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Stimulants Medications for ADHD: What are the Consequences?

For many years now, the go-to treatment protocol for treating ADHD has been prescription stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall.

And while these ADD medications have shown to be effective for some individuals, they also carry a significant number of unwanted negative side-effects that shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked.

To help you understand the potential risks of using stimulant based medications, this article will provide an introduction to stimulants, an explanation of their potential side-effects, and an explanation of how they’re used to treat ADD.

Indeed, ADHD is a serious condition, but at the Drake Institute, we believe that there are better  treatments for symptom reduction that do not involve prescription medications.

For an example of how we approach the process, visit our page on Drake’s unique non-drug ADD and ADHD treatment plan.

What are Prescription Stimulants?

Stimulant prescription drugs for ADD and ADHD include medications such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Focalin, Ritalin, Concerta, and many others.

In theory, these drugs help increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, which is thought to provide a boost to the afflicted individual’s ability to concentrate, focus, and refrain from acting impulsively.

Indeed, stimulants are often the primary treatment protocol used to mitigate the negative symptoms of ADD and ADHD; however, their efficacy can vary greatly from person to person as well as their side effects.

However, ADHD and ADD stimulants carry a significant number of potential negative side-effects that can be worse than the symptoms of the disorder they’re supposed to be treating.

Long-term Effects of Stimulant Prescription Drugs

A landmark study published online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who took stimulant medication from childhood into adulthood were no better off in terms of symptom severity reduction than those patients who had stopped taking medication.

In fact, the patients who continued the medication from childhood to adulthood showed one negative effect, a growth suppression of being 2 cm shorter in height.

Medscape Medical News quoted the researchers as stating that these findings suggest that "childhood-onset ADHD is a chronic disorder with persistence of symptoms into adulthood...and extended use of stimulant medication from childhood through adolescence is associated with suppression of adult height but is not associated with reduced symptom severity."

The unfortunate findings of this study are not surprising.

The Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine has always preferred our non-drug treatment approach, using brain map guided neurofeedback as a safer, more effective long-term solution for treating ADHD.

Other Side Effects of Stimulant Medications for ADHD

Besides suppressing a person’s growth, ADD medications can also cause an individual to experience all sorts of other unwanted side effects, including:

  • Drug overdoses
  • Nervousness
  • Change in personality
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • osteoporosis
  • Withdrawal effects causing unstable emotional rebound
  • Psychotic reactions
  • Lowered seizure threshold
  • Tics
  • Insomnia
  • Liver Problems
  • Risk of substance abuse and addiction

The brain can develop a tolerance for the ADD medications, which results in needing to increase the dosage to obtain the same level of symptom reduction, thereby increasing the possibility of more side effects

The higher the dosages of the drugs taken, the more likely the patient is to experience negative side effects, and the more likely those side effects are to increase in severity. Sometimes the prescribing physician will add an additional drug to counteract the side effects of the first drug.

There are potential serious ADD medication side effects that are important to be aware of, like those listed in a WebMD article stating that an FDA-drafted medication guide contained reports of sudden death in patients who were taking stimulant drugs with pre-existing heart conditions, though this is rare. If there is a history of heart disease in the family, including high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias,  it is prudent to perform an EKG (electrocardiogram) before putting a child on stimulant medication.

Finally, it’s also important to note that when children are given access to stimulants like Ritalin, there’s always a chance that the medication will be abused or illegally distributed to their peers at school or on the playground.

When this does occur, the risk of stimulant overdose becomes much greater, and everyone (including both the actual patient as well as their peers) is at an even greater risk of harm. The incidence of ADHD stimulant medication overdoses in young people seen at hospital emergency rooms has significantly increased.

Treating ADD at the Drake Institute

For over 35 years, the Drake Institute has successfully treated both ADD and ADHD without the use of medications.

With the help of advanced qEEG brain mapping, Neurofeedback, and Neuromodulation, the Drake Institute is able to create treatment protocols that are custom-tailored to each patient’s individual needs and physiological findings.

Brain mapping can identify the specific brain networks or areas that are dysregulated which are linked to the patient's symptoms. Customized neurofeedback treatment, derived from one's brain map findings, can then enable the patient to improve and stabilize those specific dysregulated regions, thereby reducing symptoms in most patients.

And because our treatment protocols are focused on improving brain functioning to more normal patterns, symptom relief can be experienced long-term, which isn’t necessarily the case for many ADD medications.

As a last option, patients can try prescription stimulant drugs when everything else has failed, but we strongly encourage those suffering from ADD to consider non-drug  treatment options first, not only because of the negative side-effects associated with ADD medication (like suppressed growth), but also because of the fact that ADD medications don’t generally lead to long-term symptom relief.

As a matter of fact, many patients who decide to take the medication route find that their symptoms return as soon as they stop taking their ADD medications, which is certainly not ideal.

On the other hand, by following the Drake Institute’s treatment protocols which enable the patient to re-train the brain to more optimal functioning patterns, patients’ symptoms can be reduced and may even completely resolve in some patients. We repeat the brain map midway through treatment to assess for improvement and typically create new treatment protocols in the second half of the treatment based on an improved brain.

An improved brain can enable patients to achieve better results at school, work, and in their personal lives.

Contact the Drake Institute

If you, your child or family member is suffering from ADHD, please don’t hesitate to call us at 800-700-4233 for a free consultation.

Contact Us Today

To get the help you or a loved one needs, call now to schedule your no-cost screening consultation.

dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Behavioral Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Behavioral Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Behavioral Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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