Side Effects. All stimulants have a number of side effects:
- The most common side effects of any stimulant are decreased appetite, nervousness, and sleeplessness, although some parents report that stimulants improve sleep patterns in their children.
- Tics or jerky, disordered movements occur in about 9% of children.
- Other side effects include irritability, stomach pain, headache, depression, hair loss, and lack of spontaneity.
Symptoms of Overdose. Symptoms of overdose include changes in heart rhythm and rate, hypertension, confusion, breathing difficulties, sweating, vomiting, and muscle twitches. If they occur, parents should call the doctor immediately.
Concerns for Abuse. Ritalin is not considered addictive, particularly in the doses used for treating ADHD. The primary danger for drug abuse from stimulants appears to occur in young people without ADHD who purchase these drugs illegally. If a child abuses another drug (alcohol, prescription medication) along with the ADHD medication, the chance for serious side effects is even greater.
Atomoxetine (Strattera) was the first non-stimulant approved for ADHD in children and the first treatment approved for adult ADHD. The drug works by increasing levels of both norepinephrine and dopamine, which are generally lower than normal in ADHD. The most common side effect is decreased appetite. A few cases of atomoxetine-associated liver injury have been reported, and the FDA warns that the drug should be discontinued at the first signs of jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes) and liver problems. Long-term effects, such as any impact on growth, are still unknown.
Atomoxetine may cause suicidal thinking in children and adolescents, especially during the first few months of treatment. Parents should monitor children taking atomoxetine for any changes in mood or behavior, and immediately contact their doctor if changes occur.
Antidepressants are not FDA-approved for ADHD treatment, but may be helpful in certain circumstances. Because antidepressants appear to work about as well as behavioral therapy, doctors recommend that patients first try psychotherapy before using antidepressants.
Bupropion (Wellbutrin, generic) and tricyclics are the types of antidepressants used for ADHD. Bupropion affects the reuptake of the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine neurotransmitters. Side effects include restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, headache, and stomach problems. Bupropion should not be used by patients who have a seizure disorder. Bupropion may also be associated with the development of suicidal thoughts and behavior, even in people who have no previous history of depression.
Review Date: 01/27/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.