For many people with ADHD who take medication, the question of whether or not to continue the medication will very likely come up at some point. Parents often ask whether their child will need medication long-term or whether there will be a time when it can be discontinued. Teenagers are notorious for wanting to stop taking medication, and many adults wonder, “Will I need to take this medicine all my life?”
ADHD medications are effective at reducing symptoms. They can improve concentration, increase attention spans and reduce both hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Many people, both children and adults, find they are more organized, can more clearly express thoughts and are more productive when taking medication. Even so, some people simply don’t want to rely on medication all their lives.
The reasons people want to stop or choose to stop taking medication vary. Some have a difficult time dealing with side effects, such as reduced appetite or insomnia. Others don’t believe the benefits outweigh potential risks. Some feel they have gained enough maturity or skills to manage symptoms without medication. Interestingly, in a survey of college students, 40 percent cited loss of true self as a reason for discontinuing medication. These students and others might accept that while medication helps them focus, stay organized and be more productive, it also "hides" who they are -- even if their "true" personality is less organized or has a shorter attention span than their medicated self.
Deciding to stop medication
ADHD medications are not considered medically necessary, at least not in the way that medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease are. This means they are optional: you can choose whether to use them to manage your symptoms or you can choose to do without them.
Talk to your doctorIf you do decide to stop your medications you should** first speak with your doctor**. While ADHD medications do not normally cause withdrawal symptoms when no longer taken, some doctors prefer to wean you off of them. Your doctor might suggest taking one-half dose for a week or so and then, depending on your initial dose, cutting it down even farther for the next couple of weeks until you stop completely.
Choose when you want to stop
If you are in high school or college, stopping medication during mid-terms or finals probably isn’t such a good idea. If you are an adult, it might not be best to stop your medications just before starting a new job, applying for a mortgage or starting a new project at work. It is better to plan your stop date, choosing a relatively calm time in your life.
Compare symptoms on and off medication
In the weeks leading up to stopping your medication keep track of your ADHD symptoms. How long can you focus on reading or completing a task? Do you feel comfortable in social situations? Can you follow a lengthy conversation? How is your short-term memory? Are you communicating effectively with your partner? Do you engage in reckless or impulsive behavior? Once you stop medication, take a look at these same situations. Do you notice a difference? Are the changes helpful or harmful to your life?
Look for alternatives
For many people, ADHD symptoms continue into adulthood. If you choose not to take medications, are there behavioral strategies you can add to your daily routine that will help keep you on track? Would you benefit from working with an ADHD coach? Can you try yoga, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy or other alternative treatments? Would daily exercise help you manage symptoms?
Make a planOnce you gather your information (symptoms you want to track, alternatives, etc),** make a plan for when and how you are going to stop your medication.** Write down what strategies you want to employ on a daily basis to help you manage your symptoms.
Keep in mind that any changes you make don’t have to be permanent. You can stop the medications for a while and then decide it isn’t working and talk to your doctor about resuming them. You might find that you do fine without medication and choose to remain off of it. There isn’t any right answer to whether or not you should continue or discontinue medication for your ADHD. You need to do what is right for you.
For more information:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: National Institute of Mental Health
ADHD Parents Medication Guide: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association
Managing Medication: CHADD