Many parents are uncomfortable with giving ADHD medications, particularly stimulants, to their children on an ongoing basis. So, they look for opportunities to give their children a break from the meds during long weekends, school breaks or summer vacation. Healthcare providers call this a “structured treatment interruption.”
In a recent survey by ADDitude Magazine, nearly half the parents surveyed planned to give their child a med break to see if their condition had improved, there was relief from side effects, or the child had a better appetite.
According to the ADHD Parents Medication Guide published by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association, “if your child mainly has problems with inattention and focusing rather than impulsivity and hyperactivity, it may not be necessary to continue stimulant medications over weekends, holidays and vacations.”
However, the guide strongly recommends talking to your physician before taking a med break: “Taking a break from non-stimulants is not as easy as from the stimulant medications. Non-stimulants often need to be taken daily for a period of time before benefit can be achieved; missing doses may undermine benefits and may also result in withdrawal effects.”
Whether a drug holiday is a good idea is a matter of considerable debate, and parents should always make that decision with input from their healthcare provider. Interestingly, the same ADDitude Magazine survey revealed that 41 percent of parents who chose the break said it caused more problems than it solved; 59 percent viewed the break positively.
As kids go back to school, many parents may look to end the med break in order to help children with ADHD successfully manage the demanding situations that the school setting presents.
As parents restart their children’s ADHD medication routine, they should consider these steps, outlined by a variety of experts from the Child Mind Institute, ADDitude Magazine and Thomas E. Brown, Consulting Psychologist writing for Understood.org:
- Consider restarting medication at least a week or two before a new school year begins to get back into the routine. Some non-stimulant ADHD meds can take two or three weeks to even begin working, without taking into consideration how much there is to manage at the start of school.
- Assess whether to adjust or change medications, particularly if the medication isn’t working very well or if your child is having side effects. A GeneSight test can help. Ask your healthcare provider or use our “finder” resource to locate a provider registered to offer the test.
- Monitor for side effects like changes in sleep, appetite and weight.
- Observe your child’s progress. If you find that your child is struggling to keep up in school, or showing an increase in symptoms, don’t wait until the next break. Talk to your child’s teachers and doctor at the first signs.
- Determine if the dosage is still correct. Dosing is critical with ADHD meds, many of which are designed to only be effective for a few hours. However, you may find that with homework and after-school activities, the ADHD medicine doesn’t last as long as needed. Ask your doctor about longer-acting stimulants, or whether it makes sense for your child to add a small dose of a shorter-acting, quick-release stimulant later in the day.
Even though the start of every school year means new beginnings, relying on what has worked can help mean success for your child. If ADHD medication has helped in the past, any challenges from restarting could be more than worth it. Remember to always consult with your pediatrician when making any decisions regarding medication.