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ADHD: Prescription Stimulant Medication and Side Effects

Published: 2015-07-03 - Updated: 2021-08-09
Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Contact Details
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Synopsis: Prescription stimulants of different dosages are often prescribed to people with ADHD to help with self-esteem, social and family interactions and thinking ability. Parents and teachers often take this as reinforcement of the idea that children need these drugs, misconstruing behaviors and moods as an underlying disorder that needs to be medicated. A closer look at the information available on ADHD drugs reveals a number of safety concerns. When it comes to drugs such as Ritalin, or methylphenidate, we really do not know all of the long-term effects.

Main Digest

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in ten children in America, to include almost a fifth of boys in high school, have received a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some people are worried that a diagnosis of ADHD and its medication are overused in America, something that may sound plausible, particularly since ADHD diagnosis have grown by 41% over the last ten years. Yet since ADHD is a malleable concept based on subjective impressions, it is difficult to know what it means to say that a person who has received the diagnosis does not really have it.



Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - Similar to hyper-kinetic disorder in the ICD-10) is a developmental neuropsychiatric disorder in which there are significant problems with executive functions (e.g., attentional control and inhibitory control) that cause attention deficits, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness which is not appropriate for a person's age. These symptoms must begin by age six to twelve and persist for more than six months for a diagnosis to be made. In school-aged individuals inattention symptoms often result in poor school performance.

The average age of onset of ADHD symptoms is seven. A number of people's ADHD symptoms improve during adolescence or as they age, although the disorder might persist into adulthood. ADHD diagnosis are increasing; according to the CDC, as of 2011, 11% of people between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder predominantly inattentive (ADHD-PI), formerly attention deficit disorder (ADD), is one of the two types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The term was formally changed in 1994 in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV), to "ADHD predominantly inattentive" (ADHD-PI or ADHD-I)

Prescription Stimulants

Stimulant medications, to include amphetamines and methylphenidate, are many times prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults who experience ADHD. People with ADHD consistently have more difficulty with paying attention or are more impulsive or hyperactive than people of the same age. The pattern of behavior often times becomes evident when a child is in preschool or the first grades of elementary school.

Prescription stimulants have a focusing and calming effect on people with ADHD. They are prescribed to people for daily use and come in the form of capsules or tablets of different dosages. Treatment of ADHD with stimulants, many times in conjunction with psychotherapy, helps to improve ADHD symptoms as well as the person's self-esteem, social and family interactions and thinking ability.

An increasing number of adolescents and young adults are abusing prescription stimulants in order to boost their study performance in an effort to improve their grades in school. There is widespread belief that these drugs can improve someone's ability to learn. Prescribed stimulants do promote wakefulness, yet studies have discovered that they do not enhance thinking or learning ability when taken by those who do not actually have ADHD. Research has also discovered that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPA's in high school and college than those who do not.

Every stimulant works by increasing dopamine levels in the person's brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with movement, pleasure and attention. The therapeutic effect of stimulants is achieved by slow and steady increases of dopamine, which are similar to the way dopamine is naturally produced in a person's brain. The dosages prescribed by doctors start low and increase over time until a therapeutic effect has been reached. When taken in dosages and through routes other than ones prescribed, prescription stimulants can increase brain dopamine in a quick and greatly amplified way, thereby disrupting usual communication between brain cells while producing euphoria, as a result increasing the risk of addiction.

ADHD Medication Side-Effects

As ADHD drug effects start to wear off between doses there might be withdrawal effects that resemble the behaviors, such as hyperactivity, that doctors intend to treat with the drugs. Parents and teachers often take this as reinforcement of the idea that children need these drugs, misconstruing behaviors and moods as an underlying disorder that needs to be medicated. Below are the many side-effects of these medications:

As you can tell, the side-effects of ADHD medications can present a child, adolescent or adult with ADHD with issues that are also quite serious. A doctor must be very careful when prescribing these medications. If you have any questions in regards to ADHD medication your loved one is taking, do not hesitate to contact a doctor.

ADHD Medications and Safety

The issue is that we simply do not know enough about the long-term use of ADHD medications. A closer look at the information available on ADHD drugs reveals a number of safety concerns. When it comes to drugs such as Ritalin, or methylphenidate, we really do not know all of the long-term effects.

Ritalin has been approved for use by people for more than five decades, but there are surprisingly few studies on the potential for serious side-effects such as carcinogenicity or mutagenicity in either animals or people. To be plain - there is insufficient research to assure both parents and children that these drugs will not lead to cancer through damaging cells. The lack of research on the long-term effects of Ritalin use in people warrants great concern.

At this time, it remains unclear what the long-term effects would be for children who took Ritalin 10-20 years ago, or for people who are currently being treated with the drug. It is worth bearing in mind that rats share a high degree of genetic similarity to people. What we do know is that repeated exposure to Ritalin in early life affects a number of physiological and behavioral responses in adulthood.

ADHD Facts and Statistics

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2015, July 3). ADHD: Prescription Stimulant Medication and Side Effects. Disabled World. Retrieved September 21, 2023 from

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