulse
If you’re taking a stimulant medication, this is typically
Before going on any medication for ADHD, tell your doctor about any other medical condition you might have. Don’t use stimulant drugs or atomoxetine if you have:
Tell your doctor if you have or have ever had:
- florid psychosis
- bipolar I disorder
- severe anorexia
- Tourette syndrome
Knowing your medical history can help the doctor choose the most appropriate medication for you.
What if you don’t have ADHD?
Only take these medications if they’re prescribed to you. Taking these drugs without a prescription if you don’t have ADHD can have serious and potentially harmful side effects.
Stimulant medications have the potential to be misused, especially by those without ADHD. This is due to the side effects of prolonged concentration and alertness, as well as the potential loss of appetite and weight loss.
Let your doctor know about any side effects you might have from the ADHD medication. You might have to try different kinds of medication before you find the best one for you.
If side effects don’t go away after they’re expected to, let your doctor know. If you start to notice any side effects that start after being on the medication for a period of time, call your doctor.
As with any kind of medication, ADHD medication has the potential for adverse side effects. These can vary, depending on the medication you’re on and your individual reaction to the drug.
Talk with your doctor if you experience any side effects. Sometimes you may have to try several medications to find the one that works best for you.