A Tale of Several ADHD Medications

Patient Expert

My Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) wasn't diagnosed till I was in my late thirties. By that point, as you can imagine, I had developed coping strategies to get me through life, especially at work. So when my doctor asked if I would like to give treatment with medication a shot, although I couldn't imagine how it would help me, I agreed. We first started on Ritalin. I didn't notice any positive effect, as the heart palpitations I experienced were too distracting, and I discontinued the treatment after three days. We then tried Adderall, which had the same unpleasant effect.

I wasn't surprised that I was experiencing this side effect, however, when I remembered how I reacted in college to large amounts of caffeine. I worked part-time at a cafe that served croissants, cappuccino and espresso. We were allowed to have as much of the coffee drinks as we liked. As you can imagine, as a poor college student, I downed quite a lot. After a couple of weeks I noticed that my heart was beating uncomfortably as those I was anxious or out of breath. I figured out what the problem was, and have stuck to decaf since then, for the most part.

This is not a very common side effect of these medications. I've talked to quite a few people with ADHD, and none of them has experienced the same side effect. I must be wired differently, even from other people with ADHD. So don't let my experience discourage you from either of those medications.

My doctor then prescribed generic dextroamphetamine in a low dose (5mg) to be taken as needed, when I had to concentrate. That was all I took for my ADHD for a few years. I didn't see much of a need, as I was a stay at home mom. Last year, though, my doctor suggested that I try Vyvanse, a long-acting form of dextroamphetamine, to counteract a side effect of some new antidepressant I was on, uncontrollable eating.

The timing was good, ADHD-wise. I had been at my full-time position at UC Berkeley for a year, and we were in the deadly summer period. If I'm not under pressure, I can get lazy. The summer before I had not gotten nearly enough accomplished. I started taking the Vyvanse in June. It was probably the most productive month I had ever had. I was so thrilled that I was getting work done, and nothing seemed to distract me. Even if I started websurfing, I quickly became bored and went back to whatever project I was working on.

Yippee, right? Well, not quite. I started noticing that I was very irritable. I was irritable with my husband and son, and barely kept myself from snapping at people at work. I was even irritable in general, when it wasn't even directed at anyone. I just felt irritable. I asked my husband if he had noticed anything, and his expression said it all. He said that he had noticed it right from the beginning. I asked why he hadn't said anything, and he replied, "You were so happy about getting things done at work. I didn't want to ruin it for you."

For me, though, family comes first. I couldn't bear snapping at my son and seeing his face. Apologizing was never enough to assuage the guilt. So I stopped the Vyvanse. I have to say, I really miss it, but the price was just too high. So now I'm back to taking the dextroamphetamine, in the small dose, whenever I need to concentrate. Again, your mileage may vary. It's definitely worth trying these medications to see how you react.