How to Deal With Side Effects of Medication


When your child has a mental health disorder, psychiatric medications can be life-changing. These medications can offer stability, normalcy, and the ability to function on a daily basis to those who would otherwise be debilitated by the symptoms of their mental health disorder.

While psychiatric medications can be incredibly beneficial, some, unfortunately, carry unwanted side effects that can be difficult to manage. Sometimes, these side effects can outweigh the benefits of the medication. How do you know when the side effects are manageable? How do you know when it is time to talk to your child’s doctor about a medication change?

Watching Your Child for Changes

When your child is prescribed a new medication, ask about both the purpose of the medication as well as the potential side effects. Read the consumer warnings about side effects and drug interactions provided by your pharmacy or online. Knowing about the medication can help you understand if the benefits will outweigh any potential side effects.

As your child begins to take the medication, watch for potential side effects. Changes in eating or sleeping habits or other side effects for the first few days or even weeks can be normal and expected as your child’s body adjusts to the medication. However, changes that are excessive or long-lasting may be cause for concern.

Watch just as closely for desired benefits, such as improvement in mood, decrease in anger or irritability, or improvement in sleep or appetite. Psychiatric medications do not have simple blood tests to prove efficacy. To know if they are working or not, and whether or not there are harmful side effects, you will need to be very observant of changes in your child.

Checking In With Your Child Daily

Many of the changes in your child will involve internal changes in mood and brain function, which only your child can report. As a parent, you can help monitor these changes and keep track of them by checking in with your child daily. Ask them how they are feeling, how they slept, and what their mood is like. Help them to notice if there are changes. Sometimes, they may not even realize they are improving. Teens may also perseverate on any small side effect and be unwilling to acknowledge the benefits the medications are bringing to their mental health. A daily check-in can help both of you to better understand how the medication is functioning for your child.

Keeping a Symptom vs. Side Effects Journal

As a parent, keeping track of their mental health symptoms is something that can really help your child’s doctors to treat them more effectively. As they are prescribed medications, adding notes about side effects will also help the psychiatrist immensely to understand exactly how the medication is affecting your child. Monitoring symptoms vs. side effects regularly is crucial if symptoms or side effects increase and a change is needed.

You can keep a physical journal, keep notes on your phone, or use an app to keep track of your child’s symptoms and side effects. There are also apps to download that your child can use on their phone to track moods and symptoms that will help everyone to understand how they are doing. These mood tracking apps help provide information not only to you and your child’s doctor but also to your child; a mood tracking app can help your child notice patterns and triggers and learn about their moods and behaviors to achieve greater self-efficacy in their own treatment process.

Side Effects That Outweigh the Benefits

Each medication has different side effects, but when the side effects are extreme or last longer than a few weeks or months, then it is time to talk to your child’s doctor about a dosage or prescription change. Some of these include:

  • Excessive fatigue or insomnia
  • Extreme change in eating habits
  • Rapid or extended weight gain
  • Tardive Dyskinesia or other uncontrolled facial or body movements
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Feeling “numb,” empty, or unable to feel emotions
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

When to Report Side Effects Immediately

Some side effects are life-threatening, although this is rare.  Be sure to read about any potential rashes or other allergic reactions specific to your child’s medication that can be fatal. Some of the other side effects that require immediate attention include:

  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

The goal of psychiatric medications is to achieve improved function and quality of life. Sometimes, it can take many trials to find the right medication, dosage, or combination of medications to achieve the desired result. Unfortunately, side effects are part of the process. Being educated and aware as a parent will help you and your child advocate for their needs with their doctor and, ultimately, find the right treatment for them.

Psychiatric medications can offer tremendous benefits for your teen and your entire family, but they can also come with many challenging side effects. As a parent, you can help monitor your child’s mental and physical health to weigh the benefits versus the side effects of the medications. Knowing when to contact your child’s doctor to make a medication change will help your teen achieve the desired quality of life. Sustain Recovery treats adolescents with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. We emphasize the family’s continued involvement in the healing process. Our extended residential program in Irvine, California, helps teens identify the root causes of their behaviors. We help them learn accountability as they heal from addiction and mental health disorders. Contact us at (949) 407-9052 today to find out if our program is the right fit for your family.