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Are ADHD Medications Safe for the Long Term?

Are ADHD Medications Safe for the Long Term?

In the United States, about 6 million children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medication is the most common treatment for ADHD in children, and about 62% of children with ADHD have a prescription.

Some parents, though, are concerned about the long-term effects of extended medication use. Is it really safe? Do children who take these drugs encounter setbacks later in life?

At Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics in Hoover, Alabama, we help children who struggle with behavioral and developmental problems, such as ADHD. We’re dedicated to providing high-quality, comprehensive, coordinated, and compassionate health care to all our young patients.

In this blog, Nicolette Marak, MD, discusses the basics of ADHD, how ADHD medication works, and if it’s safe to use in the long term. 

The basics of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a disorder that manifests itself in ways that negatively affect attention and self-control. While all children may at times struggle with inattention and following directions, children with ADHD struggle with these issues more often and more severely. 

Symptoms of ADHD include

Although it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD doesn’t impact a child’s intellect or ability. Behaviors associated with ADHD often mean children with the disorder receive lower grades than their peers despite being just as intelligent.

How ADHD medications work

ADHD medicines work by raising the levels of one of two chemicals in a child’s brain. Stimulants, in the form of either ‚Äč‚Äčamphetamines or methylphenidates, raise dopamine levels to help a child pay attention, control impulses, and avoid risky behaviors. Stimulants are more popular and are typically the first defense against ADHD symptoms. 

Nonstimulants, which typically don’t work as well, raise norepinephrine levels to help a child focus longer, be less impulsive, and stay calmer. Both medication types have side effects, and it may take a couple of tries to find the medicine and dosage that work for each child. 

The safety of ADHD medications

Some children may partially grow out of their ADHD symptoms as they reach adulthood. However, many people with ADHD take medication well into their adult years. 

Control studies are difficult to conduct due to the ethical implications of having a systematic, scientifically controlled study that has a group take medication for years. However, observational studies have been conducted. 

Research indicates that the risk for serious side effects from long-term medication use is low. Although some adults may experience side effects related to the medication, the effects are usually mild and improve once they stop taking the medication. For the vast majority of people with ADHD, the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks.

To learn more about ADHD and to see if your child may have it, call 205-494-7337 to book an appointment with Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics today.

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