Is ADHD Medication Affecting My Weight?

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may take medicine to help with things like focus, attention, and hyperactivity. But that medication also can have side effects, including weight changes.

Merely having ADHD may lead to weight gain as well. Not being able to control your impulses can lead to junk food cravings and overeating. That can make it easy to put weight on and hard to take it back off.

But if your ADHD or the drugs you take to treat it lead to a few extra pounds, you're not stuck with the extra weight. You can do some things to limit -- and reverse -- that kind of weight gain.

ADHD Drugs and Your Weight

The medicines most often used to treat ADHD don't directly make you gain weight. In fact, they can have the opposite effect. Stimulant drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) make you less hungry and make your body burn calories faster than usual. Some of them are even used to help people lose weight or treat binge eating.

But these effects only last for a few hours. Once the stimulant wears off, your appetite can come roaring back. And if you overeat when you're not on your medicine, you could gain weight.

Some people with ADHD also have depression and take antidepressants. A few of those have been linked to weight gain.

Other Reasons You Gain Weight

People who have ADHD are about 5 times more likely to be overweight or obese than those who don't have it. There are a few possible reasons:

Hard time controlling impulses: This can make it tough to resist another piece of pizza or a second slice of cake. People with ADHD are 5 times more likely to have the eating disorder bulimia, which causes overeating.

The dopamine connection: This brain chemical might be at least partly to blame for overeating in connection with ADHD. Dopamine is part of your brain's reward center. It's the "feel-good" chemical that makes you satisfied after you eat a jelly doughnut or an order of French fries.

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People with ADHD tend to have low levels of dopamine. In fact, the stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD boost those levels. Eating high-carb foods also triggers a rush of dopamine, and that's why you might crave cookies, cakes, and other junk foods.

Eating habits: Many ADHD symptoms can keep you from eating healthy.

  • If you can’t plan ahead well, it can be hard to have time for low-calorie, nutritious meals or exercise.
  • Trouble focusing can distract you from choosing the right foods at a restaurant or supermarket, or from cooking a healthy meal at home.
  • Lack of attention can keep you from realizing you're full.
  • Trouble managing stress can lead to emotional eating.
  • If you don’t like being bored, you might be more likely to eat when you have nothing else to do.

How to Control Weight Gain

If you have trouble controlling your urges to eat, one idea is to make it harder to binge. Keep chips, candy, and other junk foods out of your house. Stock your fridge and pantry with good-for-you treats like these in case you have a craving:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Nuts
  • Cheese sticks
  • Low-fat yogurt

Make a list before you go to the supermarket, and stick with it so you won't be tempted to buy something unhealthy. To make meals easier, cook a big batch of dinners at once and freeze them. Or use a prepared healthy meal service that delivers to your door.

If hyperactivity is a problem for you, use the extra energy to exercise. Go for a walk, do yoga, or just dance around your room. If you get bored easily, don't try to do a full hour of exercise at once. Break your routine into 10- or 15-minute segments to make them easier to finish.

To help you stay motivated, keep track of your diet and fitness in a diary. A few smartphone apps make it easy to track your progress. Some apps even turn diet and exercise into a game or competition with friends and family to make it more fun.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

ADDitude: "ADHD, Impulsive Eating, and Weight Gain," "Are You 'Chemically Wired' to Gain Weight?" "Lose Weight -- Without Losing Your Mind," "What to Do When Your Child Never Feels Like Eating."

Cleveland Clinic: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy."

Clinical Pediatrics: "Excessive Weight Gain With Guanfacine: 16.1 Kilograms in 12 Months."

Current Psychiatry Reports: "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obesity: Update 2016."

Mayo Clinic: "Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and causes," "Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?"

National Institute of Mental Health: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder."

National Institute on Drug Abuse: "Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines."

Pediatrics: "Attention deficit disorder, stimulant use, and childhood body mass index trajectory."

Scientific Reports: "Associations among ADHD, Abnormal Eating and Overweight in a non-clinical sample of Asian children."

Yale University: "ADHD and Obesity."

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