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What are the side effects of stimulant medications for ADHD?

The most common side effect of stimulant medications for ADHD is appetite suppression, but others include elevated heart rate, blood pressure and nausea. Watch ADHD specialist Edward Hallowell, MD, discuss the side effects of these drugs.


Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Stimulant medications, though effective for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can cause a number of side effects. It is important to communicate with your doctor if you notice any uncomfortable side effects caused by these drugs. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stimulant medications can cause you to have trouble sleeping. They may reduce your appetite or cause mood changes, like nervousness or a bad temper. Sometimes, these side effects disappear when your dose is changed or as your body adjusts to the medication.

If your child is taking a stimulant medication for ADHD, keep an eye on him. If your child is not getting enough to eat, contact your child's doctor. You can ask the doctor about adjusting the dosage or giving the medicine at a different time. Sleep problems can also be a concern for people taking stimulant medications. If you or your child are not sleeping well after taking stimulant medications, ask your doctor for help.

Rarely, serious side effects occur when people take stimulant medications, including tics, hallucinations, mania, or paranoia. If this occurs, contact a doctor immediately.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Stimulant medications for ADHD, such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (amphetamine), can have important and serious side effects, even lethal ones. That’s why you want a thorough discussion with at least two docs before starting them. I don’t know any medication without side effects. That said, those from stimulants are usually minor, like reduced appetite or trouble sleeping, but some related to muscle spasms or personality changes can be in the big leagues. Discuss these prior to initiation of therapy, know what to look for, and tell your doctor if you or your child experience any of these symptoms, especially if they are severe, and do not delay.

The most commonly reported side effects are decreased appetite, sleep problems, anxiety, and irritability. Some children also report mild stomachaches or headaches. Most side effects are minor and disappear over time or if the dosage level is lowered.

Decreased appetite: Be sure your child eats healthy meals. If this side effect does not go away, talk to your child's doctor. Also talk to the doctor if you have concerns about your child's growth or weight gain while he or she is taking this medication.

Sleep problems:If a child cannot fall asleep, the doctor may prescribe a lower dose of the medication or a shorter-acting form. The doctor might also suggest giving the medication earlier in the day, or stopping the afternoon or evening dose. Adding a prescription for a low dose of an antidepressant or a blood pressure medication called clonidine sometimes helps with sleep problems. A consistent sleep routine that includes relaxing elements like warm milk, soft music, or quiet activities in dim light, may also help.

Less common side effects: A few children develop sudden, repetitive movements or sounds called tics. These tics may or may not be noticeable. Changing the medication dosage may make tics go away. Some children also may have a personality change, such as appearing "flat" or without emotion. Talk with your child's doctor if you see any of these side effects.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.