Anyone suffering from ADHD, whether child or adult, has heard of Ritalin. It’s the most common solution for hyperactive disorder, and the general go-to for doctors.

Like most widely prescribed medicines, it’s good, but not perfect. That’s where atomoxetine comes in.

What Exactly is Ritalin?

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Ritalin, and its stimulant cousins Adderall and Focalin, are themselves effective in roughly 80% of observed cases.  The rest of us, however, need a completely different kind of medication.

If you’re one of the many people for whom Ritalin isn’t effective, or for whom the side effects are too severe, it might be time to ask your doctor about non-stimulant ADHD medication.

And atomoxetine – or Strattera, it’s most common brand-name version – is at the top of that list.

Of course, it’s always best to know as much as you can about it beforehand.

What is a Non-Stimulant ADHD Medication?

There are two general types of ADHD medication – stimulant, and non-stimulant. The difference is exactly what you’d guess – stimulants speed things up, and non-stimulants slow things down.

(This explanation would make a doctor cringe, for the record, but it’s quite good for our purposes.)

On average, the unpleasant side effects of stimulants are absent with non-stimulants. This includes heightened anxiety, an inability to gain weight, or increased jitteriness. These benefits come with a new set of side effects, however.

The kind of medicine your body prefers will depend heavily on age, diet, genetics, and the presence of other medication in the body.

We should discuss age first.

Who Should Use Atomoxetine?

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The short answer is easiest – no one under 6.

It’s not that atomoxetine is explicitly dangerous for children, but rather that its effects haven’t been tested on anyone under 6.

This is true for a great many ADHD medications.

Diagnosis, after all, usually comes after age 6, and it’s rare that a doctor wants to give a child medication that early – in which case, stimulants are usually prescribed first.

As for the rest of us, making a switch is something to be discussed with your doctor.

Why Switch to Atomoxetine?

The primary reason to switch to any new medication should be the same – the new medication works.

Atomoxetine’s side benefits are worthless if the drug itself isn’t helping either you or your child concentrate.

If it helps, however, there are a number of reasons to prefer this over Ritalin, Adderall, or other stimulants.

Four Stimulant Side Effects to Kiss Goodbye

It goes without saying, but in medicine, as in life, nothing is guaranteed. What we’re describing here is the average effect. You won’t know for yourself until you try, under the supervision of a doctor. The most unpleasant side effects produced by stimulants can also, in select cases, be produced by atomoxetine.

If you dislike Ritalin because it makes your child aggressive, atomoxetine is worth a doctor’s discussion, and a try. But it’s not a guarantee. Our predictions here are based on averages, not absolutes. That said, the average success here is quite good. Consider four stimulant side effects that aren’t usually present with atomoxetine:

1. Decreased Jitters and Nervous Tics

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Ritalin and similar medications can help the ADHD mind focus quite well, but often trade concentration for general jitters, nervous tics, and an uncomfortable heightened sense of awareness.

Non-stimulants do not generally come with these side effects. You should discuss the use of atomoxetine with your doctor if these symptoms become difficult to manage.

2. Decreased Social Discomfort

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Stimulants can adversely affect emotions in the same way they affect the body. Side effects can include, as we mentioned above, a hyper sense of awareness, which newcomers to the medicine do not often like.

In more extreme examples, stimulants can make the user suspicious, paranoid, and quite unable to calm down. School can become torturous, friendships difficult, and peace of mind impossible.

In short, if you or your child can’t mentally slow down, and it becomes a hindrance to living and studying well, you might be a prime candidate for atomoxetine.

3. Decreased Risk of Substance Abuse

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At present, atomoxetine is not a controlled substance is. Methylphenidate, and its cousin amphetamine, are both controlled substances.

You’ve probably guessed already that the latter two are the main ingredients in stimulant ADHD medicines.

This means, on average, that non-stimulants are less addictive than stimulants. It’s something to consider if you have a history of substance abuse.

This does not mean you can just take all the atomoxetine you want, or stop all at once, and have no withdrawal symptoms. As always, both taking and ceasing the medication should be discussed at length with a doctor.

4. Decreased Risk of Weight Loss

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A common side effect of any stimulant is weight loss – diet pills, in fact, are stimulants themselves, and work by exploiting this very side effect. But what’s useful for dieters is very bad for children.

Atomoxetine can suppress the appetite, but not to the extent a stimulant does. That appetite suppression, too, is a side effect, and not a guaranteed outcome. It’s easier on average to keep weight on with a non-stimulant.

Non-stimulants offer, on average, increased social comfort, weight gain, and less potential for abuse.

Of course, they come with their own set of side effects, and it’s best you know about those, too.

What are the Downsides to Atomoxetine?

All non-stimulants come with the same general set of risks, most of which deal with digestive health. A few others, however, are decidedly adult.

First, though, we should cover the two side effects for which you should call a doctor immediately: heart and liver problems.

1. Liver: Yellow Skin, Dark Urine, Belly Pain, or Itching

2. Heart: Fainting, Short of Breath, or Chest Pains

3. Thoughts of Suicide and Feelings of Helplessness

4. Nausea, Upset Stomach, and Vomiting

5. Constipation

6. Decreased Appetite

7. Drowsiness or Dizziness

8. Low Sex Drive, and Priapism

How Do I Know if Atomoxetine is Right for Me?

The answer should be obvious by now – discuss it with a doctor, and try it. In the end, the person who will know best how well the medication works is you, and you alone.

Be honest with your doctor, follow his or her dosing instructions, and study your symptoms.

You’ve nothing to lose but better ADHD management.

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