Managing Medications

ADHD Prescriptions and Over-the-Counter Meds

If you take an ADHD medication, do you have to worry about using certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications?

A pharmacist refills a prescription for ADHD medication for a patient
A pharmacist refills a prescription for ADHD medication for a patient

If you or your child is prescribed medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine/leveoamphetamine salts (Adderall), or atomoxetine (Strattera) to treat ADHD, do you have to worry about using certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications?

Can you use cough medications and cold medications? Or medications for diarrhea or constipation? Medications for headaches? This is an important question, and finding the answers isn’t an easy task.

I myself had to go to the pharmaceutical literature provided by the drug manufacturer for each of the medications used and study the “fine print,” but you can do the same by looking in the Prescriber’s Digital Reference online at Click on the “drug interactions” entry. Then follow the guidelines, entering each of the medications you have in question. If there are drug interactions, it will be noted. Here’s what I learned about the most common ADHD medications:

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

No adverse reactions to OTC drugs were listed for the brand or generic forms. No adverse reactions were noted for the long acting forms of this medication (Metadate, Ritalin LA, Concerta).

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) or Dextroamphetamine/Levoamphetamine (Adderall)

Several reactions to OTC items are listed for this ADHD Medication, including:

Acidifying agents — These agents (e.g., ascorbic acid or “Vitamin C”) are used to increase the acid level in the stomach. They will lower the absorption of the amphetamine. Thus, a higher dose of the amphetamine may be needed.

Alkalinizing agents — These agents (e.g., sodium bicarbonate or “baking soda,” a common ingredient in antacids) are used to decrease the acid level in the stomach. They cause an increase in the absorption of amphetamines. Thus, they should not be used with an amphetamine.

Antihistamines — Amphetamines may counteract the sedative effect of antihistamines. This effect might be advantageous.

Atomoxetine (Strattera)

No adverse reactions to OTC drugs are yet listed.

Overall, there are not many contraindications for OTC medications reported by drug manufacturers for ADHD prescriptions. If you or one of your family members are on ADHD medication plus another prescription medication, however, the physician prescribing the medications should be aware of any possible interactions and should inform you. If you are seeing a new or different doctor or pharmacist, be sure they are aware of any other prescriptions you are taking so that they can review possible contraindications. You can always visit the PDR online if you are uncertain about any new medications.

A Good Reason to Say “No” or NA (Non-alcoholic)

It’s never a good idea to overindulge, and for adults taking ADHD medications, it’s wise to remember that stimulants and alcohol are not good together. Stimulant ADHD medications potentiate alcohol, meaning even if you only have a small drink, you may feel “drunk” faster than you might off medication. Other medications that might be taken for mood disorders, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, might also potentiate the impact of alcohol. Clarify any concerns you may have about this with your prescribing physician.