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ADHD Medication Withdrawal, Side Effects, Addiction, Treatment

Last Updated on August 17, 2021 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

It is no wonder a person may want to consider ADHD drug withdrawal. ADHD treatment using addictive medications may be among the top 10 biggest controversies in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. ADHD itself has no causal biomarkers or specific diagnostic test — a highly subjective diagnosis at best.1,19

Discovering underlying causes for a short attention span, for lack of interest in work, or study, or life, or for trouble staying mentally sharp and awake are valuable signposts that can inform where the real solutions may lie. ADHD medication withdrawal is the “reset” that allows you to start resolving actual issues that a person most desires to address for a creative, fulfilling life.2

adhd medication withdrawal

Do Your Symptoms Require ADHD Medication?

Alternative to Meds Center has focused on ADHD medication withdrawal (and withdrawal from other prescription medications) for nearly 2 decades now. We have published evidence tracking our clients’ tremendous successes. Discovering and effectively handling the root causes of unwanted symptoms is the meat and potatoes of our programs. Our aim is to provide authentic and sustainable improvements in health and well-being, regardless of subjective opinions, previous misdiagnoses, over-medication, and labels.
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Why Consider ADHD Medication Withdrawal?

Over time, ADHD medication has been shown to cause iatrogenic worsening of symptoms 11 (iatrogenic means caused by the treatment, i.e. caused by the drug or the doctor). Adverse effects of stimulant drugs (among others) are a common liability as reported in an article published in the Armed Forces Medical Journal of India in 2005.9

Adult ADHD medication-based treatment is most often discontinued because of adverse effects, according to each one of 91 different studies on the subject. Other common reasons given for discontinuation were social stigma, inconvenience, and lack of symptom control.21

Whether one was diagnosed ADHD as a toddler, a school-aged child or teen, or as an adult, diagnoses have steadily soared into the millions upon millions over the last 30 years. According to a report published in 2005 in the Edgemont Journal of Psychiatry, in 1975, 1%-3% of the population of North America was diagnosed with ADHD. Thirty years later, that number had risen to 16%.8 These rising numbers are attributed, at least in part, to a change in how the condition of ADHD is defined, rather than any specifically observed decline of mental health in the population at large.

ADHD drug adverse effects are described later in this article, as there is much to describe. Adverse effects are one of the 2 leading causes of people considering ADHD medication withdrawal.

The second most common reason for stopping ADHD medication is lack of efficacy. This can become more problematic when a physician may prescribe additional drugs. This practice can send a person cascading downward into worsening mental and physical health.

A person may feel they have developed addiction or drug-dependency issues and have a desire to free themselves from drugs altogether. These are some of the most common reasons people often consider ADHD medication withdrawal.

ADHD Drugs and Neurotransmitter Function

adhd drugs dopamine effectsADHD drugs include stimulants, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate, and sedatives, such as SNRI drugs (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.

Amphetamines and methylphenidate are stimulants, marketed as Ritalin, Vyvanse, Adderall, Procentra, Dexedrine, Zenzedi, etc.12-15 The FDA states it does not know how stimulants create mental and behavioral effects in children, nor how these effects relate to the central nervous system. However the FDA regulators might have missed it, there does seem to exist quite extensive research on the subject. The 2020 Frontiers in Pharmacology Journal published research by Loi et al that compares the effects and addiction potential of various stimulants on the central nervous system including illegal as well as legal amphetamines.16 The authors concluded that stimulants artificially increase extracellular dopamine in the brain and described dopamine as an excitatory neurochemical, associated with the sensations of pleasure and reward. Even as far back as 1970, the Royal College of Surgeons in Great Britain was discussing how medication can set in motion the loss of (unbinding of) extracellular neurotransmitters in the central nervous system and brain.17

In contrast, SNRI drugs such as Strattera, Intuniv, etc., are sedatives that are designed to manipulate norepinephrine/noradrenaline. These drugs are also used in the treatment of ADHD in both adults and in very young children. Since stimulants don’t “work” on a significant percentage of candidates, estimated at about 30%,18 it appears drugmakers got busy and prepared a secondary line of treatment for this treatment-resistant cohort, presuming filling the void could prove a lucrative venture. The problems of SNRI drugs, however, are also extensive, as is outlined further in this article.

Drugs do not produce more dopamine or adrenaline or other natural hormones but are thought to artificially manipulate levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. Drugs also affect the ability of nerve cells to communicate with one another. Vitamins and essential raw materials are what the body uses to make natural hormones and neurotransmitters (the messages) and to create healthy and functioning neurotransmitter receptors (the telephone line, or “server” of these messages). On the contrary, drugs can damage and alter the way these natural molecules operate or fail to operate properly along the CNS. This damage can increase especially after long-term use, where tolerance (decreasing or non-response) or supersensitivity (heightened response, as in mania or psychosis) to a drug can develop.11

Either of these two neurotransmitter impairments can lead to severe health problems after years of drugging.

In the case of stimulants, the drugs cause a build-up or pooling of dopamine. The dopamine that is trapped initially produces a magnified excitatory effect. Eventually, these “orphaned” molecules will degrade and become worthless waste material within a short time. These are lost. Over time, this continual loss of natural neurochemicals leads to several outcomes. One is that the person develops a deficiency in dopamine and feels like the drug “stops working.” There is no dopamine in the drug, of course, no matter how many of those you take. But the point is there isn’t enough dopamine left for the drug to manipulate. This is similar to when the whip cream canister runs out. So when you press the nozzle there is nothing left to spit out. This describes “tolerance” — that is when a drug has less and less of an effect. The usual response is to up the dose.

Another outcome is the effects that are brought on by this created deficiency of natural neurochemicals. Deficiencies are linked with depression, brain fog, confusion, fatigue, slowed growth, and other malfunctions within the complex interworkings of the human body.10 These are generally included within the vast set of “side effects” of ADHD drugs. (see below for more information on common side effects of ADHD medication.) The mechanism of these side effects, at least in part, is tied to this degeneration of brain chemicals. These are iatrogenic (caused by the drug) negative effects. There are other consequences of amphetamines and SNRIs, but dopamine depletion is one that is widely overlooked. To regain health and to navigate ADHD medication withdrawal safely it really helps to understand what caused the damages.7

Labels and Drugs:  Escaping the Trap of ADHD Medication

There are two starkly visible “problems” with diagnosing ADHD patients. In the first place, the practitioner applies highly subjective diagnostic criteria to determine if the condition is present. Indeed, there are those who consider ADHD a mythical creature, a disease that doesn’t exist, a healthcare fraud.2 Nonetheless, the diagnostic procedure for an adult is much like taking a quiz, comprised of generalized questions. If the person answers “yes” to 5 of the 18 inquiries, the diagnosis is liable to be judged positive for the condition. The test has been engineered to be, well, easier than buying the right car insurance.

A bit more complicated is diagnosing a child, where these questions have to be answered by someone else on behalf of the child. The child’s diagnosis depends on 6 “yes” answers to the questions. Assuming a youngster’s vocabulary probably would be ill-matched to the task, the diagnosis is thus based largely on the opinions of others. That’s a pretty sketchy template, medical or otherwise. And, downright dangerous if the outcome means a prescription of addictive prescription medication. As mentioned earlier, a diagnosis of ADHD is not the end of the road. It can actually present a wonderful starting point, an opportunity that can signal something brand new. You can free yourself from being tangled up in a label that doesn’t provide the solution you need. You can reach out and seek effective non-drug-based help that can alleviate unwanted symptoms.

ADHD Drug Treatment

The second alarming problem is that once diagnosed, treating ADHD typically results in prescribing children and adults a host of highly addictive CNS stimulants and/or sedatives. This treatment is the authorized response to a person/child who exhibits very common behaviors that “someone else” thinks are objectionable enough to qualify the person as suffering from a mental syndrome.

ADHD stimulant drugs, (Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, etc.) are all amphetamines or close cousins to amphetamines. Other ADHD drugs are sedatives, like Strattera and Intuniv. ADHD drugs are highly addictive, and these drugs can injure and kill. Despite much evidence of their harmful long-term effects, physicians generally encourage taking them for an entire lifetime.3,12-15 And, once dependence has developed, these medications can be extremely difficult and even risky to stop taking abruptly and without close monitoring and support.

Being addicted to any drug is a difficult trap. But there is hope, and Alternative to Meds Center helps people every day to get out of the trap.

Long-Term Effects of ADHD Medications

The long-term effects of ADHD medications were never studied long-term before approval of medications was granted.

But over time, studies have revealed much on the subject. Some of the most common problems are listed below. There can be many other problems connected with the long-term use of ADHD medications. Some that are most concerning are:

Stress on the heart:  The FDA placed a “black box” warning on the packaging of ADHD drugs in 2006 warning of sudden death, cardiovascular injuries, strokes, cardiac arrests, arrhythmias, chest pains, and an even greater risk for those with pre-existing heart defects or a history of seizures, which the drugs seem to exacerbate. Stimulants put extra stress on the heart and can cause or worsen high blood pressure.3,12-15

Suppression of normal growth in children/adolescents:  Many studies have shown that children and adolescents who take ADHD drugs (amphetamines) for a number of months or years show significantly lower height and weight than the control group who remained drug-free. All children/teens were of average height and weight at the beginning of the study.4,5

Misuse/Abuse Dangers:  The euphoric effects of stimulant drugs can make them attractive for recreational use, especially when taken in larger doses, crushed and snorted, or dissolved in water and injected. Damage includes overdose, addiction, psychosis, heart failure, toxic (bacterial) reactions and obstructions from the fillers at or around the injection site, and many other negative outcomes.12-15

According to the FDA drug labels, ADHD drugs can cause many other side effects, including but not limited to these:

  • Heart disease
  • Addiction
  • High-risk for potential abuse, diversion
  • Seizures
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Behavior changes, i.e., aggressiveness, hostility, nervousness, withdrawal from people
  • Paranoia
  • Changes in vision, blurred vision
  • Prolonged/painful erection in children and adults
  • Stimulant-induced psychosis, such as hearing voices, hallucinations, delusional thinking, especially where these events occur for the first time and with no prior such history.6

Alternative to Meds Center ADHD Drug Withdrawal Programs

getting off adhd drugsAlternative to Meds Center is a world-class inpatient treatment facility offering the best ADHD medication withdrawal programs available. Using lab testing, orthomolecular medicine, environmental medicine, and a wide variety of effective IV treatments, biophysical and psychological therapies, our clients successfully begin the regeneration of natural mental health, including diminishing the after-effects of harsh medications. Undesirable symptoms are traced to their underlying causes, not simply labeled and drugged.

Please contact us directly for more information on what a tailored program would look like for your unique set of circumstances. Ask us about insurance coverage as well. We look forward to speaking to you further and answering any other questions you might have regarding our ADHD medication withdrawal inpatient treatment programs.


1. Thome J, et al., “Biomarkers for Attention-Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – A Consensus Report of the WFSBP Task Force on Biological Markers and World Federation of ADHD.” NIH & World J Bio Psychiatry [INTERNET] 2012 Jul [cited 2021 Aug 16]

2. Saul, R., “ADHD Does Not Exist, Writes Dr. Richard Saul.” as published in Time Magazine online [time.com] 2014 Mar 14 [cited 2021 Aug 16]

3. Harvard Mental Health Letter, “ADHD Update: New data on the risks of medication.” Harvard Health Publishing [INTERNET] 2006 Oct [cited 2021 Aug 16]

4. Berman SM, Kuczenski R, McCracken, JT, London, E, “Potential Adverse Effects of Amphetamine Treatment on Brain and Behavior, A Review.” Mol Psychiatry, HHS Public Access [INTERNET] 2009 Apr 17 [cited 2021 Aug 16]

5. Powell SG, Frydenbrrg M, Thomsen PH, “The Effects of Long-Term Medication on Growth in Children and Adolescents With ADHD: An Observational Study of a Large Cohort of Real-Life Patients.” National Center for Biotechnology, Child Adolescent Psychiatry Mental Health [INTERNET] 2015 Oct 28 [cited 2021 Aug 16]

6. FDA  Ritalin Label. [INTERNET] N.D. [cited 2021 Aug 16]

7. Yanofski J, “The Dopamine Dilemma Part ii – Could Stimulants Cause Tolerance, Dependence and Paradoxical Decompensation?” Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience [INTERNET] 2011 Jan 8 [cited 2021 Aug 16]

8. Gualtieri CT, Johnson LG. ADHD: Is Objective Diagnosis Possible?Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2005;2(11):44-53. [cited 2021 Aug 16]

9. Krishnan NR, Kasthuri AS. Iatrogenic DisordersMed J Armed Forces India. 2005;61(1):2-6. doi:10.1016/S0377-1237(05)80107-8 [cited 2021 Aug 16]

10. Brinkman WB, Simon JO, Epstein JN. Reasons Why Children and Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Stop and Restart Taking MedicineAcad Pediatr. 2018;18(3):273-280. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2017.09.005 [cited 2021 Aug 17]

11. Yanofski J. The Dopamine Dilemma-Part II: Could Stimulants Cause Tolerance, Dependence, and Paradoxical Decompensation?Innov Clin Neurosci. 2011;8(1):47-53. [cited 2021 Aug 17]

12. Strattera (atomoxetine hydrochloride capsules) FDA label [online] [cited 2021 Aug 17]

13. Ritalin (methylphenadate hydrochloride tablets) FDA label [online] [cited 2021 Aug 17]

14. Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate chewable tablets and oral capsules) FDA label [online] [cited 2021 Aug 17]

15. Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine sulfate) and Spansule (sustained-release tablets and capsules) FDA label [online] [cited 2021 Aug 17]

16. Loi B, Sahai M, DeLuca M, Sherif H, Opacka-Juffry J, “The Role of Dopamine in the Stiumlant Characteristics of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS)- Neurological and Computational Assessment Using the Case of Desoxypipradol (2DPMP) Front. Pharmacol., 05 June 2020 [online] [cited 2021 Aug 17]

17. Iverson LL, “The Role of transmitter uptake mechanisms in in synaptic neurotransmission.” published April 1971 British Journal of Pharmacology [cited 2021 Aug 17]

18. Spencer T, Biederman J, Wilens T, Harding M, O’Donnell D, Griffin S. Pharmacotherapy of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder across the life cycle. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1996 Apr;35(4):409-32. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199604000-00008. PMID: 8919704. [cited 2021 Aug 17]

19. Felt B, Biermann B, Christner J, Kochaar P, Van Harrison R., “Diagnosis and Management of ADHD in Children.” Journal of the American Family Physician [online] October 14, 2014 [cited 2021 Aug 17]

20. Dodson WW. Pharmacotherapy of adult ADHD. J Clin Psychol. 2005 May;61(5):589-606. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20122. PMID: 15723384. [cited 2021 Aug 17]

21. Gajria K, Lu M, Sikirica V, et al. Adherence, persistence, and medication discontinuation in patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – a systematic literature review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2014;10:1543-1569. Published 2014 Aug 22. doi:10.2147/NDT.S65721 [cited 2021 Aug 17]


Originally Published May 21, 2020 by Diane Ridaeus


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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ADHD Medication Withdrawal, Side Effects, Addiction, Treatment
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Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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