- The Pros
- Is Taking a Break From ADHD Drugs Safe?
- Taking a Vacation From ADHD Drugs: Is It Safe?
- Stopping ADHD Drugs: Potential Risks
- ADHD Medicines
- “A Weekend Without ADHD Meds? Seemed Like No Big Deal”
- My ADHD Partner Gets Lost
- Now I’m To Blame?
- “Self-Medicating” ADHD By Watching Atrocities?
- Another Weekend Without ADHD Meds
- A medication break can ease side effects. A lack of appetite, weight loss, sleep troubles, headaches, and stomach pain are common side effects of ADHD medication.
- It may boost your child’s growth. Some ADHD medications can slow a child’s growth in height, especially during the first 2 years of taking it. While height delays are temporary and kids typically catch up later, going off medication may lead to fewer growth delays.
- It won’t hurt your child. Taking a child off ADHD medication may cause their ADHD symptoms to reappear. But it won’t make them sick or cause other side effects.
- It can be a chance to see if other treatments will work alone. For some children, talk therapy or neurofeedback may work as well as medication. If your child isn’t taking medication, it’s easier to tell if another treatment is working.
- It can help your doctor find out if your child’s symptoms are changing. For many kids, ADHD symptoms (especially hyperactivity) lessen over time. Sometimes they even go away completely. It may be easier to determine how severe her symptoms are when she’s not taking medication.
Is Taking a Break From ADHD Drugs Safe?
Everyone needs a break from something at some point, and people taking medication for ADHD might feel that way about their meds routine. It’s a hassle to take ADHD drugs every day, particularly if you experience some of the common side effects. If you’ve ever wondered if temporarily stopping ADHD drugs is okay or if there are any potential side effects to stopping, it’s time to get some answers.
Taking a Vacation From ADHD Drugs: Is It Safe?
If you’re considering stopping your or your child’s ADHD drugs, even for a brief time, it’s important to start by asking some questions.
“Understand why want to stop it and what is the purpose,” suggests F. Allen Walker, MD, a psychiatrist with ADHD and his own practice specializing in ADHD in Louisville, Ky. “There’s not really much of a risk involved in stopping medications periodically. It’s not something that I necessarily promote and encourage patients to do unless they’ve already been on the medication for a period of time, and they understand the benefits of the medication.”
Studies show that there’s no real reason to stop and no harm from long-term treatment with ADHD drugs. One study, reviewing children who had been treated with stimulant drugs for as long as two years, showed no risks or side effects from treatment, but rather benefits in symptoms and improved social skills from continued treatment with medication. The study also found that those children treated long-term with ADHD drugs had better self-esteem.
If you want to try stopping ADHD drugs for a time, such as a weekend, vacation, or holiday break from school, Dr. Walker says it’s important to talk to your doctor first about the right way and the right time to do it — not in the middle of the school year or during a busy time at work.
Taking a break from ADHD drugs could have its advantages under the right circumstances. “I think sometimes it can be good for to stop their medicine so they understand what it’s like being on it and off it,” says Walker. The break can be a reminder about what the medication really achieves and give you useful perspective.
Stopping ADHD Drugs: Potential Risks
While in general it’s not considered particularly dangerous to take a break from ADHD drugs on occasion and with your doctor’s okay, Walker says that there are some potential risks to be considered, including:
- Side effects from restarting medications too quickly without a doctor’s supervision
- Problems at work or school
- Problems with relationships, friends, family, or even a spouse
- Social alienation
- Reckless or impulsive behavior
Even if the risks are minimal, consider that the patient might be losing out on the benefits of ADHD drugs. Just because a child isn’t in school doesn’t mean that the medication isn’t still needed or isn’t beneficial. A study found that children attending a summer treatment camp for ADHD who took ADHD medications performed better socially than children who didn’t take medication.
And, Walker notes, the impairment to social skills shouldn’t be disregarded as unimportant. “Often what happens to kids is they become alienated socially. It erodes their self-esteem and they start to feel bad about who they are,” he says. This can lead to poor academic performance or more serious problems like promiscuity, antisocial behavior, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse. “The consequences of not having kids properly treated for ADHD in social settings can lead to things that are far worse than maybe making a bad grade.”
Whether it’s a good idea to temporarily stop ADHD drugs really depends on the individual, Walker adds. There are many factors to take into account, like age, gender, and the reason why you think you need a break. Though the risk is fairly minimal, so are the benefits. One thing is certain — you can’t know what’s right for you, or your child, unless you discuss it with your doctor. And that’s a step you should always take before changing anything about your ADHD treatment.
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What Is ADHD Medicine?
After someone is diagnosed with ADHD, doctors may prescribe medicine to treat it. Medicine doesn’t cure ADHD. But it does help boost the ability to pay attention, slow down, and have more self-control.
Why Do People Need ADHD Medicine?
Not everyone with ADHD needs medicine. But medicine can help most people with ADHD stay focused longer, listen better, and fidget less.
People also benefit from therapy to learn and practice skills like staying organized, managing schoolwork, or dealing with stress. Medicine isn’t a shortcut to mastering these skills. But it does help people stay focused on learning them.
How Does ADHD Medicine Work?
ADHD medicines improve attention by helping normal brain chemicals work better.
The medicines target two brain chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals affect a person’s attention and concentration.
How Do People Take ADHD Medicine?
People with ADHD can take different medicines. All of them need a prescription.
People usually take ADHD medicines once or twice a day, depending on the medicine.
Stimulants work as soon as you take them. How long they last depends on the medicine:
- Short-acting formulas last for about 4 hours.
- Long-acting formulas stay in the body for up to 12 hours. They can be helpful for people who have a long school day and need the medicine to stay focused for homework or after-school activities.
These medicines include atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay), and guanfacine (Intuniv). Non-stimulants can take up to a few weeks to start working. They work for 24 hours.
Before prescribing medicine, the health care team will ask if you are taking any other medicines. This includes over-the-counter medicines and supplements (like vitamins or herbal medicines). The care team will also want to know about your family’s medical history, especially if any family members had or have heart disease.
Doctors usually start by prescribing a low dose of a stimulant medicine. If you are taking a new ADHD medicine or dose, the doctor will want you and your parent to watch and see if the medicine helps.
People respond differently to medicines. If the first medicine doesn’t seem to work, even at the highest dose, then a doctor may try a different medicine. Some people need to take more than one ADHD medicine to get the best result.
What Else Can I Do?
You and your parents should watch for any
if you take a new ADHD medicine. Your doctor will adjust the dose and how often you take the medicine based on how much the medicine helps and if you have side effects.
You may need to go for several visits with the doctor over weeks or months to find the right medicine and dose. After that, the care team will want to see you every 3 to 6 months.
Going to all of the follow-up visits is important so the care team can check your height, weight, and blood pressure. The care team will also monitor side effects and adjust the medicine dose, as needed.
To prevent problems, always do these things when taking ADHD medicine:
- Take the recommended dose.
- Take each medicine at the right time.
- Talk to a doctor before stopping the medicine or changing the dose.
- Keep all medicines in a safe place where others can’t get to them.
- Don’t give any of your medicine to anyone else.
Medicine is one part of treatment for ADHD. Treatment also can include therapy, parent support, and school support. Medicine works best when parents, teachers, and therapists help you learn any social, emotional, and behavioral skills that aren’t easy because of ADHD.
Are There Any Risks?
Like any medication, ADHD medicines can have side effects. Not everyone gets side effects, though.
The most common side effects are loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Other ADHD medicine side effects include jitteriness, irritability, moodiness, headaches, stomachaches, fast heart rate, and high blood pressure.
Side effects usually happen in the first few days of starting a new medicine or taking a higher dose. They often go away on their own after a few days or weeks as the body adjusts to the medicine.
If a side effect doesn’t go away, a doctor may decide to lower the dose or stop that medicine and try another. ADHD medicines only stay in the body for a few hours, so the side effects wear off as the medicine leaves the body.
Your health care team will give you more information about possible side effects for the medicine they prescribe. If you notice anything that worries you, tell your parent and talk to your doctor right away.
Some people don’t like the idea of taking medicine for ADHD. But the right medicine can make a big difference. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns. Ask questions. Your health care team can help you and your parent decide if trying a medicine for ADHD is right for you.
Reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD Date reviewed: March 2018
Yes, for many ADHD couples, a weekend without ADHD meds can be a very big deal. This first-person story speaks to two common reader questions:
- “It ADHD a real thing?”
- “Do the medications for ADHD really make a difference?”
In the early days, I shared the facts and figures. After all, mounds of double-blind research show the potentially life-changing benefits of stimulant medication for ADHD. That is surely more impressive and convincing than mere opinions, right? Wrong.
Eyes glazed over during these first few fact-based recitations. Then I got wise: After quickly mentioning the published research, I relayed the before-and-after stories of real-life adults with ADHD.
As one of my college journalism professors used to repeat: “Show, Don’t Tell.” In other words, give your readers facts but enliven those facts with illustrative stories.
With that in mind, I offer you this “as told to” story from a man named Jason. For this couple anyway, it answers the question, “Does the medication really make a difference?”
He’d written to tell me about the weekend that his partner, Ethan, ran out of medication. (Yes, Jason and Ethan are both men, a reminder that ADHD’s effect on relationships is not a “Mars-Venus Thing.” ADHD does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, creed, political persuasion, or sexual orientation.)
Here’s the thing: Jason did not know Ethan before he was diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medication. In fact, when he first learned about Ethan’s medication, Jason assumed he was making “too big of a deal” of his ADHD. This “lost weekend without ADHD meds”, however, made him a believer.
—Gina Pera, ADHD Roller Coaster
“A Weekend Without ADHD Meds? Seemed Like No Big Deal”
It seemed like no big deal when my partner, Ethan, said he’d forgotten to call his doctor and would run out of medicine over the weekend. “I’ll just pick it up on Monday, no problem,” he’d said. With hindsight, I should have packed a bag and gone to Vegas. He missed only three days’ medication but the downhill effect was dramatic.
I first noticed the difference on Saturday when it took him three hours to pick up cleaning supplies. On Friday, he had planned to clean out his home office on Sunday. Unfortunately, he made the plans while on his medication. But the event took place while he was off.
On Sunday I sat down to enjoy some basketball games on TV in peace while Ethan cleaned the office. Eight hours later, he asked me to see how it looked. I didn’t know what to say. Yes, the office was cleaner. But the hallway was lined with junk and massive quantities of cleaning supplies.
Then he checks his e-mail.
My ADHD Partner Gets Lost
Two hours later, at midnight, I wander in to tell him goodnight. I found him just staring at the computer. “What’s the matter?,” I asked, full of concern. “I don’t know,” he said. What? How could this be—he is a born geek!
Turns out, his PC was fine. The problem was, he couldn’t remember what he was trying to do! It took a while. It wasn’t easy. But I finally succeeded in helping him to recognize that his “fuzzy-headedness” was not taking his medication in nearly two days.
On Monday, he found out that he couldn’t get the prescription until Tuesday. He spent the evening on eBay shopping for things we didn’t need.
Tuesday morning, he asked me to pick up his prescription; he didn’t have time during lunch hour. But he’d transposed two numbers in the address. Without the doctor’s name, I couldn’t find the office.
He said he’d go by after work, get the script, and have it filled. Okay. Then he became lost trying to find his own doctor! He called me for directions, ranting and blaming me because I couldn’t find the doctor’s office earlier. Despite not having the correct address. Huh? He slammed down the phone, saying he would call back.
Now I’m To Blame?
Two hours later, he arrives. I asked why he hadn’t called back. Given the mood he was in, I was worried. But he didn’t remember saying he would call.
Where had he been for two hours, though? “Shopping,” he said. But the only thing in his hands was a little bag containing his medication. “Oh, I forgot the things in the car.” He comes back in, carting unneeded groceries and more of the same cleaning supplies he purchased Saturday! Now, we have two of everything, including the world’s largest bottles of Simple Green!
“Self-Medicating” ADHD By Watching Atrocities?
When we finally cleared the air over who was responsible for him being lost, we sat down to relax by watching TV. He chose a show about terrorist training. After all the bad news on this topic, not to mention the last three days’ tension at home, I didn’t consider that relaxing. “But it’s really good!” he insisted.
After 20 minutes of watching him “self-medicate” by seeing torture victims suffer atrocities, I said, “No, I don’t want to watch this.” He stubbornly left it on, so I left the room. He said, “If you don’t like it, change the channel!” He had forgotten that he was holding the damn thing in a death grip. Argh!
Finally, he took a dose of the medication this morning. Hopefully, we will be headed back to a more even keel shortly. Hopefully, he will remember to fill his prescription next time before he runs completely out.
In fact, I think I’ll put it on the calendar.
Another Weekend Without ADHD Meds
—I’m struck by the similarities between Katy’s “Drug Holiday—or Horror” and Ethan’s experience. If you didn’t know that, for some people, ADHD means not being able to “put the brakes” on obsessive behavior, you might think she has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Instead, it was another Weekend without ADHD Meds.
—What do I mean by “self-medicating” (as in the heading above “Self-Medicating” ADHD by Watching Atrocities)? We use this term to describe the various, almost unconscious behaviors that some people with ADHD resort to in order to rev up their focus. You can read more here: When ADHD Leads to Self-Medicating with Arguments
How about you? Can you relate to these examples?
Do you have others to share? What’s the biggest difference medication has made in your life or your ADHD relationship?