What Happens When You Go Off Your ADHD Meds?

When Dana Rayburn found out she had ADHD in her 40s, her doctor prescribed Adderall. She did well with the drug for a few years, but her insurance stopped covering it. Rather than struggle to pay $ 200 per month for the drugs, she decided to try not to.

For other adults with ADHD, side effects like appetite suppression or insomnia cause them to stop treatment. Some say drugs make them less fun and spontaneous. Others don’t like the stigma that often comes with medications or just like the idea of ​​managing their disease more naturally, without the help of pharmaceuticals.

Whatever your motivation, before you try to stop your medications, it is wise to talk to your doctor first and have a good idea of ​​what to expect.

Talk to your doctor

Whenever you want to change your medication regimen, it is best to contact your doctor. If your healthcare professional agrees that it’s okay to quit, you should discuss the safety of cold turkey or whether you should cut back gradually.

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The answer depends on the medications you’re taking, says L. Eugene Arnold, MD, resident expert for CHADD (children and adults with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder). You don’t need to cut back on stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, he explains, and you shouldn’t experience withdrawal effects.

Non-stimulant drugs, on the other hand, usually require a gradual reduction. “Atomoxetine (Strattera) has a long half-life, so it shrinks on its own,” says Arnold. But if you’ve taken an alpha 2 blocker like clonidine or guanfacine – many people with ADHD take a stimulant in the morning and one of these other drugs at night – you need to slow down to avoid a potentially dangerous spike. your blood pressure, he warns.

Expect temporary physical changes

Whether you feel physically different depends on your medication, dose, and your body chemistry, says Arnold. He says some patients who stop stimulant medications report a little more fatigue during the day. However, they could sleep more soundly at night. Some are suddenly hungry.

Changes in energy and focus tend to balance out after a day or two. But it may take a few weeks for your appetite to return to normal. Of course, “If you had an excessive appetite before [starting ADHD drugs that were suppressing it], it’s going to be permanent, ”says Arnold.

You may not work as well

Unless your diagnosis is wrong, you’ve been given ADHD medication for a reason. Will you be able to stay on task and complete projects without the help of these drugs?

Fortunately for Rayburn, non-drug approaches – including organizational strategies, fish oil supplements (which some studies have found may help with ADHD), and maintaining hydration – have done the trick. She has not needed ADHD medication for 16 years. But Rayburn, which trains other adults with ADHD, is hardly an anti-drug. In fact, she says most adults with ADHD do better with medication, at least at certain times in their lives.

Rayburn advises anyone considering quitting medication to first think about why they were taking the medication and what could have changed since. Have you adopted specific organizational strategies, made significant changes to your lifestyle (such as exercise and diet), or made other changes that may help you stay focused?

Watch yourself and act accordingly

“If you stop taking medication, you have to be very self-aware and notice that your brain is not working and be able to adapt,” says Rayburn. She says some people may catch themselves losing focus, but do fine once they re-commit to strategies that have helped them stay focused in the past. Others are realizing that they now need the extra help of a trainer or therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD, Arnold says. Some people find that taking a fish oil supplement helps. “It’s a subtle effect, but it kind of takes away the benefit,” he says.

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Of course, some adults with ADHD who stop taking their medication find that they have to start over to function properly – and that’s normal, too. “It’s a good idea to recruit another observer – a spouse, roommate, or coach – who can give you objective feedback on what’s going on,” says Arnold. And if you start taking medication again, don’t assume that you can quit the non-drug therapies you are using.

“ADHD drugs are not a cure; it’s a tool, ”says Arnold. “It makes things possible but not necessarily easy. You still have to work on it. “

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Jothi Venkat

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