ADHD Medications Most Common Side Effects – How Serious for Children?

A Center for Disease Control survey determined that 11 percent of children and tens, ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. One in five boys will be diagnosed with ADHD during his childhood. “The majority will be prescribed stimulant medications.

Controversy in ADHD treatment: Stimulant drugs. The medications most frequently used to treat ADHD are stimulants, not without controversy. Ritalin, as one example, has become a household name. Books such as The Ritalin Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You The Amphetamine Debate Ritalin is Not the Answer Ritalin Free Kids, to mention only a few from a list of 20 or more from professionals, fuel an ongoing debate on the polemic issue of ADHD drug treatment. The controversy with children is the most-heated and sensitive issue—on both sides of the poles.

Most common reason parents object to ADHD drugs  

The most common reason parents object to use of ADHD medications is side effects. Are side effects something that parents should be concerned about? Do side effects really matter to children? Are side effects serious or minimal? Do they affect all children or adults who take drugs for ADHD?

Serious side effects and very serious side effects of ADHD drug treatment 

On the one side, there are serious, and even very serious side effects, including death, that are a direct result of taking stimulant medications for ADHD. As in all cases, adults, including parents, must do research, talk to their doctor, and evaluate the potential benefits vs. risks. This certainly applies to all pharmaceutical treatments.The very serious side effects of ADHD, however, as noted below are present in a small population of those who take them, approximately less than 1%. Serious side effects, as opposed to very serious side effects, can occur in up to 50% of children who take medications for ADHD. Some of these include loss of appetite, stomach pains, headaches, insomnia, and change in behavior.

In addition to Ritalin (methylphenidate), these some of the common drugs used in treating ADHD include Amphetamine, Dextroamphetamine, and Lisdexamfetamine. Amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).Serious symptoms of patients suffering from some form of mental disorder such as hallucinations and paranoid behavior, can intensify for mentally ill persons diagnosed with ADHD. In some cases, patients who have never suffered from a mental disorder may also experience intense symptoms associated with serious disorders such as bipolar disorder as a result of taking stimulant drugs for ADHD.

Further research shows that some children undergoing treatment through the use of stimulant medications may undergo personality change towards aggressiveness and hostility, and may still have problems relating with other people. Children and teens taking stimulant drugs for ADHD should be regularly evaluated and assessed. Social training including summer camps for children with ADHD, can help them in gaining needed social skills and overcome feelings of stigma that some children may experience.

In some cases, stimulant drugs can affect the growth and weight gain of children. While this is a much publicized side effect of ADHD drugs, it is not common. Facial tics in children are not an uncommon side effect of taking ADHD drugs, and the development of Tourette Syndrome in uncommon cases has also been attributed to ADHD drug treatment, notes researchers (Overcoming ADHD Without Medication. p. 29,38).Stimulant drugs for ADHD patients should not be used by those with prevailing heart ailments as these drugs have been found to cause sudden death in children with heart illnesses. Even in adults who have serious heart ailments, stimulant medications can cause stroke, heart failure and sudden death, and should be monitored closely. Additionally, side effects of drugs for ADHD can be intensified if children or adults take multiple prescriptions.

Side effects – How prevalent and prevailing?

According to David Rabiner, Ph.D., lead scientific researcher on ADHD from DukeUniversity, 90% of all the children who take stimulant medication as treatment for ADHD suffer with some of the serious side effects as mentioned above. Within the period of six months from starting drug treatment, however, only around 50% will suffer serious side effects and after two years, only 10% will experience these.

Another important finding noted by Rabiner is that the positive results of using stimulant drugs in the treatment of ADHD is not long-lasting, and that within two years, the efficacy of the drug will wear out for most who take them. (p. 30)This means that whatever positive effects incurred from stimulant drugs will most likely eventually be lost. It is important, then, to address root causes of symptoms associated with ADHD.

In the light of research, for some children, the negative effects of using stimulant medications for ADHD children may outweigh the positive effects. For about 10% of children who take ADHD medication, the side effects are intolerable.Non-stimulant medications for ADHD an also result in serious side effects like drowsiness, increase blood pressure, insomnia, decreased appetite, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation and sweating.

Behavior modification has become an evidence-based non-drug treatment

Scientists and researchers focusing on the area of behavior modification therapy have found it to be an effective intervention, with or without medication, allowing for the lowering of dosage of stimulants for those who take ADHD drugs, thus reducing side effects. For those not taking ADHD medications, behavior modification can be considered an evidence-based treatment for ADHD. Parents can maintain a positive spirit. There is light at the end of the tunnel for parents with ADHD children and adults with ADHD.

References for ADHD Medications Most Common Side Effects

Details and references on side effects of ADHD drugs can be found in the book Overcoming ADHD Without Medication, pages 29-34 (on-site).


Sources for this article also include:

1. ADHD Medications: Side Effects. 2014. RXList.

2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. University of Maryland Medical Center.

3. King, S., Waschbusch, D. A., Pelham W. E., Jr,, Frankland, B. W., Andrade, B. F., Jacques, S., Corkum, P. V. May, 2009. Social Information Processing in Elementary-School Aged Children with ADHD: Medication Effects and Comparisons with Typical Children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. May 2009, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 579-589

4. Peer Rejection, Social Relationships and ADHD. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Treatment and Hostility. April 2013. AYCNP.

5. Shwarz, A. May 16, 2014. Thousands of Toddlers Are Medicated for A.D.H.D., Report Finds, Raising Worries. New York Times.

Other AYCNP resources for ADHD:

ADHD and Ritalin: How is Ritalin Like Cocaine?

Art Helps Adults and Children with ADHD–Focusing on the Positive

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Checklist for Parents

How to Overcome Symptoms of ADD and ADHD Through Self-Help Methods



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