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ADHD medications long term use side effects

my son is 7 years old and we still did not start him on medications but it seems that the majority of people who take ADHD medications in their childhood will need it in their adulthood. is their any side effect from using those medications forever ? can it at one point cause damages to the brain cells ? and what happens to him if i decided for any reason to stop the medication? will he regress or just be the same as he used to be. PLEASE HELP

Replies

Hi there.  Medicating your child is such a tough decision. We struggled with that decision for quite a while. And I don’t really know about the long term effects of medicine over the years.

My son’s ADHD was starting to negatively affect his school work and his behaviour so we finally agreed to try meds on a “trial” basis.  Honestly - it has been the best thing for him. He is on long acting Concerta.  Both school life and home life is greatly improved.  As he gets older and has the maturity to regulate his behaviour, we hope he will be able to stop taking medicine.  But for now - it’s the right thing for us to do. We also sought out counselling for him (and us). 

Our doctor also told us this -  having him unmedicated with poor school performance and behaviour issues will, in the long run, also negatively impact him.  Constant conflict and low self esteem (“I’m stupid”)  takes a toll on everyone.

I’m not advocating medicine for your son. Every child is different. You need to do your research. Check out Dr. Russell Barkley’s YouTube video “Essential Ideas for Parents”. This website also has an excellent webinar by him you can download. Talk to you doctor and friends whose kids have ADHD.  The more you know about ADHD, the better you can make decisions.

Good luck.

Posted by staypositive on Nov 01, 2013 at 5:08pm

Our son took Focalin in 5th and 6th grade.  It helped him come out of the slump he was in with school, friends, and behavior.  The last two years we have not had him on any medication.  He is able to regulate his behavior better and is more mature in the way he handles school responsibilities. 

We made the decision to take him off of the meds for the reasons you mentioned.  His appetite was so small he had lost weight and was not growing the way we thought he should grow.  He also had some side effects and the med dose had to keep increasing to manage his behavior. 

I have done a lot of soul searching and have finally come to terms with who my son is in God’s eyes and in our families eyes.  We are done comparing him to other people’s kids and trying to conform to our public school system.  His value and self worth is not in grades. 

He is respectful, has a good heart, is a great athlete, and loves music.  We were willing to trade the better grades for a more well rounded kiddo who has an outgoing, funny personality.  So what if he isn’t taking the pre-ap classes?  He likes himself better off of the meds and we do too! 

Everyone has to make a personal decision about medication and no two cases are alike.  In our case, we have 2 kids who have ADHD.  We don’t medicate either one of them.  We do utilize tutors and counselors as needed.  They are both under our school 504 plan and we try to keep them on a good diet with plenty of exercise and structure. 

Did I mention that after our son was off the meds for a few months he grew 6 inches in 9 months?  He looks so much healthier now. 

Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is to make your own cost/benefit assessment.  Look honestly at your family dynamics and get professional help if needed.  Stay on top of things at school, pray a lot, provide plenty of structure and fun time, and most importantly, make sure your child is not measured by other peoples standards.  Go forward with NO MOMMY GUILT.  Reassess as needed.

Posted by Kellie on Nov 01, 2013 at 5:21pm

Thanks for your post, Kellie! We tried medication on our son and it was an awful 3 weeks. His stomach hurt, no appetite, he was moody, highly irritable and argumentative. We were all in tears for those three weeks.

Like you, I am accepting my son for who he is. There is a lot of pressure out there to fit them into these neat little boxes. Though we do take care to help him in ways we can (therapy, IEP at school).

It’s still hard not to make mental comparisons from time to time. But I am embracing my son as he is. In doing this, there is a lot less friction in the house and a lot more love.

Thanks again. I enjoyed reading your post smile

Posted by munkiblu on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:00pm

My son was diagnosed at age 5 that he had ADHD and was put on meds.  We kept him on meds until this past June. I wanted to see how he acted.  I felt that he was fine and have kept him off. 

Like Kelly, I did not like that he had no appetite.  He was going to go in 6th gr and had started noticing the growth changes in other kids.  He weighed only 74 lbs. 

Fast forward to now.  He looks so much better and weighs 96 lbs.  He now has an appetite and sometimes eats 2 lunches.  Grade wise, he is holding A’s and B’s and is in honor classes.  I do get frustrated because I feel that he could do better and makes careless mistakes but he does his homework w/o arguing, remembers his assignments, and has only forgotten to turn in a few.  It is a learning curve for him and I am learning to “let go.”

I don’t regret putting him on the meds and there are times that I wonder if he needs to go back on the meds but he likes himself better off and unless I see something that really makes me feel he needs them, I am doing what he wants.

Trust in yourself!

Posted by knrdodd on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:07pm

I really think you need to try them. Coming off the meds is not a problem. Much of the issue is trial and error with the right kinds of medications. I couldn’t imagine my child without medication - it would be unfair to let her struggle both academically and socially when there is something out there that can help.

For anyone who tried only one medication, I say try something else. Maybe no medication is the solution and ADHD comes in degrees, but the scientific evidence from thousands of studies says that long term medication actually prevents serious issues later in life, like alcohol and drug abuse.

There is a great webinar on this website about the myths of ADHD and it covers alternative methods and medication. I suggest you listen to it. It was just a couple of weeks ago.

As far as not growing and appetite, I sympathize. Our daughter also didn’t eat as much and we worried about her growth. Our doctor put her on an antihistamine that increases her appetite and helps her fall asleep at night. It is definitely working. He suggested we do that instead of only doing Melatonin because eventually the body gets used to Melatonin and you have to keep increasing the dosage. So now we do both the med and the Melatonin at 3mgs. She is eating great and isn’t groggy in the morning.

BTW, one of the myths of ADHD is that people outgrow it. They really don’t. People learn to adapt as the get older, and they also have more freedom to the things they enjoy doing (as opposed to being in high school and being forced to do things they don’t, which is difficult for people with ADHD), making them more productive and happier. They also find people to help them with the things they aren’t good at, like organizing. They create a life that fits their way of thinking and doing. They also learn coping skills as they mature. So it looks like they grow out of it, but the don’t. That doesn’t mean your child will need medication in adulthood, but the being on medication can help him learn great coping skills so that later he can stop taking them.

Good luck. I hope that all of these conflicting stories don’t confuse you more! But you’ll notice that people who commented at least tried medication and then made their own decisions. I encourage you to do the same.

Posted by momodoodle on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:23pm

thanks for all your support. i need it

Posted by adhdboy on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:36pm

My nephew, who is about 35 now was put on Ritalin at age 5-6 and stayed on it until he graduated High School (with honors) but, BUT when he decided not to go to college his doctor immediately took him off of his medication Ritalin and BOOM he was tired, drowsy and almost uncontrollable. He moved out of his childhood home and moved in with some “friends” he met at work and started experimented with alcohol, crack, cocaine or just about anything that would give him that jolt that his speed “I meant to say Ritalin” gave him. There was no more waking up tired so take a pill an be wide awake in minutes, those days were gone.  Without the drugs from the doctor he had to find a way to get by each day, to wake up as he would say.

Its been about 17 years since he was taken off of medication and he’s doing o.k. he’s still a alcoholic who drinks and smokes everyday but he was able to kick the crack habit after many years of abuse. 

Doctors are more aware of these issues now a days, they have had many years of experimenting with people or studies. I think its best to switch back and forth with medications, like Adderall then after 6 months switch to another adhd medication, this will help with the addiction part of adhd meds.

Im not a Dr. just an aunt (who has adhd) who had to sit back and watch her nephew grow up on Big Pharma Drugs, he used to cry all the time and hit himself in the head. I never understood any of this until recently when I decided to educate myself on adhd. Im not saying he shouldn’t of been medicated by Im am saying the dose should of been much smaller, he was just a child.  Im not expecting anyone to agree with my chat, but it may help one parent to make the right decision.  Diet is key to adhd behavioral issues

Posted by BexIssues on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:55pm

When our son was diagnosed with ADHD I went also through a period of confusion and anxiety about treatment, most of it from well meaning anecdotes, often refuted by controlled studies.  This wasted a lot of valuable time.
ADHD is the most researched childhood condition.  There are many books and online resources based on research and controlled studies, including those from the National Institute of Mental Health.  The video suggested by Dr. Barkley, is a good start. 

Our son’s self-esteem had taken a huge toll by 3rd grade due to his ADHD. He was angry most of the time because of social and academic problems.
Today he’s in 8th grade and doing well academically and socially. The medication he was prescribed in 3rd grade made a huge difference as it made his brain available for learning, lowered his impulsivity and gave him the ability to focus.  They key is to find what works best for your child, so our doctor tried varied dosages for Concerta first and then Vyvanse, and the latter worked better for our son. 

Actually there have been several studies that children who are on medication for ADHD are less prone to drug addiction and alcoholism, and that unmedicated children are prone to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. 

I view medicating my child for his ADHD akin to giving him insulin if he was diabetic.  At the same time we are working hard to help him develop the executive functions of his brain and social skills.  Medication just makes his brain available to learn all the skills that ADHD children often lag in developing.

Since executive function of the brain develops through his teen years into early adulthood, our wish is that it will normalize for him.  It does for some and if it does not, he’ll need to handle it with medication, possibly coaching and exercising daily….all proven to help.  And yes he’ll also need to eat a healthy diet, high in protein.

Posted by Lande on Nov 01, 2013 at 8:36pm

Mitzi: I took that from the webinar I was on. I know ADHD adults who are much more productive and happier now than they were than they were children, but that is anecdotal. Does that mean they never struggle or have difficulties? Of course not. It is just that they get to mostly fashion their lives around what they are able to focus on rather than having to do things they can’t.

I can’t speak from experience as I don’t have ADHD but I can say that my husband who has it loves his job because it is what he loves - when he had to do things that were focused on details like spreadsheets, he could barely get through a day. Again, anecdotal.

I hope you see improvement in your situation.

Posted by momodoodle on Nov 01, 2013 at 10:07pm

I wanted to show a different perspective to what Kellie said about growth and her child not growing until off meds. My son, now 11, has taken stimulant meds for nearly 5 years. He has grown an astonishing amount in that time. One year, literally in 12 months time, he grew over 12 inches. Just last month he grew 1.5 inches in 6 weeks between doc appointments. While his weight doesn’t move up nearly as fast, that’s a good thing—it’s certainly better than being overweight or obese.

We chose to try medication for him because he was a very sad and defeated little boy. He constantly said he was stupid despite having a very high IQ. Medication has made it possible for him to slow down enough to be moderately successful in school and to slow down enough to learn the skills he’s lacking so that he may one day be able to manage without medication.

I’d much, much rather he take medication for ADHD long-term than self-medicate and further destroy himself. That’s my experience and perspective.

Penny
ADDconnect Moderator & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Nov 04, 2013 at 6:08pm

Here’s an article on ADDitudeMag.com that also addresses the growth concern, called Top 10 Questions About Medications for ADHD Children… Answered (http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1592.html). That may help to ease some fears as well.

Penny
ADDconnect Moderator & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Nov 04, 2013 at 6:10pm

I agree with you Mitzi.  Also, someone who doesn’t have adhd will never understand it, all the doctors in the world can’t explain adhd, only those who have it can fully understand it.  One little pill can’t change a child or adult, but proper nutrition can and maybe therapy (therapy is good for everyone). Not every child is meant to be an A+ honor roll student, and they most certainly aren’t meant to be quiet reading in a corner until they grow up… Just saying, kids are supposed to be fast and creative, loud or shy, not everyones made to be the class leader. Maybe this doesn’t make to much sense wink but I have adhd and that’s ok with me.

Posted by BexIssues on Nov 05, 2013 at 2:45am

My son has been on medication since 1st grade.  I am very anti-medicine but finally decided a little pill was better than my son hating himself, life, school and us.  I have ADD and was never medicated.  Unfortunately, our world expects us to sit still and listen and learn which is very hard for us ADDers.  Well, the world isn’t going to change. (if this was farming days or caveman days, we’d rock it) I feel if you go unmedicated as I and my husband have, you get the co-morbid disease of depression from living your whole life asking yourself “why can everyone else do it and I can’t, why am I such a loser?”.  The people that are around you that don’t have ADD think we don’t care and we aren’t trying.  Then this dialogue is in your brain for the rest of your life!  My son who was medicated early does not have this internal dialogue, he knows how great he is.  He knows that ADD is a bugger, but it has so many awesome traits to it once he has the freedom to do what he wants with his ideas and time.  He has not gotten use to the Melatonin.  14 years old and 1mg still works the same.  I would give him a Carnation Instant Breakfast in bed with his pills in the morning, then when he got home from school, he pigged out all night and made up for lost calories. He is one of the tallest in his class.  I say good old Ritalin SA, lasts 8 hours, hardly any side effects, the doctors won’t recommend it usually because they don’t get any perks from Pharmaceutical reps because it’s not one of the newer pills.  More people have died from aspirin than ritalin.  Just stay well hydrated to avoid headaches.  You know that high happy, organized feeling after sucking down a big ice coffee??  That’s the exact same feelling.  Give the smallest dose possible so they don’t lose their personality.  Green time (outdoor time)is a HUGE benefit!!  Good luck my friend, it is exausting and there is soooo much info out there.  In the end, go with your heart.  The last time I took him off meds, we were contantly repremanding him, that’s no way to live.  They are little only once, let’s make it a positive experience full of fond memories.  But, as long as your child is happy, I wouldn’t medicate, go with your heart!

Posted by LovableLL on Nov 05, 2013 at 7:30pm

PS:  He can go off the meds at any time.  He will not regress.  My son has actually learned that controlling himself, or following through, etc, is the better way, so when he is not on meds, these lessons have become a habit and he can control them much easier. 

Also, all meds are different so try different ones if you must.  They will try to tell you Concerta is the same as Ritalin SA (long acting) but it sped us up too much and we came crashing down.  Also, Strattera sped us up too much, and Wellbutrin, we got use to too quickly and it stopped working.  They say Adderal is the most addictive one.

Posted by LovableLL on Nov 05, 2013 at 7:36pm

I am a 38 year old adult that has ADHD.  I was diagnosed as a child and was put on medication for the symptoms.  I took medication until I was a junior in High School and at that point I felt like I was able to manage my symptoms.  I still have ADHD today and while I am not as hyper as I was when I was a child, I still have the need to be in constant movement and will use things in my hands to satisfy that need.  I also still zone out on occasion during boring meetings, but I am able to refocus myself quickly.  The point I am trying to make is that while ADHD will never go away, with the aid of medication as a child I was able to focus and learn ways to recognize and manage my symptoms so that I no longer needed to take the medication.  However, not everyone is able to do that and for some they may need to be on medication most of their lives in order to be successful.  Just know that it is possible to move away from the medication with awareness and age.

Posted by slobaugh on Nov 05, 2013 at 9:01pm

Our 17 yr.  old daughter’s experience with being on ADHD meds from 2nd through 9th grade:

Helped her wtih academic performance in elementary school, saw diminishing returns in middle school and high school, despite adjusting meds several times (I think she has literally tried all the various meds out there. Vyvanse and Intuniv were the last she was on)

Side effects—as she grew older, she said she didn’t feel like herself; she also had the pattern of only eating late at night when meds wore off.

Growth—am guessing that she is probably an inch or two shorter based on siblings height

Helping avoid substance abuse—did not help.  She started using alcohol in 7th grade, unbeknownst to us—and despite close supervision, strict house rules, etc. etc.  She is in a great recovery program and is alcohol and substance free for over 18 months.

About 90% of the young adults in the recovery program have ADHD, and had also been on ADD meds.

I think the low self esteem and need to fit in that is even more intense with ADHD adolescents are the same reasons that these kids are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs—to fit in and to feel better about themselves.  Did the ADHD meds help?  I guess not for any of these kids, nor for most of the ADHD kids that she knew from an earlier age who now have similar issues. So much for the research studies that I was counting heavily on!

The young adults in her program represent all types of kids- varsity athletes, honor students, high income, low income, intact families, divorced parents, private school, public school, etc. etc.  I was amazed when the parents started sharing the ADHD piece, and we learned how common that thread was, despite having done all the right things for our ADHD children.

My daughter has been off ADHD meds for the last 18 months and has been doing as well of better academically and much better behaviorally and socially than when she was on the meds, even before her substance abuse. So far her driving is even quite good, and we thought that she would never be able to drive without the meds.

As Slobaugh mentioned, the difference is that she has learned effective coping skills. She developed these in large part from an amazing wilderness program experience and also the recovery program.  I wish that she had learned those skills through all the other interventions that we had tried—schooI, IEPs. psychiatrists, socialization programs, years of therapy, etc. etc.

I guess my advice is to be realistic about what the meds can and can’t do., esp. as they grow older, and esp. through adolescence. Each child is different, and I think you don’t know what will or won’t help until you try.  Good luck!

Posted by lookingforanswers on Nov 06, 2013 at 11:35am

Excellent post lookingforanswers, thank you for being honest.  Does anyone know of a group like this that promotes all natural approach to add/adhd instead of Big Pharma Meds? Im doing great without those harsh addicting Big Pharma Meds, just would like to share my story with people who want to live the way god intended us to, off the land not off drugs

Posted by BexIssues on Dec 05, 2013 at 8:32am

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