Adult ADHD: What are the Side Effects of Medication?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is normally associated with children, but in fact over 9 million adults in America are affected by it. This causes serious problems at work and in a persons social life. Add to this the social stigma attached to ADHD and the side effects caused by medication, and it is apparent that ADHD is a major problem.

Symptoms of ADHD

The following symptoms are characteristic of ADHD:

  • Inability to pay attention or concentrate on the task at hand
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsiveness

A person with ADHD may display hyperactivity and impulsiveness OR inattention, or a combination of all three symptoms.

Medication used to treat ADHD

Generally, stimulants are prescribed as medication for treating ADHD. These include amphetamines and amphetamine-type drugs like dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate. Although found to be effective in many cases (around 90%), these drugs are associated with various risks.

Mild Side effects of ADHD medications

There are many common mild side effects from using stimulants that are prescribed to treat ADHD. The following are some common side effects:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Tics
  • Nervousness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of spontaneity
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Depression

Often these side effects are due to a high dosage. The dosage of the medication can be decreased to alleviate these side effects. However, some people cannot tolerate any stimulant and will be given antidepressants or non-stimulant drugs instead, which are associated with a host of other side effects.

Side effects of Antidepressants

  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Nausea
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurry vision
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation and anxiety

Side Effects of Non-Stimulant Drugs for Treating ADHD

Atomoxetine is a drug that is not a stimulant that is sometimes prescribed for people with ADHD. Unfortunately, it too can cause many unpleasant side effects, like:

  • Lowered appetite
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty with urination
  • Agitation
  • Irritability

Additionally, this drug (sold under the brand name Strattera) can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Major Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Unfortunately, the symptoms listed above aren't the only side effects associated with medications used to treat ADHD. There are some rare but very serious side effects that are caused by these medications.

  • In adults with heart disease, ADHD medications may cause strokes, heart attacks, or sudden death.
  • Psychiatric problems have also been caused or exacerbated by stimulants. People who have a family history of the following disorders should avoid taking these medications: suicide, depression, or bipolar disorder. Psychiatric problems that may be caused by ADHD medications include:
    • Hostility
    • Aggressive behavior
    • Paranoia
    • Hallucinations

When you should seek medical attention

If you experience any of the following problems while taking medication prescribed to treat ADHD, you should seek immediate medical assistance:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness, fainting
  • Hallucinations (auditory or visual)
  • Paranoia or suspicion, believing things that are not reality


Photo Credit: jeffkarpala

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