For ADHD, just say “No” to drug holidays

by Richard S. Winer, M.D. | Medication, Students

Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. For most students around the country, the school year has already concluded or it will be over fairly soon. For those who have been diagnosed and treated for ADHD, this time of the year has often marked the start of another holiday season–a “drug holiday” from the medication they have taken during the school year.

There was a time when ADHD was thought of as a school condition that was only seen in the population under age 18. Just as schools had the policy of “no pass, no play” when it came to eligibility for sports, parents and some clinicians went by the policy of “no school, no meds” when it came to ADHD.

We now know that ADHD is a 24/7 condition that does not end when the final bell rings on a Friday afternoon or, for that matter, at the end of a semester. Children as well as adults with ADHD need to be able to focus and concentrate whether or not they are in class or at work. This is every bit as true during the summer as it is the rest of the year.

I try to point out to parents that being able to focus during boating activities at summer camp is every bit as important as focusing during math class. Being able to concentrate when a baseball is pitched or hit during a practice or a game could be pivotal to a child’s safety as well.

The most common reason parents have told me for why they hold off on giving their kids medication during weekends, holidays, or the summer is the decreased appetite so many children experience while on stimulant medication. Certainly, this has been a fairly common side effect of this type of medication more commonly in its short-acting versions. Fortunately, the trend in stimulant medication over the past eight years or so has been toward longer-acting, smoother products that will not only provide benefits over a longer period of time, but also provide better tolerability.

In the past three years, we have had newer delivery systems of some of the well-known products for ADHD that might do a better job of preserving a child’s appetite. A capsule and even a patch form of ADHD medication just might help remove that excuse for going with those “drug holidays.” While decreased appetite might be reported when a medication is first started, there is a decent chance the side effect will ease up as the body gets acclimated to the medication.

So, even as the school year comes to an end, the ongoing treatment of ADHD should continue throughout the summer. I often explain to parents that they also deserve to see the benefits of their child’s treatment. After all, why should teachers be the only ones to witness these children making progress? It just might make for a more enjoyable summer for the whole family.

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