The problems caused by existing drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine (meth) are bad enough, but there are also newer drugs. Sometimes they make problems better, but sometimes they make things worse.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs such as Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), Ritalin (methylphenidate), Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) are often stimulants and highly addictive.

Worse, they are prescribed mainly to children and adolescents. Their developing brains are more prone to become addicted to these drugs now and to develop an addiction to cocaine later.

A relatively new drug for ADHD—approved in 2002, a generic version introduced in 2017—is not problem-free but it may be a safer alternative.

What Is Strattera?

Strattera is a brand name for atomoxetine, a drug used primarily for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Unlike most other ADHD drugs, which are stimulants, Strattera is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI), a type of drug that is usually an antidepressant.

Not Strattera. It is only approved for ADHD, though it has been tested for off-label use. Strattera has proven to be as good at controlling ADHD as some other drugs (though not extended-release methylphenidate) and without some of the side effects.

That doesn’t mean it should always be preferred. For one thing, it doesn’t improve academic performance. Another drawback is that it can take eight weeks for atomoxetine to take full effect.

How Is Strattera Used?

Atomoxetine comes in a capsule form that is only meant to be taken orally and whole. The capsules should not be chewed and the atomoxetine should not be removed from the capsule. The prescribed dosage and frequency should not be exceeded or reduced.

Side Effects of Strattera Abuse

While atomoxetine seems to have a low risk for abuse  — at least in part because, unlike stimulants, it produces no euphoria — Strattera can have side effects, including some dangerous drug interactions.

The most common side effects in children taking atomoxetine include:

  • Little appetite or no appetite
  • Dizzy spells
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Mood swings
  • Upset stomach or nausea

Strattera also may temporarily suppress growth in children and adolescents for as long as two years, though most seem to recover the lost growth.

Adults who used atomoxetine in clinical trials had additional side effects, including:

  • Difficulty urinating or excreting
  • Dry mouth
  • Sexual dysfunction (desire, performance, satisfaction)

There was some apprehension that heart attacks, strokes, and sudden deaths due to Strattera and stimulant ADHD meds were possible, but the evidence has not borne this out. Still, that’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends all users of ADHD medications should keep track of their blood pressure and heart rate. There may be an increased risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and acts with Strattera as well.

Can you abuse Strattera? Probably not. Strattera has no known risk for addiction, so it’s less likely that people will struggle with abuse, addiction, or long-term effects of Strattera. And in cases of comorbidity of ADHD and anxiety, Strattera seems to reduce both.

Watch Out for Drug Interactions with Strattera

People should not use Strattera if they are also taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a category of antidepressant. Even if people stop using Stattera, they should not start using MAOIs for at least two weeks because of the risk of serious side effects, including fever and seizures, maybe even death.

High blood pressure, sometimes dangerously high, is another possible interaction side effect of MAOIs, asthma medications, and any drug that increases blood pressure or decreases it.

Can Strattera Be Abused and Is Strattera Addictive?

Because Strattera is a nonstimulant drug, it does not produce euphoria or the increased focus associated with some stimulant ADHD drugs. Users don’t feel a Strattera high and won’t find Strattera addictive. It is the only ADHD medication that is not a controlled substance.

It still may lead to addiction to other drugs.

A 2013 study from Boston University found that while some stimulants increase the likelihood of later cocaine addiction among rats showing ADHD-type symptoms, Strattera did not. However, a group of rats that didn’t display ADHD symptoms did show an increased risk. This suggests that it’s a mistake to prescribe Strattera for people not living with ADHD.

Strattera Long-Term Side Effects

There are no known atomoxetine or Strattera long-term effects. Since the medication was only approved for ADHD use in 2002, it may be too soon to tell if there are any long-term side effects of Strattera.

More research is needed and Strattera should not be handed out like candy, but it seems a safer ADHD alternative to its stimulant cousins.

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References

  • fda.gov – FDA Approves First Generic Strattera for the Treatment of ADHD.
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov -Off-Label Use of Atomoxetine in Adults: Is It Safe?
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – A Review of the Abuse Potential Assessment of Atomoxetine: A Nonstimulant Medication for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Atomoxetine: A Review of Its Use in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  • article.images.consumerreports.org – Consumer Reports Health: Best Buy Drugs
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI)
  • accessdata.fda.gov – Information for Patients or Their Parents or Caregivers
  • nami.org – Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • bu.edu – The Addiction Puzzle, Part 2: Could ADHD Meds Promote Future Cocaine Use?