What to Do When Teens with ADHD Want to Stop Using Medication

Health Writer

Teens with ADHD often face a time when they want to stop taking ADHD medication. For parents, this can be a scary time. Parents might remember what life was like “before medication.” They might have sought treatment because of behavioral problems, poor grades in school or a combination of both. The thought of going back to a time when every day was a struggle is accompanied with worry. Instead of creating a power struggle, however, the situation can be used as an opportunity for growth.

Discover the reasons behind the request

There are many different reasons why a teen might decide he or she no longer wants to take medication. As a parent, before making any decisions, sit down with your teen and open a discussion to find out why. Some of the reasons teens choose not to take medication include:

  • Not wanting to be different than their peers
  • A feeling that their new level of maturity gives them a better ability to control symptoms of ADHD without medication
  • The belief that symptoms are no longer severe enough to warrant medication
  • The concern that medication is stopping them from being their “true” self

Your teen might have additional reasons but you can use these as a way to open up a discussion and find out more about your teen’s perspective. Understanding the reasons behind your teen’s request to stop medication can help both you and your teen find ways to move forward.

Once your child reaches the teen years, adulthood is just around the corner and that means he or she will be making their own healthcare decisions, including stopping medication. It is best to work with your teen now, when you still have input into these types of decisions and provide guidance on how to make adult decisions.

Set parameters for a test period

ADHD is unique in each person but there are also some common behaviors, such as forgetfulness, not handing in homework, lack of follow-through, incomplete tasks and performing poorly in school. Consider where your teen’s weaknesses are and make a list of “test behaviors” you can keep track of while your teen isn’t taking medication. Avoid vague statements, such as “you must keep up your school work” or “you must still do well in school.” Instead, be specific, such as:

  • Handing in homework and assignments (set a limit to how many missed assignments is acceptable, such as one missed assignment per week)
  • Receiving a minimum of a B on all tests (or whatever you decide is reasonable)
  • Completing chores at home without being reminded (or with one reminder only)
  • Not being late to school and/or work
  • Not getting into trouble for behavior at school

Decide when you want to sit down again to review how your teen is doing without medication, for example in two weeks or one month. Make sure both you and your teen agree on how the results will be measured, for example, let your teen know if before your review you plan to talk to teachers at school to see how everything is going at school.

Set limits if necessary

Some parents agree that teens can reduce, but not eliminate medication, for example, parents might insist that medication is used if a teen will be driving. If you have limitations such as this, make them clear. If your teen is currently on a long-acting medication, it might be necessary to get a prescription for short-acting medication that he or she can take for just these times.

Review the results

Once the test period is over, sit down with your teen and review the areas you deemed as important. Has he or she lived up to the expectations? Based on the review, you can choose to extend the time without medication, making it clear you will continue to review progress and behavior on a monthly basis.

By giving your teen a chance to try to manage ADHD without medication, you respect their ability to make decisions in their life. But you have also given guidance on how to measure the results of a decision and then review whether the decision was best. Your teen might decide that the benefits of taking medication are worthwhile and may decide to continue doing so.

For more information on teens with ADHD:

The Fine Art of Raising a Teen With ADHD

Teens with ADHD: Keeping Emotions in Check when Disciplining Teens

Teens with ADHD: The Difficult Years

Teens with ADHD and Driving

When Teens With ADHD Are Defiant