- Tips to Reduce the Side Effects of ADHD Medications
- The 5 Most Common Med Side Effects — and Their Fixes
- Poor Appetite/Weight Loss/Upset Stomach
- Poor Sleep
- Irritability and Mood Changes
- Dry Mouth
- Dosage of Adderall
- Side effects
- Who should not use Adderall
- Adderall and children
- Abuse and addiction to Adderall
- Long-term abuse and overdose
Tips to Reduce the Side Effects of ADHD Medications
There are simple things you can do to make taking these medications less of a problem.
- Dizziness . Sometimes, dizzy spells can be a sign that you’re taking too much medication. Check with your doctor. He might also want to check your blood pressure.
- Dry mouth . Drink plenty of fluids, and use lozenges to keep your mouth moist.
- Headaches . You might get them after you take your medication on an empty stomach, or if you’re dehydrated. Sometimes they come on as the medicine wears off. Your doctor may be able to help by tweaking when you take your drug.
- Loss of appetite. Some drugs can make you not want to eat much. But don’t skip meals. That can lead to low blood sugar, and that may make it harder to focus. Instead, eat several small meals a day, rather than three bigger ones. Eat dinner later in the evening, after the effects of your medication have worn off. You may feel hungry then. Sometimes the worse appetite leads to weight loss. It’s usually just a small amount, but tell your doctor if you think you’re losing too much weight.
- Moodiness. Some people find that their medications make them tense and cranky. Like most ADHD drug side effects, this may fade in time. If your moodiness is bothering you, ask your doctor about adjusting the dose or changing your medication.
- Nausea . Take your medicine with food to lower your odds of feeling queasy. If you’re supposed to take it in the morning and you’re not a breakfast person, you may want to find something you can eat anyway.
- Tics are repeated movements or sounds that you make without meaning to. ADHD medications don’t cause tics, but they can sometimes bring out underlying ones — maybe tics you had in childhood will come back. Usually these fade over time, but talk to your doctor if they don’t go away.
- Trouble sleeping . Some ADHD medications can rev you up and make it hard to fall asleep. Take your medication earlier in the day, so it wears off well before bedtime. If you’re on a long-acting stimulant, you could ask your doctor about trying a short-acting one, where the effects will fade more quickly. Limit or avoid caffeine, too. Turn off your TV, computers, and phones an hour or so before going to bed, and take time to relax.
The 5 Most Common Med Side Effects — and Their Fixes
“I recommend we start your child on ADHD medication,” says the doctor. Those are alarming words to most parents. Deciding to medicate causes them to wring their hands, search their souls, and lose sleep. Many parents worry about the effect on their child’s brain, as well as any nasty ADHD medication side effects they may experience. So they wait, sometimes years, before saying yes.
On the other hand, life with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) can be so disruptive to child and parent that it is sometimes a relief when the physician suggests medication. “Finally,” say parents, “a solution to difficult behaviors! No more jumping on the sofa. No more racing around the classroom getting into trouble.”
When my daughter was a preschooler, I begged the doctor to prescribe something — anything — to keep her manageable and safe. She was given Dexedrine, and, for the first time in her life, she sat and played for hours. But there were new problems to manage: side effects.
“The most common are appetite suppression, headache, dry mouth, and sleeplessness, especially when the child starts medication,” says Terry Dickson, M.D., pediatrician and founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan, in Traverse City.
What is a parent to do? “The rule of thumb is to wait,” explains Dickson. “Most side effects lessen with time. When there is a small problem with a med, you have to decide which is better: to live with a side effect for a bit or with the child’s inability to focus?”
Here are the most common side effects, along with Dickson’s recommendations for dealing with them.
Poor Appetite/Weight Loss/Upset Stomach
“When a child starts medication, there can be a one-to three-pound weight loss in the first month,” says Dickson. “However, it is common for the child to gain back the weight over the next three months.”
- Go with your child’s schedule, not the family’s. If she is ravenous at 3 p.m., give her an early dinner.
- Make your child’s largest meal when he is most hungry — before the ADHD medication kicks in or after it wears off.
- Offer a large breakfast loaded with protein and complex carbohydrates, which provide long-term energy. This will get your child off to a good start and keep him going.
- Offer small healthy snacks throughout the day. Young children often can’t identify the feeling of hunger, but might act it out with irritability. Have a special area in the kitchen for healthy snacks, and keep a basket of snacks in his bedroom.
- To prevent stomach upset, have your child take her medication with food or milk. If side effects are very troubling, however, you should consult with his physician.
- Turn off all electronics (TV, iPod, computer games) an hour before bedtime.
- Initiate a bedtime routine that doesn’t change: soothing bath, light snack, story time, snuggling, lights off.
- Consider using a white noise machine or putting on soft music in your child’s bedroom to get him in the mood for sleep.
- Ask your child what would help settle her down. A stuffed animal? Time in a rocking chair before bed? Think of what soothes her during the day and use it at bedtime.
- In severe cases, more medication may be warranted. Talk to your child’s doctor about changing dosages, types of medications, or adding another med to help with sleep.
Irritability and Mood Changes
“Irritability while on medication can be a side effect of the drug or a sign that a child may have another disorder,” says Dickson.
- When meds wear off, some children “rebound” with irritability and a worsening of ADHD symptoms. Some doctors suggest giving a second, smaller dosage before the first wears off. Never try this without medical supervision.
- Irritability may be a side effect of poor appetite and sleep. Offer snacks throughout the day and work on good sleep hygiene.
- Watch for increased anxiety while taking stimulants, especially in kids with an underlying anxiety disorder. Discuss with your doctor a change in medication or adding a second med to address anxiety.
- Check for other mood-related reactions, such as increased hyperactivity, emotional outbursts, nightmares, or poor sleep. She may have an underlying mood disorder.
Although some children complain of headaches when beginning medication, the problem usually resolves over time.
- “Giving Tylenol or Motrin is appropriate,” says Dickson.
- If headaches persist, discuss the problem with your doctor. He may change the dosage.
This is a usually a temporary side effect.
- Have your child carry a water bottle in his backpack or when going out to play.
- Give him sugarless hard candies to suck on or sugarless gum to chew.
- Offer ice pops at home when dry mouth persists.
Updated on December 30, 2019
Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Adderall, a brand name, is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are central nervous system stimulants. Taking Adderall may help increase the ability to focus, pay attention and control behavior.
The drug increases the activity of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Adderall mainly stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the body’s “fight or flight” responses, such as pupil dilation, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased sweating.
Dosage of Adderall
Adderall is available as a tablet and as an extended-release capsule (Adderall XR). It comes in varying doses, ranging from 5 mg to 30 mg. The prescribed dose will depend on the size of the patient and the severity of symptoms. Doctors typically start patients with a low dose and gradually increase the dose, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The tablet is usually taken two to three times daily and the extended-release capsule is usually taken once daily, according to the NIH.
Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine may cause side effects, including:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- Changes in sex drive or ability
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Some side effects can be serious, and the NIH says that anyone who experiences any of these symptoms should call their doctor immediately:
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Excessive tiredness
- Slow or difficult speech
- Dizziness or faintness
- Weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
- Motor tics or verbal tics
- Believing things that are not true
- Feeling unusually suspicious of others
- Hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Mania (frenzied or abnormally excited mood)
- Aggressive or hostile behavior
- Changes in vision or blurred vision
- Blistering or peeling skin
- Swelling of the eyes, face, tongue or throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Hoarseness (abnormal voice changes)
Who should not use Adderall
Adderall is not for everybody. It should not be used by patients with a history of glaucoma, severe anxiety or agitation, a personal or family history of tics, or Tourette syndrome. Stimulants can also cause sudden death in patients with congenital heart defects or serious heart problems. As a result, patients should alert their doctors if they have a history of heart disease, heart rhythm disorder, coronary artery disease or heart attacks, according to the NIH. Doctors should also be alerted if the patient has a history of high blood pressure, mental illness, peripheral vascular disease or seizure disorders.
Adults ages 65 and older should usually not take Adderall because it is not as safe as other medications for this age group, the NIH says.
Some drug interactions could be harmful. The NIH says that people should not take Adderall if they have taken a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), a type of antidepressant, in the last two weeks.
Adderall and children
For children with ADHD, or hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms that cause impairment and appear before the age of 7, Adderall can be considered part of a total treatment program. ADHD must be diagnosed through a series of tests that rule out other mental disorders. Other treatment measures will include psychological, educational and social aspects — drug treatments may not even be necessary.
For treating ADHD, Adderall is approved for use in children ages 3 years and older, and Adderall XR is approved for children ages 6 and older, according to the NIH. For children with narcolepsy, the drug is approved for those ages 12 and older.
Adderall is not intended for use in children who exhibit symptoms that are secondary to environmental factors or exhibit symptoms that indicate other psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
There is evidence that Adderall may slow a child’s growth or weight gain, so doctors should monitor children’s growth carefully while they are on the medication, the NIH says.
Abuse and addiction to Adderall
Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means there is a high risk for addiction or abuse and is why any usage should be closely monitored by a medical professional.
According to the Mayo Clinic, simply taking too much Adderall can cause dependence. People using Adderall should not take a larger dose or take it more often or for a longer time than prescribed by a doctor. Also, abruptly stopping the medication can cause depression, fatigue and sleep problems.
“When taken as prescribed by a physician, there is little risk of addiction, but if taken recreationally for the ‘euphoric’ effect, the risk of abuse will be enhanced,” said Dr. Maria Pino, a toxicologist and course director for pharmacology at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York.
There is a rising trend of college students abusing Adderall and similar drugs, like Ritalin, to perform better on tests and papers. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that full-time college students were twice as likely as non-students to have used Adderall non-medically.
“Adderall has become one of the mainstay drugs at many party events both on campus and off because it is cheap and easy to access,” said Dr. Marc J. Romano, assistant medical director at Ocean Breeze Recovery in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Romano also noted that individuals often report using Adderall when drinking alcohol to offset the effects of the latter drug. They feel that they do not get as drunk as they would when taking Adderall. Individuals may drink more alcohol when taking Adderall, though, which can result in serious impairment, including death from alcohol poisoning.
This medication should not be sold or shared; doing so is not only dangerous, but also illegal. There is evidence that abuse of this drug may be related to an increase in emergency room visits involving prescription stimulants. A 2016 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that nonmedical use of Adderall by adults had gone up by 67.1 percent and emergency department visits involving the medication had gone up by 155.9 percent, from 2006 to 2011.
Long-term abuse and overdose
Chronic abuse is marked by severe rash, insomnia, irritability and personality changes. The most severe symptom of abuse is psychosis, which is often clinically indistinguishable from schizophrenia, according to the FDA.
Toxic symptoms from taking an overdose of Adderall can come at low doses. Initial signs of an overdose include restlessness, tremor, confusion, hallucinations and panic, the FDA says. After this central stimulation, the patient will undergo fatigue, depression, and often cardiovascular and gastrointestinal symptoms. The NIH says that people should contact a medical professional immediately if they suspect that they or someone they know has overdosed on Adderall.
- Boston University: The Perils of Adderall
- John Hopkins: Adderall misuse rising among young adults
- FDA: Adderall and Adderall XR (amphetamines) Information
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice. This article was updated on March 28, 2016 by Live Science Contributor, Alina Bradford, and again on Oct. 18, 2018 by Live Science Senior Writer, Rachael Rettner.