ADD or ADHD Medications

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Are any side effects associated with ADHD medications?

Side effects associated with ADHD medications are primarily related to the group of medications to which the medication is related. However, like any other psychiatric medication, they may uncommonly cause negative changes in mood or behavior, including suicidal thoughts or actions. For example, stimulants are known to be a group that can decrease appetite and weight, cause stomach upset, headaches, and insomnia as well as raise blood pressure, uncommonly unmask tics, and rarely cause psychosis. While there has been concern expressed that stimulant medication may decrease physical growth of children who take it, that tends to be uncommon and only amounts to a decrease of ½ to 1 inch in children who do experience that side effect.

When taken in excess or snorted, stimulants that treat ADHD can produce euphoria and result in addiction. Stimulant abuse has increased over the past four years, in apparent parallel to the decrease in teens of perceived risk of abusing these substances.

Serious but uncommon side effects that can be associated with stimulant medications include sudden death, stroke, and heart attack. While those usually occur when stimulants are abused, people who have a preexisting heart problem are particularly at risk.

Nonstimulant medications like Strattera, Intuniv, and Kapvay may cause drowsiness and tiredness, with Intuniv tending to cause those side effects 12 hours after it is taken as opposed to Strattera and Kapvay, which may cause drowsiness within an hour after being taken. Tenex and guanfacine(Intuniv) and clonidine (Catapres and Kapvay), both effective at treating high blood pressure, may drop blood pressure to the point of causing dizziness and palpitations or decrease the heart rate. They have also been known to cause decreased appetite, headache, stomach upset, nausea, dry mouth, constipation, and irritability. While other mood changes, including suicidal thoughts, have been documented with the use of Strattera, people taking any psychiatric mesdication should be monitored for the possibility of suicide, given that any psychiatric medication by definition is designed to alter brain chemistry. In contrast, Strattera may slightly increase blood pressure. Strattera also has been known to cause dry mouth, insomnia, decreased appetite, constipation, decreased libido, dizziness, and sweating as side effects.

What are the precautions for ADHD drugs?

Precautions that are often taken when ADHD drugs are prescribed usually involve either reviewing recent lab work or requesting new lab work to make sure the person is healthy. The prescribing doctor might also ask that an electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) or full evaluation by a cardiologist be done if the person has a personal history of heart problems or a family history of early heart disease near or under 50 years of age. The person taking the medication should be monitored for side effects. When stimulant medications are prescribed, the weight and blood pressure of the person should be monitored to ensure that excessive weight loss or significant increase in blood pressure has not occurred. For nonstimulant medications, precautions involve monitoring blood pressure to ensure that a significant decrease does not occur. If Wellbutrin is being considered to treat ADHD, the prescribing doctor will inquire about any history of eating disorder or seizures, since the risk of having seizures is significantly higher for those individuals if given Wellbutrin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/21/2015

Quick GuideADHD Symptoms in Children

ADHD Symptoms in Children
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