As the name suggests, stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014). Stimulant medications are often prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults diagnosed with ADHD.
Stimulants used to treat ADHD include:
Note: In 2002, the FDA approved the non-stimulant medication atomoxetine for use as a treatment for ADHD. Two other non-stimulant antihypertensive medications, clonidine and guanfacine , are also approved for treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents. One of these non-stimulant medications is often tried first in a young person with ADHD, and if response is insufficient, then a stimulant is prescribed.
Stimulants are also prescribed to treat other health conditions, including narcolepsy, and occasionally depression (especially in older or chronically medically ill people and in those who have not responded to other treatments).
How do people respond to stimulants?
Prescription stimulants have a calming and “focusing” effect on individuals with ADHD. Stimulant medications are safe when given under a doctor’s supervision. Some children taking them may feel slightly different or “funny.”
Some parents worry that stimulant medications may lead to drug abuse or dependence, but there is little evidence of this when they are used properly as prescribed. Additionally, research shows that teens with ADHD who took stimulant medications were less likely to abuse drugs than those who did not take stimulant medications.
What are the possible side effects of stimulants?
Stimulants may cause side effects. Most side effects are minor and disappear when dosage levels are lowered.
The most common side effects include:
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Loss of appetite
Less common side effects include:
Motor tics or verbal tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
Personality changes, such as appearing “flat” or without emotion
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms, especially if they are new, become worse, or worry you.
Stimulants may cause other side effects that are not included in the list above. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of stimulants, please contact the FDA MedWatch program using the contact information at the bottom of this page. For more information about the risks and side effects for each medication, please see Drugs@FDA.