ADHD medication side effects

ByThe Understood Team

At a glance

  • ADHD medication can sometimes cause side effects.

  • That’s true for both stimulant and non-stimulant medications.

  • Side effects can be mild or significant.

ADHD medication can be an effective way to reduce symptoms of ADHD (also known as ADD) in kids. But it can sometimes cause side effects. That’s true for both stimulant and non-stimulant medications.

Side effects like an upset stomach or headaches often go away after a child’s body has a few days to get used to the medication. But other common side effects, like decreased appetite, might not go away. There’s also a range in how kids experience side effects, from mild to significant. They can occur while the medication is working, or after it’s worn off.

Sometimes side effects go on for longer than a few days. In some cases, kids find them so uncomfortable that changes need to be made. That might be a change in dosage or a change from one type of medication to another.

Here are some common side effects of stimulant and non-stimulant ADHD medications. You can use an ADHD medication log to keep track of what you’re seeing.

Side effects of ADHD stimulant medication

There are two types of stimulant medication: Methylphenidates (like Ritalin, Focalin, Metadate, and Concerta) and amphetamines (like Dexedrine, Adderall, and Vyvanse).

The potential side effects of these medications include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Rebound (irritability when the medication wears off)
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Nervousness

Less common side effects of stimulant medication can include:

  • Tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
  • Personality changes, like appearing way too serious and not being as enthusiastic as usual

Side effects of non-stimulant medication

There are a number of non-stimulant medications. These include Strattera, Tenex, Intuniv, and Kapvay. Non-stimulants are often used when kids don’t respond to stimulants or experience side effects from them.

Non-stimulant medications can have side effects, too. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomachaches
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood swings

How to help with ADHD medication side effects

It’s important to report side effects to the person who prescribed the medication. The prescriber may want to make changes to your child’s medication, dose, or timing. There are also things you can try at home to reduce side effects.

Sleep problems: Sometimes, stimulant medication makes it hard for kids to fall asleep. This problem usually gets better over time — it could take four to six weeks. ADHD itself can make it hard for kids to wind down and fall asleep at night, too. Because of that, you may also want to tweak your child’s bedtime routine. Get tips on how to help kids with ADHD wind down at night.

Eating issues: Stimulant medications can cause eating problems when the medicine is active in a child’s system. Extended-release versions of stimulant medications peak about four hours after they’re taken. So if kids take the medication right after breakfast, they may not be hungry at lunchtime. That’s why it’s important to make sure kids eat breakfast first, and to encourage them to eat whenever they feel hungry.

Their appetite will likely return later in the day as the medication wears off. So in the evenings they may be extra hungry. Keeping healthy snacks around can help kids get enough nutrition throughout the day.

Nausea and headaches: These side effects tend to go away within a few weeks of starting medication. You may be able to minimize them in the meantime by having your child take the medication with food.

Let the doctor or prescriber know about any side effects you see. That includes changes in your child’s mood or personality. Tell the doctor if your child seems much more anxious, irritable, or unhappy for long periods. It’s important to describe when this happens and how intense it is.

Read more about the connection between ADHD and anxiety and ADHD and depression. And get to know signs of anxiety and depression in kids.

Also, see a graphic that shows how ADHD medication works in the brain. Find out what grade-schoolers and tweens and teens need to know about ADHD medication. And learn about alternative treatments for ADHD that might make a difference for your child.

For more information, see our guide to ADHD medication.

Understood is not affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.

Key takeaways

  • Side effects of stimulant medication can include sleep problems and decreased appetite.

  • Side effects of non-stimulants can include nausea and stomachaches.

  • Let the doctor or prescriber know about any side effects you see.

Tell us what interests you


About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.