Long-Term Side Effects Of ADHD Medication

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 01/07/2021

After consulting the doctor, you decided to begin treatment for your Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One of the things that may come to your mind is the effects of the medications that you have to use over the long term. As an adult, most of the long-term concerns about ADHD meds are related to their effects on other health conditions that may be present. The doctor will perform necessary examinations and work with you to develop a treatment plan that ensures proper health and keeps you focused on tasks.

Introduction To The Effects Of ADHD Drugs

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Researchers have discovered nothing significant regarding the side-effects or increased health risks associated with using medications for ADHD – and there has been long enough time to review these medications and draw a conclusion. Amphetamine (present in Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse, among other drugs) was produced back in 1887 and hit the market soon after to be an over-the-counter nasal decongestant spray. Methylphenidate (present in Ritalin and Concerta, and a few other prescription meds) was obtainable in Europe in 1939 and provided in the United States in 1954.

In a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2014, it was discovered that only a few research studies had reviewed the long-term safety of the drugs commonly used to treat ADHD. After evaluating six studies that checked the occurrence of negative side effects, the researchers concluded a wide disparity in what is perceived to be the long-term effects of the medications. The common drugs prescribed for ADHD include Adderall, Strattera, and Ritalin.

Knowing that millions of American children have an ADHD diagnosis with most of them using medications, the disparity in long-term studies on the side effects of ADHD medications is a case for concern. The researchers discovered that pharmaceutical companies sponsored the few studies regarding the drugs' side effects. As expected, the studies concluded that ADHD drugs had no long-term risks with only mild side effects. The most common side effects noticed were insomnia, appetite, headaches, and stomach ache. The people behind the study noted that the studies funded by pharma might have left out more strange side effects such as suicidal thoughts and lasting erections. Since the data were removed from the sponsored studies, it is hard to conclude that the safety profile of ADHD meds is completely transparent.

In 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered an increased risk of suicidal thoughts in children and teenagers taking atomoxetine, or Strattera and placed a “black box” caution on the drug. The FDA’s decision was from research that showed that atomoxetine is linked with a remarkably high case of suicidal notions than placebo.

One important point to note: No long-term studies are evaluating these meds in people with ADHD diagnosis. Nearly all the data available on stimulants are sourced from patients who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy, a genetic-based sleep condition characterized by excessive sleepiness and recurrent daytime sleep attacks. Patients with narcolepsy use mild stimulants daily to manage the condition, often for several years. No issue has been reported yet.

The Effects Of ADHD Medications

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As mentioned earlier, most patients benefit from using ADHD medications. Although the medications are generally safe, and there is a low risk of complication, it is still important to evaluate the risks.

Before commencing any medication for ADHD, it is vital to get a comprehensive medical evaluation. Patients need to inform the healthcare professional if they have any health conditions and the medicine they currently use. Any risk assessment for ADHD medication has to note that underlying health conditions increase with age. since people go to different medical professionals, it is necessary to consider all medical conditions and medications with each professional, preferably at every appointment.

After a diagnosis, patients need to discuss with their doctor and decide if ADHD medications are safe. This may mean running some tests to know if you have conditions impacted by ADHD drugs. For example, a doctor may check for high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or other types of cardiovascular conditions. Other conditions might increase the risk of complications with ADHD drugs. The doctor needs to be aware of conditions like Glaucoma, liver or kidney condition, history of mental disorder, overactive thyroid, allergy, or sensitivity to stimulants and motor tics (Tourette’s syndrome).

Patients diagnosed with ADHD usually notice rapid and significant improvements by using medication. They will now be able to focus on completing tasks that they could not finish before. Medications allow people to stay more empathetic to other people’s feelings, therefore improving relationships. Typical ADHD symptoms, including hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity, reduces. For the percentage of patients who benefit from medications, they can see the world from a new perspective. This provides inspiration and motivation to make behavioral adjustments.

Those who respond to medications show noticeable improvements in both the quality and quality of their daily activities. However, drugs are not a cure. It is a chance to pinpoint the problem areas, create an action plan for improvement, and be proactive in implementing the plan.

The Negative Effects Of ADHD Medications

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Like all drugs, stimulants have their side effects. The most common side-effects are weight loss and appetite suppression. This is a major concern for developing children but can also become an issue for some adults. Usually, these side-effects are minor discomforts that disappear after some weeks. However, if the patient starts to fall below normal weight ranges or fails to gain weight (in children), the condition needs attention. The person may be eating inadequately and could have compromised nutrition.

Lately, cardiac abnormalities have been discovered to be a risk factor with using stimulants. As expected, stimulants cause a rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. This may cause strokes and heart attacks in susceptible patients. People at high risks of heart disease and hypertension should avoid taking stimulants. Although it is not a stimulant, Strattera is an ADHD medication that requires special consideration. It has been associated with seizures and irregular heartbeat. The FDA warns that patients with a history of seizures should avoid using Strattera. A group of medications called tricyclic antidepressants can also cause seizures. The prescription of tricyclic antidepressants for ADHD treatment is an off-label use. This means that the use of the drug has not received FDA review or approval. Therefore, these drugs should only be used as a final resort, even for patients without a history of seizures.

Although rare, ADHD drugs may be linked to certain mental health issues. For example, there are reports of behavior problems like aggression and hostility, while others report developing bipolar disorder symptoms. The FDA has also cautioned that stimulant ADHD meds may cause psychosis symptoms, such as paranoia or hearing things.

Some people struggle with mood or emotional regulation. They may become upset, tearful, angry, or irritable quickly. In this situation, stimulant medication can aggravate the symptoms. Stimulant medications can also worsen depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or excessive anger. On the other side of the range, stimulants can induce a zombie-like effect at high doses. Usually, this can be resolved quickly by reducing the dose. Also, certain antidepressants tend to increase suicidal thoughts upon initial administration. Therefore, those who have received a prescription of antidepressant meds (especially teens and young adults) should be placed under close supervision.

The methylphenidate transdermal system (Daytrana) skin patch is another form of drug treatment for ADHD. It has been associated with a skin disorder called chemical leukoderma. This condition leads to permanent loss of skin pigmentation around the area of application.

What About The Misuse Of ADHD Meds?

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Some patients misuse ADHD stimulant medications. They might ground the pills and snort themto seek experiencing euphoria, which can cause a dangerous overdose. Patients with past or current substance abuse issues should be honest with their doctor. The medical professional will decide if ADHD drugs are appropriate. Else, they may be at the risk of misusing the ADHD meds.

However, there are many unfounded concerns about the misuse of ADHD meds. Several long-term studies have shown that the clinical use of stimulants (by teens) does not increase the risk of potential substance abuse disorder. In fact, it may be a protective factor. Also, there is a lower risk of addiction in adults with ADHD. Other studies have shown that children and teenagers with ADHD who do not get adequate treatment with medication may experience a higher risk of developing substance use disorder. This means that those with no history of substance abuse are not likely to develop substance abuse from these medications.

Most adults with ADHD who take Ritalin, the stimulant medication, slowly reduce their dose of stimulants as they grow older, rather than increasing it. The continued use of medication has been theorized to increase the number of dopamine receptors present. Current research shows that the effect of stimulants is different for people with ADHD than those without it. There are ongoing studies on this subject.

In Conclusion - There is Support If You Have ADHD

While it is understandable to be cautious about the side effects of prescription drugs, with ADHD, the risk of not receiving treatment often outweigh the possible negative effects of medication. Untreated ADHD can negatively impact many aspects of one’s life. Patients with ADHD who do not use medication experienced a noteworthy increase in incidents of auto accidents, drug abuse, job loss, and unplanned parenthood, compared to those who do. They are also proven to have higher risks of separation and divorce than those who use drugs as directed.

Once you start using ADHD medications, visit a medical professional for routine checkups to ensure you do not experience negative side effects of ADHD medications. Note that ADHD drugs are typically safe, and the risks of complications are low. For many patients, the benefits of undergoing treatment far outweigh the risks. If you’d like to get started, take an ADHD assessment test.