When a child or adult has been diagnosed with ADHD, doctors typically prescribe stimulant medications that increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. While these medications effectively help ADHD for many, these drugs can also cause unwanted side effects.
If your health care provider has prescribed ADHD medication for you or your child, reviewing these side effects can help you develop coping strategies and understand when to seek medical help for complications. It’s also important to remember that prescription medication is not the only option in treating ADHD. Read on to find out what other actions you can take to reduce symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, restlessness, and impulsivity and the best alternative ADHD medication for adults and kids.
An Overview of the Common Side Effects of ADHD Medications
Each person responds to medication differently, but experiencing side effects is extremely common with even the most popular ADHD medications. Depending on the type of medication you or your child are taking, you may experience side effects ranging from insomnia and decreased appetite to mood changes and high blood pressure. Stimulant medications like Adderall® and Ritalin® tend to have stronger side effects in comparison to non-stimulants, although any medication containing synthetic chemicals will carry their own risks. The following side effects are the most common across all types of ADHD medications.
1. Sleep Issues
Adequate sleep is an important factor to one's overall health, so finding a solution to sleeping problems is a must. When you or your child can't go to sleep at bedtime, the last dose of the medication may not have worn off yet. If this side effect doesn't improve within about a month of starting the prescription, you may need to switch to a shorter-acting dose or take the final dose earlier in the day.
Good sleep hygiene can also make a difference in the quantity and quality of ZZZs. For example, try one or more of the following:
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night
- Discontinue screen time at least an hour before bedtime
- Use herbal remedies or oils for relaxation
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed
- Take a bath before bed
Keep in mind that younger children, such as those under 13 need around 9-11 hours of sleep each night and teens require 8-10 hours. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours.
2. Decreased Appetite
With extended-release medications, an early dose before school or work often means a loss of appetite at lunchtime. When you first start taking these drugs, try to eat whenever you feel hungry and have snacks available for your child when he or she does feel the urge to eat. Try serving a healthy, hearty breakfast before the morning dose. However, it can be beneficial to inquire with your doctor about all options for your child, such as immediate release medication.
Some studies do show that kids taking ADHD medications grow more slowly than average for the first 12 months. However, the research also indicates that these children, more commonly boys, tend to catch up in the second and third years after starting the prescription.
It is important to notify your doctor if you notice any severe weight loss or change in appetite with your child.
irritability and impulsivity.
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Both kids and adults commonly have headaches, sometimes with nausea, when they start taking ADHD medication. Usually, this side effect subsides in a few weeks. In the meantime, try taking each dose with food. Your doctor may also recommend an alternate schedule for taking the medication.
4. Mood Changes & Irritability
While most mood changes associated with ADHD drugs are subtle, some people may become aggressive, angry, manic, anxious or emotionally unresponsive. Kids may become cranky or irritable as the medication dose wears off. Doctors call this the rebound effect and it's important that you notify your doctor if this is occurring in case they decide to change the dose of the medication.
Feeling restless and jittery is more common with stimulant ADHD medications. And it typically occurs when dosage is too high. This side effect can make it feel like you’ve had too much coffee or sugar, leading to agitation and anxiety, or exacerbating coexisting anxiety. Jitteriness can manifest physically as a racing heartbeat, constant movement, and palpitations. It can also manifest mentally as racing thoughts or ruminations.
6. High Blood Pressure
Many ADHD medications affect a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine which is related to blood pressure. When norepinephrine levels are increased, the blood vessels narrow, resulting in a slight increase of blood pressure.1 For many people, this increase is inconsequential, but for those with high blood pressure, this slight increase can be dangerous.
7. Stomach Aches
Having an upset stomach is another common side effect of ADHD medication. This happens more often with stimulants, which cause the muscles in the digestive tract to slow down, sometimes leading to constipation.2 Some experts suggest eating a high-protein breakfast to ease stomach aches, although there are cases where a separate medication is prescribed for this side effect.3
ADHD Stimulants vs Non-Stimulants
Stimulants and non-stimulants are the most commonly prescribed ADHD medications for kids and adults. Stimulants are typically fast-acting and contain chemicals like methylphenidate or amphetamine. They can be taken on a regular basis or as needed.
Non-stimulant medications like Strattera®, Kapvay®, and Wellbutrin® do not contain amphetamine, but they often target the same neurotransmitters like dopamine or norepinephrine to control symptoms of ADHD. These drugs work slower and are typically dosed for daily use.
Does ADHD Medication have Long-Term Side Effects?
Most ADHD medication side effects are short-term, but studies have shown there are potential long-term side effects, which include:
- Delayed growth in adolescents4
- Sleep issues6
Some research also shows that stimulant ADHD medications may damage the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain associated with motivation and drive.7 Researchers found that although this damage will not impair cognitive function, it may diminish the motivation to achieve.
How to Choose ADHD Medicine for You or Your Children
If you have bothersome symptoms after you or your child begin taking a prescription medication for ADHD, your doctor may simply adjust the dosage or specific prescription. Keeping a journal of the side effects experienced by you or your child can help you and your doctor decide if the medication is right for you.
If you are in need of support but want to explore other options before trying prescription medications, look into alternative medication like non-prescription Brillia. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Brillia reduces symptoms of anxiety, irritability,hyperactivity, and inattention without affecting the appetite, masking the personality, or impacting any other systems in the body. Brillia contains antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including various enzyme activities, calcium homeostasis, and communication between neurons. Brillia gently and impactfully normalizes this protein while simultaneously balancing monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) in different parts of the brain. These are the same neurotransmitters targeted by prescription ADHD drugs, but Brillia reduces symptoms without causing side effects or interacting with other medications or supplements.
Find out more about how Brillia works and explore more resources on how to manage ADHD symptoms without prescription medication at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.