Adult ADHD Drugs: Tips to Ease Side Effects

If you’re an adult with ADHD, medications can help a lot. They can give you back your focus and a feeling of control.

But for many people, these perks come with a price -- side effects. Most of the time, they’re mild and fade after a few weeks or months of treatment. But that’s not true for everyone.

Here’s a look at possible side effects and tips to relieve them.

Common Side Effects and What to Do

Most people treat their ADHD with stimulant medicines, but some take non-stimulants.

Both types have similar side effects.

  • Nausea. Take your medicine with food to lower your odds of feeling queasy. If you’re supposed to take it in the morning and you’re not a breakfast person, you may want to find something you can eat anyway.
  • Loss of appetite. Some drugs can make you not want to eat much. But don't skip meals. That can lead to low blood sugar, and that may make it harder to focus. Instead, eat several small meals a day, rather than three bigger ones. Eat dinner later in the evening, after the effects of your medication have worn off. You may feel hungry then. Sometimes the worse appetite leads to weight loss. It’s usually just a small amount, but tell your doctor if you think you're losing too much weight.
  • Headaches. You might get them after you take your medication on an empty stomach, or if you’re dehydrated. Sometimes they come on as the medicine wears off. Your doctor may be able to help by tweaking when you take your drug.
  • Dry mouth. Drink plenty of fluids, and use lozenges to keep your mouth moist.
  • Dizziness. Sometimes, dizzy spells can be a sign that you’re taking too much medication. Check with your doctor. He might also want to check your blood pressure.
  • Moodiness. Some people find that their medications make them tense and cranky. Like most ADHD drug side effects, this may fade in time. If your moodiness is bothering you, ask your doctor about adjusting the dose or changing your medication.
  • Trouble sleeping. Some ADHD medications can rev you up and make it hard to fall asleep. Take your medication earlier in the day, so it wears off well before bedtime. If you’re on a long-acting stimulant, you could ask your doctor about trying a short-acting one, where the effects will fade more quickly. Limit or avoid caffeine, too. Turn off your TV, computers, and phones an hour or so before going to bed, and take time to relax.
  • Tics are repeated movements or sounds that you make without meaning to. ADHD medications don’t cause tics, but they can sometimes bring out underlying ones -- maybe tics you had in childhood will come back. Usually these fade over time, but talk to your doctor if they don't go away.

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There’s no way to know how well a medicine will work for you. Some people do better on one drug than another. It can take a few tries to find the right one.

If you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or a history of mental health issues or addiction, your doctor needs to know. These conditions may cause problems with your treatment.

Doctors sometimes treat adults with drugs that aren't FDA-approved for ADHD. This is called “off label” use. Because these drugs have different side effects -- and benefits and risks -- you should go over the specifics with your doctor.

Many people feel the side effects of their ADHD medications are worth dealing with to get the benefits of the drugs. But if they’re severe or interfering with your life, don’t try to ignore them. Get help from your doctor. Together, you'll be able to come up with a plan that works best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on January 8, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Lenard Adler, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and child & adolescent psychiatry, director of the Adult ADHD Program, New York University School of Medicine, New York City.

FDA: “FDA Directs ADHD Drug Manufacturers to Notify Patients about Cardiovascular Adverse Events and Psychiatric Adverse Events.” 

FDA: “FDA Proposes New Warnings about Suicidal Thinking, Behavior in Young Adults Who Take Antidepressant Medications.”

David W. Goodman MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; director, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland, Baltimore.

James McCracken, MD, director of child and adolescent psychiatry, Semel Institute at the UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles. 

National Resource Center on ADHD: “FAQ.”

J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, associate professor of psychology in psychiatry; co-director, Penn Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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