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Treating ADHD with Medication: The Ongoing Debate

By: Ronald S. Kent, MD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in at least 5 to 7% of the school-age population. Those of us involved in the treatment of ADHD are convinced that there is no debate as to whether it should be treated or not. However, there is a great deal of debate, controversy and misunderstanding in the use of medication to treat ADHD. It is well documented that in the vast majority of patients, medication is beneficial. Still, even professionals who take care of patients with ADHD disagree on some points about its use.

One area of debate is whether ADHD medication should be given every day, 365 days of the year, or given intermittently, meaning given as needed, only for school and not on the weekends or during summer months. This only applies to stimulant medication. Non-stimulant medications have to be given every day for them to be effective.

According to additudemag.com, 48% of parents said they plan to give their children a break from medication during the summer. Common motivations included the following:

  • 64%: Appetite suppression (“I was hoping he/she would catch up.”)
  • 60%: Symptom assessment (“I wanted to see if there was any improvement.”)
  • 58%: For learning only (“I only give my child meds on school days.”)
  • 52%: School holiday (“I always take my child off medication in the summer.”)
  • 38%: Side effects (“My child doesn’t like the way medication makes him/her feel.”)

There are some cases where I do not think stopping medication is the best thing to do. The first and most obvious are those students who are driving. We do want them to pay attention when they drive. Statistically, it has been shown that if someone who regularly takes medication for ADHD does not take medication when they drive, they have a two to three times greater chance of a motor vehicle accident that will put them in the hospital, six times greater chance of getting a speeding ticket, and eight times greater chance of losing their license. Therefore, if you drive, it is very important to take your medication.

Another group who needs to take their medicine every day are those who need it. Some students with ADHD do not do well in any environment without medication. That includes family situations, at church, playing sports and often just playing with friends. In fact, I have had students, even at a relatively young age, say that they wanted to take their medicine all the time because everything just went better when they took their medication.

Another group who needs to take their medication every day are those who do not do well when medication is stopped or restarted. Side effects seem to be worse for some students if medication is not taken every day. I know that I can get a fairly significant headache if I do not drink my coffee in the morning, and it is a mild stimulant compared to medication for ADHD. Some students do not feel well the first day they start back on medication after being off for just a few days. At our ADHD conference every year, we have a question-and-answer session. During that time, I ask teachers, which usually is around 300, if they can tell on Monday if their students with ADHD do not take their medication on the weekend. It has been amazing to me that almost 100% say they can tell a difference on Monday as compared to the rest of the week. Knowing that, it would be a good idea to always check with the teachers to see if stopping medication on the weekend is causing a significant problem on Monday with academic performance or behavior.

Medication is just one part of the comprehensive treatment plan for someone with ADHD. In some situations, it can be a point of personal and family preference as to whether medication should be given all the time. My personal opinion is that if there is any question, it should be given every day. ADHD is not just a problem in school; it can be a problem in many other areas.

Our goal is to do everything we can to help every student become all that God has had in mind for them to be, not only in school but in every aspect of life.

If you are concerned about a child or teen who is struggling with ADHD or other learning disabilities, call Hattiesburg Clinic Connections today at 601-261-5159 to schedule an appointment.

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding yours or a loved one’s behavioral or mental health, please contact our office.

Connections serves as a regional resource center providing medical, educational, speech/language and dyslexia evaluation services for children and teenagers. Following diagnosis, we work with you and your child to determine the best course of treatment and therapy for them. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at 601-261-5159.