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Do ADHD medications have long-term effects on children and teens?

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine
ADHD meds have been linked with both short and long-term effects. These can include anorexia (which in some cases could slow growth), insomnia, mood swings and, rarely, the development of tics. Many of these adverse effects are mild, though, and can be corrected by choosing a different drug or adjusting the dose or schedule.
 
There is a very small risk of sudden cardiac death when taking stimulants, so it’s important to have a child evaluated before starting the medications. The American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics have both said that all children should have a focused history and physical before starting these medications. 
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not seem to cause any long-term harmful effects, according to the National Resource Center on ADHD. Parents often wonder whether the use of stimulant medications during childhood leads to drug problems later in life.

Many research studies have analyzed this question. The research results have been mixed, but most professionals believe that when children take these medications as directed, they are not more likely to have substance abuse problems during their teenage and adulthood years than other people. On the contrary, people with ADHD who were not treated for the disorder are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs as they grow up than those who received regular treatment.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Truthfully, we don’t know. The longest well-designed, controlled studies have only examined the effects of ADHD medications for a few years. Longer studies cannot be administered for ethical reasons. However, the fact that many kids and teens have taken these medications for years even into adulthood without any known significant, negative long-term effects is encouraging.

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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.