Long-Term Risks of Adult ADHD Medications

You've seen your doctor and made the decision: It's time to get your ADHD under control. But you may wonder, is the medicine you need safe for the long haul?

If you're an adult, most of the long-term worry about ADHD meds has to do with the how they affect other conditions you have.

Your doctor will examine you, and together you can create a plan that keeps you healthy and helps your focus.

Side effects and risks associated with the long-term use of ADHD medication include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abuse and addiction
  • Skin discolorations

Heart Disease or High Blood Pressure

Most ADHD drugs are "stimulants." They can raise your blood pressure and speed up your heart rate. If you already have an issue with your heart, these medicines could be risky. Examples include:

1. Seizure or Irregular Heartbeat

Another ADHD medication, atomoxetine (Strattera), isn't a stimulant, but it has been linked to seizures and irregular heartbeats. The FDA suggests people with a history of those problems stay away from it.

2. Abuse or Addiction

Some people misuse ADHD stimulant drugs. They might crush the pills and snort them to get high, which can lead to a dangerous overdose.

If you don't have a history of substance abuse, it's unlikely you'll go down that road. But if you do, you could be at risk for misusing your ADHD drugs.

Talk to your doctor honestly about your past or current drug abuse. He can help you decide if ADHD drugs are OK for you.

3. Psychiatric Problems

ADHD drugs may be tied to some mental health issues, but it's rare. For instance, some people have reported behavior problems like aggression and hostility. Others say they developed symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The FDA has also warned that there's a slight risk that stimulant ADHD drugs could lead to mood swings or symptoms of psychosis -- like hearing things and paranoia.

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4. Skin Discoloration

The methylphenidate transdermal system (Daytrana) skin patch has been linked to a skin condition known as chemical leukoderma. This condition causes permanent loss of skin pigmentation at the place where the patch is applied.

 

How to Weigh the Risks

Work with your doctor. Together you can decide if ADHD meds are safe for you.

Your doctor may want to run a few tests to see if you have conditions that might not mix well with ADHD drugs. For instance, they can check to see if you have high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or other kinds of heart disease.

Other conditions might bump up your risks from ADHD drugs. Tell your doctor if you have one of these:

Let them know if you're taking other medicines or supplements. Some could react badly with ADHD drugs.

Once you start taking your ADHD medicine, see your doctor for regular checkups to make sure you aren't having any bad side effects.

Keep in mind, ADHD drugs are generally safe. The chance of serious problems is low. For lots of people, the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 18, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Cardiology: "The Safety of Stimulant Medication Use in Cardiovascular and Arrhythmia Patients."

American College Health Association: "Use and Misuse of Stimulants."

Berman, S. Molecular Psychiatry, February 2009.

Cleveland Clinic: "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults," "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Stimulant Therapy."

Harvard Health Publications: "ADHD update: New data on the risks of medication."

National Resource Center on ADHD: "Managing Medication for Adults with ADHD."

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