Summer brings obstacles for managing medication

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

Summertime is upon us. With it comes a variety of questions about how patients should take their medications during these months.

Some patients ask about the necessity of taking ADHD medications when school is not in session.  They wonder if it is alright to take time off from their medicine. I remind them that ADHD is a 24/7 condition. Just because school is out for the summer doesn’t mean your ADHD will take the time off as well.

Others ask about trying to taper down medications–often anti-depressants–during the summer. This is a strategy I am more willing to consider. For some, stress is lessened during the summer. The combination of less-structured time and longer days is more likely to make people feel good enough that they want to see how they might do off their medications.

Then, there is another group of patients. They are not looking to stop what they have been taking or even to take less. Instead, this group is looking to modify the rules on what else they might take alongside the medications.

Indeed, as the temperatures go up, so does the use of alcoholic beverages. Let’s face it, when people are at the beach, pool, ballgame, golf course, or outdoor parties, the idea of having beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks seems to come with the territory.  Over the years, my patients have often asked about combining their medications with alcohol. If they don’t ask, I make sure to tell them anyway.

It’s pretty hard to come up with anything positive to say about the combination of medication and alcohol. Some think alcohol will cheer them up. Wrong. Alcohol is a depressant. If anything, a person’s alcohol intake is more likely to counter the effects of any anti-depressants being taken. Similarly, when alcohol and medication are combined, the effect of the alcohol tends to be more potent–one drink will feel more like three or four. While that may seem appealing to some, consider that the effect of medication is also more potent, increasing side effects while decreasing benefits.

Granted, drinking a glass of wine with a meal probably will not have the same effect as having several drinks at a bar on an empty stomach. Nonetheless, doing so while also taking medications for depression, anxiety, or virtually any psychiatric condition is playing with fire. To avoid this conflict, some people make the unfortunate decision to hold off on their medications in order to drink more. This creates yet another set of potential problems when medication is abruptly discontinued–not to mention the fact their psychiatric condition is not being treated.

Either way, as with any alcohol consumption, always be safe. It is not worth risking your life or the lives of others by driving under the influence or the more common summer occurrence of boating while intoxicated. There is nothing fun about paying fines, community service hours or doing jail time, no matter what time of the year.

So, here’s to a summer of fun and of safety when our “cheers” are for a home run by the home team, a great fireworks display or for maintaining a successful treatment.

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