Children and adults diagnosed with ADHD are often given medication as part of their treatment plan. These medications can decrease the severity of symptoms and help increase the effectiveness of non-medication treatments. Many do have side effects, however, and not all medications are appropriate for children. Research about the long-term implications of using an ADHD medication is limited, and some healthcare professionals have concerns about the potential for negative effects associated with long-term use, particularly in children.
Stimulants are the most common type of ADHD medication. These medications increase dopamine levels, which can lead to improved motivation and attention span. They may also reduce hyperactive tendencies in people diagnosed with ADHD. Stimulants are available in both long and short-acting forms. While short-acting varieties are usually taken two or three times daily, long-acting ADHD medication usually requires only one daily dose, which can be more convenient for some patients.
One of the biggest concerns about stimulants used for ADHD is the potential for side effects. While many of the common side effects aren’t severe, they may be disruptive and make it more difficult for people with ADHD to control their symptoms. Common side effects of ADHD medication that is stimulant-based include trouble sleeping, depression, irritability, dizziness, and appetite changes.
Long-term safety concerns are also troubling to some patients and healthcare providers. Research surrounding these concerns is ongoing, and some people may be more susceptible to safety issues than others. The main concerns focus on the effect of ADHD medication on the developing brains of children and heart problems due to the long-term use of stimulants that raise blood pressure and heart rate. Patients should discuss their individual concerns with their doctors to help them weigh the beneficial effects of the medication against the potential for side effects or long-term health concerns.
Non-stimulant ADHD medications are available for people who are unable to take stimulants and for whom stimulants are not effective. These medications boost levels of different neurotransmitters in the brain to help ADHD patients control symptoms, though they are generally considered less effective at controlling hyperactive behavior. Side effects associated with non-stimulant medications are similar to common effects of stimulant medications, though some types of non-stimulant drugs may increase suicidal thoughts in children and teenagers.
Selecting an ADHD medication and dose is highly personal. Patients and parents of children with ADHD should discuss both medication and non-medication options for treatment extensively with their healthcare providers and therapists. Some patients are able to successfully control symptoms without the use of medication, while others find non-medication treatments to be ineffective without the use of ADHD drugs.