ADHD Drug Holidays May Improve Your Child's ADHD Treatment
Whether to use attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug holidays or not is a secondary decision for doctors and parents of children with ADHD. But before you discuss ADHD drug holidays, you must decide whether to use ADHD medications at all. First, you have to manage the stigma and judgment that comes with medicating your child. Then, if you do decide on ADHD medications, you have to juggle side-effects, changes, and the complicated decision of ADHD drug holidays.
Deciding on ADHD Medications
Before you worry about ADHD drug holidays, visit your pediatrician (or start with a psychiatrist if you can). A pediatrician can prescribe ADHD stimulant medications. If your child is like mine, though, and has other complicating disorders, it may be best to find a psychiatrist. Just as you'd find a cardiologist for a heart condition, you should find a specialist for complex mental health conditions, too.
Psychiatrists can walk you through decisions like whether to use a stimulant or a non-stimulant ADHD med. They also know the ADHD medication side effects well and can help you navigate challenges as they raise.
My son has severe impulsivity/hyperactivity and his pediatrician first prescribed stimulants the summer before first grade. His attention sharpened, he could sit still longer, and he wasn't dangerous on field trips. By the following spring, though, his symptoms worsened, especially irritability. This was a huge issue because he also had disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), a mood disorder that involves intense, dangerous outbursts. The worsened irritability in spring worsened his outbursts. He was suspended a few times before finally making it out of first grade.
Juggling ADHD Medication Changes
Finding the right medication feels like trial and error. We switched to a different medication the summer before my son's second grade because his symptoms had worsened and he wouldn't eat. That next medication caused hallucinations. We immediately switched to a third, and we started seeing a psychiatrist. My son's been on the same stimulant now for four years, thankfully.
Part of the reason the current medication has worked so well, however, is the prescribed ADHD drug holidays.
ADHD Drug Holidays
ADHD drug holidays are when your child goes off the stimulants to give his body and brain a break.
In my son's case, he'd spent years going through the cycle of doing well in the Fall and plummeting in the Spring. Our psychiatrist suggested our son was growing a tolerance to his stimulants. Remember, ADHD stimulants are an addictive substance. For people with typical brains, stimulants would make them feel "high". People with ADHD have differently wired brains, though, so stimulants calm their brains and help their bodies slow down.
Like other addictive substances, though, the longer a person takes stimulants, the more of it he needs to get the same effect. So, basically, we were seeing a worsening in my son's symptoms because he was growing tolerant to his medications by Spring every year, indicating that ADHD drug holidays are a possible solution.
Now my son goes off his stimulant every summer vacation so that his brain can take a couple months to rest. He doesn't need a higher dose, then, when he restarts. As my son gets older, he won't hit the dosage ceiling on his stimulants too soon, making them helpful longer.
Don't Fear ADHD Drug Holidays
I know ADHD drug holidays sound scary. My son does not manage well off medications, and even when he isn't in school, he has summer programming. The last thing we need, as working parents, is to have him kicked out of programming because of outbursts and hyperactivity.
The last few years, though, he's done fine. This year, to help manage his new summer school program without stimulants, my son is on a non-stimulant combined with another medication that works to decrease hyperactivity. There are bumps along the way, but our fear of ADHD drug holidays turned out to be unfounded. Even better, our son has stayed on the same dosage of his stimulant for years with continued positive effects.
The moral of the story is to find a doctor you trust and consult regularly. Depending on your child's needs, ADHD drug holidays may not help. Medications, period, may not. If you trust your doctor, though, don't be afraid to try recommendations that may help your child lead a happier life.
David, M. (2018, July 2). ADHD Drug Holidays May Improve Your Child's ADHD Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2018/7/adhd-drug-holidays-may-improve-your-childs-adhd-treatment