Medication can help people with ADHD focus, learn, and control their impulses. However, taking it for an extended period can cause physical and mental side effects.
According to a 2016 study, about
People should also consider the potential side effects of medication. Although long-term side effects can occur, the risk is low. Many people stop experiencing side effects once they stop taking the medication.
Nonstimulant ADHD medications are also available, but doctors
Read more to learn about the long-term effects of ADHD medication, when a person should change medication, and more.
All medications come with possible side effects, and ADHD medication is no exception. However, although the short-term effects are well-researched, there is limited information on how the medication affects those who take it for an extended period.
The reason for this is that carrying out a controlled study for years and years is neither realistic nor ethical.
Therefore, experts need to rely on observational studies to understand the long-term side effects. They cannot control for variables in these studies, so the results will never be completely accurate.
However, they can still give people an idea of the long-term side effects of certain medications.
Effects on physical health
Most of the physical effects of stimulant medications are short-term and go away when a person stops taking the drug.
Some potential long-term physical health effects include:
- lack of appetite
- weight loss
delayed growthin adolescents
- sleep disturbance
Effects on development
ADHD medications may affect childhood development, although the research is not conclusive.
One of the most heavily studied areas is the potential for ADHD medications to stunt or slow growth. Stimulants can temporarily slow growth in children, whose growth does not later accelerate.
A 2021 systematic review found that the long-term use of stimulants in children correlated with a reduction in height and weight but that the overall decrease was small.
It is important to note that the medications may not directly cause growth reduction. Instead, this effect may be due to inadequate nutrition, as stimulants can decrease a person’s appetite.
Effects on mental health and behavior
Several studies have tested the effects of ADHD medications on mental health, but the results are often contradictory and inconclusive.
Other people may appear less emotional, though. For these individuals, the medication can have a “blunting” effect, which can mimic depression.
Researchers are still unsure whether ADHD medication influences depression, but research suggests that it does reduce a person’s risk of suicide.
Although stimulant medication can cause side effects, it is also an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms. As a result, it can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.
The potential benefits include:
- reducing the risk of suicide
- lowering the rate of substance-related events
- promoting better performance in school
reducingthe likelihood of motor vehicle accidents
- lowering criminality rates
In some cases, a person may continue to see improvements in their symptoms even after they stop taking the medication.
An older study involving more than 500 children with ADHD compared those who took medication with those who did not. Those who took medication continued to experience improved symptoms of ADHD for up to 3 years after they stopped the treatment. After that, there were no additional benefits.
People with ADHD or their parents or caregivers should discuss the pros and cons of medication with a doctor. When choosing an ADHD medication, some questions to ask include:
- What are the most common long-term and short-term side effects?
- How long does the medication take to work?
- What are the signs that the medication is working properly?
- Are there any potential drug interactions to be aware of?
- Are there any ways to reduce the potential side effects?
It is important to know that medication is not the only treatment option.
In fact, in children aged 4–6 years, the
A combination of treatments usually works best, so it may help to incorporate additional interventions,
- family and individual counseling
- accommodations at work and school
- organizational and study skills training
- lifestyle changes, such as sticking to a strict schedule
Sometimes, a particular medication is not the right fit for an individual. In other cases, a person may take a medication for years and then find that it stops working for them.
It might be time for a person to change medications
- getting little or no symptom relief
- experiencing serious side effects that interfere with their quality of life
- developing serious health problems, such as high blood pressure
- trying a nonstimulant treatment
Stimulant medication is a standard treatment for ADHD. While it can help a person manage their symptoms and boost their quality of life, it can cause some unwanted side effects.
Many side effects are temporary, but some are associated with long-term medication use.
No single medication works well for everyone, and a person should discuss the best options for them with a doctor.