Side Effects of Withdrawal from ADHD Medications

Elizabeth Handy

ADHD medications are drugs that are often prescribed to school-aged children even without a diagnosis. If that fact weren’t shocking enough, research has given us insight into how these drugs can change the brain, leading to long-term behavioral effects and possibly severe withdrawal symptoms.

How ADHD Stimulant Drugs Work

While both stimulants and non-stimulants are prescribed for the condition, stimulants are by far the most common and include both amphetamines and methylphenidate. These drugs work in different ways.

Amphetamines act by increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) in the gap between neurons in the brain. Methylphenidates on the other hand work by blocking the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine so that they remain in that gap longer.

Brain Changes

Because of their action, changes in both the brain itself and its activity occur that can last even after the drugs are discontinued. These changes include:

  • Density of dopamine and norepinephrine receptors
  • Decrease in the production and release of neurotransmitters
  • Density of transporter molecules involved in reuptake of the neurotransmitters

What the Research Shows

Animal studies present a frightening picture of withdrawal from these stimulant drugs and demonstrate how they lead to both short and long-term behavioral and brain changes. Unfortunately, human studies have resulted in similar findings.

Just a few of the problems the results of scientific studies have demonstrated include:

  • Persistent anxiety-like behavior
  • Reduced levels of norepinephrine and serotonin
  • Reduced levels of new neuron growth
  • Neuron loss
  • Long-term degenerating effects on the brain
  • Low levels of norepinephrine reuptake even five weeks after discontinuation
  • Possible enhanced vulnerability to cocaine
  • Increased cocaine self-administration
  • Depressive-like symptoms
  • Abnormal changes to the brain’s dopaminergic system
  • Irritability
  • Increased aches and pains
  • Difficulty in social functioning
  • Worsening ADHD symptoms
  • Headache
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue


While most studies on the stimulant drugs used in ADHD treatment have been performed using levels of abuse, it’s clear that these drugs and the withdrawal from them can present severe and possibly dangerous issues. It is my belief along with that of numerous other experts that no one, much less a vulnerable child, should be prescribed these drugs and forced to face the long-term consequences that come with them. Instead, it is far safer and more effective to use proven techniques, such as EMDR and Brainspotting, to address the true cause of the symptoms to achieve true, long-term relief with zero side effects or withdrawal problems.

To learn how EMDR and Brainspotting can help you or your child process and overcome the cause behind ADHD symptoms, schedule a free, confidential 30-minute phone consultation here.