Though medications can be an effective means of reducing the symptoms of ADHD, they can cause physical side effects. Side effects vary, with some individuals experiencing no side effects, while others may have mild side effects. In rare cases, side effects of ADHD treatment medications may be so strong that the individual asks to discontinue the treatment in favor of another drug. In many cases, the side effects can be managed.
Medication Side Effects: Psychostimulants
Psychostimulants are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs for treatment of ADHD symptoms. They work to promote dopamine activity in the brain, and include:
Psychostimulants’ side effects are generally mild and sometimes stop after just a few weeks. Possible side effects of psychostimulants include:
- Increased anxiety
- Loss of appetite (and consequent weight loss).
Doctors may recommend vitamin supplements or altered diets for individuals who experience a loss of appetite and weight loss after taking ADHD medications. Report any side effects to your doctor.
Medication Side Effects: SNRIs
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another class of drug used in treatment for ADHD. They’re most often prescribed for individuals who don’t respond to psychostimulants, or for those who can’t tolerate the side effects of psychostimulants. Atomoxetine is the SNRI most commonly used to treat ADHD. Side effects of SNRIs can include:
- Increased heart rate
- Liver damage.
ADHD Medications: Weighing the Costs and Benefits
ADHD symptoms can significantly disrupt the everyday routines of affected children and adults. The hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity associated with ADHD can negatively affect performance at school and at work; family and social relationships can suffer as well.
Though some medications cause unwanted side effects, these must be weighed against ADHD symptom relief and ways in which these side effects can be managed.
Managing ADHD Medication Side Effects
Doctors generally prescribe the lowest possible dose to achieve a balance between reducing symptoms and avoiding adverse side effects. In some cases, side effects can be tolerated; in other situations, they can take their own toll on quality of life, and another course of treatment should be pursued. This could be another medication or a different type of treatment such as therapy.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2009). ADHD medicines. Retrieved August 15, 2010, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/children/parents/behavior/103.html.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2010). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved August 15, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001551.htm.
New Zealand Online ADHD Support Group (2008) The neurobiology of ADHD. Retrieved August 12, 2010, from http://www.adhd.org.nz/neuro1.html.