ADHD Medications: The Pros and Cons

ADHD affects approximately 2.2% of children and adolescents (< 18 years of age), worldwide. These symptoms can persist into adulthood in 50-65% of individuals, meaning many people will require long-term treatment with medications. Therefore, it is important to understand the positives and negatives associated with ADHD medications.

Key takeaways:
  • arrow-right
    Stimulants and non-stimulants are effective in treating ADHD in children and adults.
  • arrow-right
    ADHD medications have been shown successfully in improving school and work outcomes as well as many other neuropsychiatric outcomes.
  • arrow-right
    Properly taking ADHD medications will not lead to addiction.
  • arrow-right
    The risk of diversion to others is significant and requires close monitoring by parents and physicians.
  • arrow-right
    It is important to discuss any concerns with your doctor before starting any ADHD medications.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a mixture of impulsive behavior, problems focusing, and overactivity. When severe, these symptoms can reduce one’s success in school and at work. In many patients, successful treatment requires the use of medications in addition to psychosocial therapy.

Therefore it is essential to understand the risks and benefits of ADHD medications before starting what could be life-long treatment.

ADHD medications

ADHD medications are grouped into two different types of medications: stimulants and non-stimulants. Determining which medication is right for you or your child may require trialing multiple medications and doses. However, with time you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the negatives of ADHD medications.

Benefits of ADHD medications

Stimulants and non-stimulant medications have shown great efficacy in reducing the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. By reducing these symptoms, medications have been associated with improved success in school and at work in ADHD patients. While also improving one’s interactions with family members and friends.

A review of multiple studies has shown pharmacologic treatment of ADHD can improve behavioral and neuropsychiatric outcomes, as shown below.

Motor vehicle outcomes — the use of ADHD medications have been shown to reduce the incidence of motor vehicle accidents. They have also been associated with improved driving skills.

Criminality — reduced risk of convictions and incarcerations has been observed in patients treated with ADHD medications.

Substance use disorders — European and American studies have demonstrated a reduced risk of developing substance abuse disorders in patients taking ADHD medications.

Depression and bipolar disorders — in patients with concomitant depression, ADHD treatment was associated with a reduced risk of unplanned hospitalizations. In bipolar disease, the use of ADHD medications with mood stabilizers can reduce the incidence of manic episodes.

Suicidality, psychosis, and seizures — there is evidence that ADHD medications do not increase the risk or occurrence of suicide/self-harm, psychotic episodes, and seizures.

Negatives of ADHD medications

When starting ADHD medication it can be associated with side effects like insomnia, jitteriness, loss of appetite, and nausea. If you experience these adverse effects that particular medication or dose may not be right for you. Working with your doctor can help you or your child find the right medication and dose to maximize the benefits of the medication without the side effects.

Many stimulant medications are addictive and have the risk of addiction, dependency, and diversion which is one of the biggest negatives of these medications. However, patients with ADHD who use their medication correctly will not become addicted. It is when they are improperly used that they can cause symptoms consistent with addiction.

One major drawback of these medications is that they can be given to others for non-medicinal use or performance enhancement. In these situations, there is a considerable risk of addiction and dependency.

ADHD medications are very effective in reducing symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. They have significantly improved outcomes in children and adults and have many positive benefits. However, like all medications, there are drawbacks and concerns.

Overall, these medications are safe when used correctly. Before starting, discuss with your or your child’s doctor to determine if medications are needed and which medication would be best.