How to Stop ADHD Medications for the Summer
How can I stop my son’s or daughter’s medications for ADHD without causing problems?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from parents of children with ADHD during the early part of the summer. Many parents feel their ADHD child or teen should be taken off of their ADHD drugs during the summer.
Here are a few of their arguments about stopping ADHD drugs:
- When I was little, my doctor told my parents to stop my ADHD medications to give me a rest over the summer
- I’m afraid he’s been on them too long without a break and they will damage his brain
- I’d like to see if her behavior gets better over the summer without those drugs
- School is out now and since we only started the ADHD medications to improve his grades, he doesn’t need them while he’s out of school
- I don’t feel like fighting him (or her) to get him (or her) to take the drug while we’re on vacation
- It’s not like he (or she) is going to be reading or studying over the summer, so I want to give him (or her) a break.
There are probably many more similar questions and concerns about continuing ADHD medications when a child is out of school for the summer. And, I can understand why a parent would like to give their child a break from taking pills when absolutely not necessary. When I first started practicing family medicine in the 70’s, we referred to these “pill breaks” as drug vacations.
ADHD medications were usually the only drugs we would consider for a drug vacation. For example, other medications for things like diabetes mellitus, heart disease and asthma are just too essential to normal life to be considered for drug vacations. ADHD experts and other doctors who treat ADHD would often argue the fact that a child or teen couldn’t focus, concentrate or control their impulsivity wasn’t life threatening so therefore the drugs could be stopped for a month or two without causing problems.
Unfortunately, I know a bunch of people including parents of children without ADHD as well as parents of ADHD children and ADHD teenagers who would disagree. Here are a few of their reasons:
- The mom of 5 year old Joshua still misses her son. He’s not there at breakfast, or for her to play with at bath time, or to celebrate birthdays. Joshua was playing in the front yard when a 16 year-old lost control of his car, running over him, killing him instantly. The 16 year-old was driving too fast and texting at the same time. He had stopped his ADHD drugs two weeks earlier.
- Jeff and Laura had planned a summer vacation to Disney world, but instead had to spend all of their vacation money (and much more) to pay lawyers when their daughter Kayleigh was caught shoplifting a DVD at the local mall. She had been off of her ADHD medications for over a month. Of course, Kayleigh’s brother and sister didn’t make it to Disney world either.
- Debra and Stephen spent a year helping their 6 year-old son get his life back to normal after he ran out into traffic on a 4 lane highway while chasing a baseball. His impulsivity went out of control about 3 weeks after they stopped his methylphenidate for the summer.
- Miguel’s mom decided to stop his guanfacine the last day of school. She reasoned since it wasn’t a controlled substance, it wouldn’t matter. Five days later, Miguel was in the hospital with very high blood pressure, blurry vision, and a really had headache. He was experiencing what is called rebound hypertension as a result of stopping the drug abruptly.
These are just a few examples of the many “bad things” that can happen when ADHD drugs or therapy are abruptly discontinued. As you can see, stopping ADHD medications isn’t simple. Doing so without first consulting a doctor, may affect not only the ADHD child or teen, but other family members and even perfect strangers. In all of the above cases, these kid’s ADHD medications were stopped-cold-without consulting a doctor.
To avoid a similar catastrophe, I advise my ADHD parents:
- Don’t stop your child’s-especially teenager’s-ADHD medications or therapy without first discussing it with me
- It can be dangerous to abruptly stop any medication for ADHD, depression, or anxiety. In some cases, your child’s blood pressure could go very high. In others, ADHD behavior-impulsivity, inattentiveness, hyperactivity-may return with a passion-much worse than before.
- Stopping an antidepressant or medication for anxiety or depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm behavior.
- In all cases, weaning medications slowly over a 3-4 week period is acceptable as long as we agree to look for symptoms of withdrawal.
To sum it all up, stopping ADHD drugs abruptly can be very dangerous for your ADHD child’s or teen’s health and the health and well-being of others if done so without the guidance of the doctor responsible for prescribing the drug or therapy.
Parents should err on the safe side…discuss ADHD drug vacations with your child’s doctor before stopping any medications.
Frank Barnhill, MD
Here are a few previous posts that deal with ADHD drug vacations:
ADHD Teens-Impulsivity, Alcohol and Drugs during the holidays
ADHD Drug Holiday: Should Kids Stop Therapy on Christmas Vacation?
ADHD Drug Vacations can cause Learning Problems
Stopping ADHD Medications May Cause Social Behavior Problems
Stopping ADHD drugs for the holidays may make it worse