Side Effects of ADHD Medication | adhd medication
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

15 Side Effects of ADHD Medication: Can Meds Harm Kids?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD can be frustrating to a child wanting to succeed in school and socially, yet they find themselves unable to concentrate, control impulses and get tasks started.  Just remembering to grab their back pack everyday can be a hard mountain to climb! 

Children with ADHD and their families deal with a range of emotions throughout their day, as both just want to see success. The daily “nag cycle” puts a lot of strain on the parent child relationship. Parents wonder, “Why can't this smart kid do this? Is he doing it on purpose?” 

And kids feel the strain of constant reminders and criticism that leads to feelings of shame and giving up. The question becomes what can a parent do when a child is struggling? How can they reduce symptoms that prevent them from being successful?

In this case, parents may be quick to look to a doctor, and find a medicine to diminish these unwanted tendencies in their child. However, when considering the pros and cons of ADHD medication for your child, it is crucial to consider the short-term and long-term side effects of their use on a developing brain. 

As explained in 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Medicate Your Child with ADHD, many popular ADHD medications can have adverse side effects and may cause more harm to your child's brain, and there are many less invasive therapies that exist that can alleviate symptoms just as effectively. 

Before one gives ADHD medicines, such as Atomoxetine, Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Strattera, Methylphenidate, and other stimulant medications to their child or teen, one need to consider the short term and long term side effects of ADHD. 

As common as ADHD stimulant medications are, there are some mild and serious effects of adhd medications on the brain and behavior that parents may not fully be aware of. It doesn't matter what type of ADHD medications one is using, there are some common side effects and others are less common but can be quite harmful. 

ADHD medication isn't as “safe” as we think it is and before we ever give psychiatric medications to a developing brain, we need to consider other science-backed solutions that regulate the brain and teach kids skills. And in the case of ADHD and executive functioning issues, executive functioning skills can be learned. 

Long Term Side Effects of Stimulant Medication

Long-term side effects of Stimulant Medication

While many parents are willing to tolerate short-term side effects of adhd medications, they aren't aware of the long term side effects of adhd stimulants until their child experiences a harmful side effect. 

#1 Tics

Helping your child or teen with ADHD of course is the top priority to your life right now but what you need to know is that taking commonly prescribed medications can result in long term side effects that may continue to affect your child throughout their lifetime. For example, many patients taking stimulants to suppress ADHD symptoms develop tics, or habitual muscle spasms in the face and/or body. 

In one study following 122 ADHD patients all treated with stimulant drugs, 9% of the subjects developed a type of tic disorder (Lipkin et al., 1994).  In another study, “A total of 7.8% of the subjects treated with stimulants developed tics: 8.3% of subjects treated with methylphenidate, 6.3% with dextroamphetamine, and 7.7% with pemoline” (Varley et al., 2001). 

In addition, stimulant medications can result in irregular levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can also lead to the development of tics and other irregular movement patterns (Schepke, 2022). 

Other obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as tics and irregular movements, have been documented when dopamine levels are irregular, which can occur from taking stimulant medication (Schepke, 2022).

It is important to note that tics can appear whether or not they run in your family. Tics can be vocal or motor in nature, as well as quite observable. 

They can further create feelings of inadequacy for a child or teen and most definitely pose a social obstacle, as others don't know what to make of these involuntary motor or verbal tics. 

#2 Mood Disorders

Another long-term effect observed in patients taking ADHD medication is the development of a mood disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder or disruptive mood disorder. 

When a type of stimulant medication (such as Adderall) is given in a dose that is too high for a child to handle, or the type of drug administered doesn't work well with an individual, depressive symptoms such as feeling sad or hopeless are frequently observed. 

Moreover, mood disorders can result from stimulant use simply because it can “unlock” one's genetic predisposition.

These depressive symptoms may then lead to an increase in the initial ADHD behaviors such as irritability and inability to focus, leading you right back to where you started. Instead of overwhelming the mind with ADHD medications that only result in a second prescription for depression later down the line, a holistic approach may be much more beneficial. 

In a 2015 study, ADHD patients showed a significantly increased probability of developing a depressive disorder with short-term use of stimulants when compared to the control group (ADHD: 5.3% vs. controls: 0.7%; aHR, 7.16, 99% CI: 6.28–8.16 (Lee et al., 2015).

Starting psychotherapy treatment at a young age as opposed to an early exposure to medication can lead to a focus on skills development and specifically, the development of good executive functioning skills. These skills can better accommodate your child's mental health needs through adulthood, decreasing the likelihood that they struggle with a failure to launch on their own. 

#3 Slowed Growth

Though research is limited, some studies have found correlations between ADHD medication and stunted growth in various individuals. This is due to three suspected factors, one being that the understood effect of appetite suppression causes an overall decrease in calorie intake, and therefore growth is affected as a result. 

The disruption of regular dopamine levels may also be at play, where dopamine is affecting growth hormone levels, and therefore stunt a child's height. The stimulant drugs themselves may also have a direct effect of cartilage and bone growth, causing children to grow slower than their non medicated siblings or peers (Goldman R. D. 2010). Some research has found that growth effects can be slowed or reversed by discontinuing use of the medication (Goldman R. D. 2010).

Many take “medication vacations” in the summer time to allow for increased appetite to support growth. Most studies have concluded that while some effect on growth is apparent, discontinuation of treatment results in a rebound of growth to compensate for stimulant-induced loss in height. However, the literature is unclear if this strategy helps to compensate for slowed growth due to stimulants.

#4 Shrinkage of the Frontal Lobe

Brain volume has also been studied in patients treated with ADHD medication. A 2017 study revealed that multiple regions of the brain in patients on ADHD medication were smaller in size compared to the control group (Hoogman et al., 2017; Fotopoulos, 2021). This study correlated a higher CEM, or continuous exposure to ADHD medication, with smaller brain volume across multiple regions, but specifically the left hippocampus seemed to be most affected.

The mega-analysis by Hoogman et al. 2017 reported reduced volumes in the accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, putamen, and overall brain in comparison to control children (Hoogman et al., 2017) (Fotopoulos, 2021).

The frontal lobes are not only what separate man from apes, they are in control of attention and executive functioning. Our executive functions are the “job manager” of the brain and without good abilities and skills here, kids can't get tasks done independently. 

Short Term Side Effects of Stimulant Medication

Short-term side effects of Stimulant Medication

There are short acting symptoms of ADHD medication that typically dissipate after the dosage wears off but parents should still consider their potential for long-term harm to the developing brain.

Studying adverse events (AEs) in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treated with methylphenidate or atomoxetine over a 5-year period in a large naturalistic study with a sample size that included a total of 1350 and 753 participants (aged 6–18 years, mean age 10.7 ± 2.8); 645 patients (26.8 %) experienced at least one mild AE (including decreased appetite and irritability, for both drugs).  In addition, 95 patients (3.9 %) experienced at least one severe AE (including severe gastrointestinal events) (Cortese et al., 2015).

#5 Loss of Appetite

One of the most frequently experienced side effects of ADHD medication is the loss of appetite. Though a short term problem, children are receiving insufficient fuel for their growing body due to their medication, and not eating enough at this critical time in their life can have lasting effects. 

The most common medication taken for ADHD are psychostimulants, including drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. These medications cause a loss of appetite, causing children to feel less hungry during the day when their medication is most active in their body. This can be alarming to parents, as weight loss often results from this lessened intake of food during the day. 

Some parents get creative with helping kids eat and have learned to take medication with food and feed their children late at night when the medication wears off. Many children and teens are so lacking in appetite and have lost so much weight that eating can become yet another battle at home. 

Some children and teens become so restrictive in their eating that they develop an eating disorder. As much as this feels like an uncommon occurrence, it is something that I frequently see with kids who have been on stimulants for years. 

#6 Sleep Problems

ADHD medications can also have adverse effects on another crucial component of your child's health: their sleep. Due to the brain-stimulating effects of the psychostimulants prescribed to your child, they are likely to experience trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. 

“Individuals with ADHD are at an elevated risk for sleep problems and stimulant medications, no matter the formulation, further increase the risk for problems like difficulty falling and staying asleep, and shorter duration of sleep,” (Stein, 2022).

One study reveals that 30% of children taking ADHD medication experience insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or generally receive enough sleep for your body to function efficiently during the day (Stein, 2022). That makes sleep problems a very common side effect, as three out of ten kids have this issue. 

One double-blind study focusing on methylphenidate, the chemical name for the drug Ritalin, found that children taking this medication are significantly more likely to develop poor sleeping patterns compared to children not on this medication, based on scientific and observational data (Sangal et al., 2006). Getting to sleep was the most prominent issue for the children in this 2006 study.

Teens who are already sleep deprived are most impacted by the lack of sleep. Fiona was so overstimulated by her medication that her parents tried supplements, essential oils, and a host of other medications to help her get to sleep. 

Ultimately, Fiona became so sleep deprived that she developed anxiety and school refusal too. In our program, we helped her body detox from the stimulants, calmed her brain with PEMF and neurofeedback, and restored her natural circadian sleep rhythm. We had to do a lot of nervous system repair in order to break free from anxiety and get her back to school

#7 Irritability and Mood Problems

Oftentimes, ADHD is comorbid, or experienced together, with other mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. This complicated mix of symptoms can cause frustration in both children and their parents, and lead to increased irritability, unmotivation, and worry. A study conducted at Yale showed that adderall is associated with an increase in irritability (Horsting, 2017).

Medication may increase emotional symptoms (anxiety, irritability, mood lability) and also affect patients without comorbidity or emerge as adverse drug events (Pozzi, 2018). “Meta-analysis showed that methylphenidates reduced the risk of irritability, anxiety, euphoria, whereas they worsened the risk of apathy and reduced talk; amphetamines worsened the risk of emotional lability.” (Pozzi, 2018).

Normal development means that in some way, shape or form, your child will be cranky or snarky at some point. These medications can add fuel to the fire and cause a real uptick in irritability because stimulants throw the nervous system into a hypervigilant overfocused state. 

That means the brain is in a “rev state.” While a child or teen may be initially more focused, increasing irritability may overshadow any gains they have made. 

#8 Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Stimulants can increase one's heart and blood pressure. Anxiety, physical tension, and increased emotionality are byproducts of elevated heart rate and high blood pressure. 

The mind can race and one's heart can feel like they are leaping out of their chest. It isn't a good feeling and no parent wants their child to feel so “fear hijacked.

#9 Change in Personality

ADHD medicines can flatten personalities and decrease creativity. People with ADHD are often divergent thinkers and creative and meds and squash that. The tradeoff of hyperfocusing the brain with stimulants is that some kids lose a little bit of unique awesomeness of who they are. 

I'll never forget one teen who told me, “Adderall makes me feel like a zombie and I need to come off it but my parents won't listen.” Adam literally was begging his parents to take him off his medication but they were so afraid he would, “Do bad in school” that they, “would rather see him be flat and getting work done”.  

In talking with his parents Doug and Marnie, they just didn't know what else to do until they found our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program and neurofeedback. If it wasn't for Adam's insistence, they wouldn't have Googled me and found help that changed his life. Neurofeedback, supplements and a high fat and protein diet not only brought Adam's personality back, he did better in the last three years of high school then he had the previous school years combined. 

#10 Rebound Effects

Once stimulant medication wears off, many kids experience a temporary worsening of symptoms, which is known as a “rebound effect.”  If one can imagine a lion in a cage for hours and then let out, then you can visualize what many parents experience after their child is medically constrained all day at school. You may see increased hyperactivity, unfocused behaviors, emotional lability, and even aggression. 

Parents often switch to long acting doses or give their child a second, short acting dose of stimulants to combat this effect but then kids struggle to have enough of an appetite to eat and to settle for sleep. 

Lack of proper nutrition and sleep are both equally as harmful to the brain and can on their own produce “ADHD-like” behaviors. So the question is, “How is this really benefiting your child?” 

#11 Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Gatrointenial symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain are not uncommon for those that take ADHD stimulant medication. We tend to think of these medications only impacting our frontal lobes but they can interfere with the gut-brain connection too (Spencer et. al, 2006). 

#12 Physical Symptoms

There is a surprisingly long list of potential physical symptoms that can result from methylphenidate or any other ADHD type of medication usage in children and teens. 

Possible Physical Side Effects from Methylphenidate Usage

Possible Physical Side Effects from Methylphenidate Usage

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Skin rash or hives
  • Tremor
  • Dry Mouth
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Blood in the urine or stools
  • Blurred vision or other changes in vision
  • Crusting, dryness, or flaking of the skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Scaling, severe redness, soreness, or swelling of the skin
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising

Other Serious Side Effects of ADHD Medications

Other Serious Side Effects of ADHD Medications

#13 Psychosis 

Something that most parents aren't told about when they fill out their ADHD medication script, is that use of stimulant medication can lead to psychosis (Moran et. al, 2019). Scary and a very real possibility. 

With psychosis, one experiences a break from reality that can be a single episode or multiple in nature. Behavior, thought patterns, and communication can be irrational and unpredictable. In extreme cases, a person can harm others or themselves. 

So why does this happen with some individuals and not others? Genetic predispositions and genetic mutations can factor into the development of psychotic symptoms. Infectious diseases such as Lyme Disease, Tick-Borne Disease, Strep and other infections that cause brain swelling can react to psychiatric medications and lead to psychotic episodes as well. 

The problem with giving ADHD medications out so easily without a full lab workup, you just don't know what is lurking until a mental health crisis causes one to look deeper at root causes. It is important to note that psychosis can be a temporary or lasting mental health issue, which is a frightening possibility and way more serious than ADHD symptoms. 

#14 POTS

Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a condition that affects blood flow. ADHD medication can cause one's heart rate to increase when changing their body position, such as moving from a seated position or laying down to a standing up position. As a result, fainting can occur, which is naturally dangerous. A head injury can occur or even worse death as a result of a fall.

If a patient experiences POTS when on medication, it must be immediately discontinued. 

#15 Seizures

There is some mixed evidence that methylphenidate may cause seizures. While there is no conclusive evidence that it can lead to or even help seizures, we do know that overdosing on methylphenidate can lead to seizures and a host of other side effects (Spiller et. al, 2013). Improper dosing or intentional overuse by teens and adults can lead to seizures. 

Alternate Treatments For ADHD

Rather than subjecting your child to a slew of side-effects by medicating them for their ADHD, consider the vast amount of alternate treatments that can decrease their symptoms safely and naturally. 

As a special needs mom myself. I know you are looking for an effective and natural way to treat ADHD because you only want to see your child succeed. You may feel like there aren't science-backed holistic remedies but the good news is there are. 

Many supplements can be used to aleve symptoms of ADHD and other related disorders, helping to restore essential nutrients in the mind and body, and calm the nervous system rebalance proper functioning. There is a lot of science out there to support the use of supplements to address specific nutrient deficiencies and help to focus the brain. The best part of using supplements are there are no toxic side effects like ADHD meds. 

Other natural treatments can also be used, such as dietary changes, improving sleep and exercise patterns, and beneficial therapies can progress your child's mental health and overall wellbeing far beyond the capabilities of a single drug. 

My favorite way to get the brain alert is what we do in our one-to-one BrainBehaviorReset™ program, where we combine the best of what science has already shown us that works to alert the brain. We create personalized neurofeedback protocols, which is one of my most successful methods to calm and focus the brain that can help with not only ADHD, but many mental health issues to help you and your child succeed. 

Luckily, we work with people in-person in our Connecticut Neurofeedback center and remotely all over the world (we send people our equipment). 

Long into the night, parents search for solutions because they want the best for their children and want to see them be successful. Medication is just one of many options for kids that have attention and executive functioning issues. 

Parents need to focus on helping their child's brain regulate and calming behavioral responses. Behavioral inhibition is the most critical foundational piece in building good executive functioning skills, which when learned are a game changer in the lives of kids with attentional problems. 


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Fotopoulos, N. H., Devenyi, G. A., Guay, S., Sengupta, S. M., Chakravarty, M. M., Grizenko, N., Karama, S., & Joober, R. (2021). Cumulative exposure to ADHD medication is inversely related to hippocampus subregional volume in children. NeuroImage. Clinical, 31, 102695. 

Goldman R. D. (2010). ADHD stimulants and their effect on height in children. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 56(2), 145–146. 

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Moran, L. V., Ongur, D., Hsu, J., Castro, V. M., Perlis, R. H., & Schneeweiss, S. (2019). Psychosis with Methylphenidate or Amphetamine in Patients with ADHD. The New England journal of medicine, 380(12), 1128–1138.

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2023

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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