ADHD Medications: Are There Any Long-Term Side Effects, Risks?

Taking attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) medications and concerned about the long-term side effects for adults or children?
The Experts | posted by William Dodson, M.D.

Nothing major, in terms of side effects or increased health risks, has been found for taking medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) -- and researchers have had a long time to evaluate these medications. Amphetamine -- found in Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse, among other meds -- was synthesized in 1887 and came on the market soon after as an over-the-counter nasal decongestant spray. Methylphenidate -- found in Ritalin and Concerta, among other prescription drugs -- was available in Europe in 1939 and came to the United States in 1954.

One caveat: There are no long-term studies assessing these meds in people who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Almost all of the data on stimulants comes from patients who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy -- a genetically based sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and frequent daytime sleep attacks. Narcoleptics take mild stimulants daily to treat their condition, often for decades. There have been no reported problems.

Finally, anyone who is concerned about medication safety should remember the risks of non-treatment. Untreated ADD/ADHD adversely affects a person's life in many ways. Those with ADD/ADHD who don’t take medication have a significant increase in auto accidents, drug abuse, unplanned pregnancy, and job loss.They also are more likely to separate and/or divorce compared with those who take medication.

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