There are two types of ADHD medications: stimulants and non-stimulants. Each may lead to possible side effects, and a patient’s individual needs and health concerns should be considered when deciding which type of medication is the best fit.
Stimulants are the most common treatment for ADHD. These meds effectively reduce symptoms in most adults and children who try them, and the improvements can start almost immediately.
However, this type of ADHD treatment has a number of potential side effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Side effects may go away after the first few weeks on ADHD stimulants as a patient adjusts to the meds. However, there’s a chance that some side effects may persist. In these situations, the patient can work with their healthcare provider to adjust dosages or switch to a different stimulant.
Non-stimulants are used by people who find that stimulants aren’t effective for them, which happens in about 20% to 30% of individuals with ADHD. There are also some people who take non-stimulants because they have a health condition, such as high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat, that makes them a poor candidate for stimulant therapy.
Non-stimulants can help reduce ADHD symptoms, but they usually take at least two weeks to start working. Overall, the list of side effects for non-stimulants is relatively limited, and they occur less frequently compared to stimulant side effects. Potential side effects of non-stimulant side effects include:
- Decreased appetite
- Drop in blood pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
For children with ADHD, behavior therapy is a common treatment option. Adolescents and adults with ADHD are often encouraged to try a type of psychotherapy called behavioral therapy, or CBT. Neither is considered to have serious risks or side effects, but it’s important to understand the possible challenges and difficulties that may be experienced when using therapy to treat ADHD.
Children with ADHD may participate in behavior therapy to help them learn how to deal with their symptoms in real-world scenarios. Parents often participate as well to help set expectations and encourage positive behaviors with rewards.
This type of therapy helps most children with ADHD. However, it requires a lot of time and effort, and it can be particularly frustrating for parents since it takes time for benefits to become apparent. Consistency with the plan set forth by a behavior therapist is essential to achieving positive outcomes.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy teaches people with ADHD to change negative thinking patterns and deal with life challenges related to their disorder. Although it can be very helpful for adolescents and adults with ADHD, CBT can also be emotionally challenging as patients are urged to confront painful emotions and experiences. Appointments can feel difficult or draining for this reason, but CBT typically leads to overall improvements in how well a patient is able to manage their ADHD and the obstacles it presents.
Tips for Starting ADHD Treatment
Be sure to inform your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medications, vitamins, or supplements. Possible interactions must be avoided, so it's important to tell you provider about what you're taking before you start treatment and check in with them first prior to using any other meds, vitamins, or supplements after you're on your ADHD meds.
If possible, try to take notes on your daily symptoms before you begin treatment. This will help you establish a baseline which you use for comparison later on after you start medication, therapy, or both. A large calendar can be helpful for tracking your symptoms and any side effects on a day-to-day basis. Continue tracking these results as you continue treatment, being sure to note any points at which your dosage or type of medication changes. Your provider may ask you to share this information to help establish how effective the treatment is.
Most providers will advise you to avoid taking ADHD medication on an empty stomach to reduce the chances of side effects like upset stomach or headache from occurring. If you have any issues with side effects, you can ask your provider about adjusting the schedule for your medication (like taking it at night instead of in the morning, for example) or the dosage.
When deciding on the right treatment plan for you, make sure you discuss any potential side effects with your healthcare provider. At Done, our licensed clinicians can answer all of your questions about ADHD medications to make sure you get the right fit for your unique needs.