A Tale of Several ADHD Medications

by Deborah Gray 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.

Deborah Gray
Meet Our Writer
Deborah Gray

Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.