A few weeks ago I got this question, and to the teen who sent it in, I am so sorry it has taken me this long to put something together to answer it! But here we go.
Question: “I have to take Abilify and Concerta. I hate it and I want to go off of them. They make me feel weird. What do they do to me? How do they work? What happens if I stop taking them?”
Answer(s): I am going to break this down and answer in parts. I think the best way to tackle these questions is to talk about ADHD meds in general, since specific medication and therapy choices are made one on one with your doctor.
Q: Let’s start with “How do they work?”
Most ADHD medications are stimulants that have different durations of action. It isn't completely known why stimulants help with the symptoms of ADHD, but most experts think that they affect the dopamine and noradrenergic systems in your brain. In doing so, brain chemicals or neurotransmitters seem to be released that help with concentration and attention. The full effects can take a few months to see – and others may see the positive effects in you before you see them in yourself!
Q: “What do they do to me?”
Well, the positive effects of these medications used in the right person, are that they help patients with ADHD pay attention and concentrate. That doesn’t mean that everyone should take these medications willy nilly to help with concentration! They are specifically to help those who have a true diagnosis of ADHD.
Of course, all medications come with risks and side effects. The most common side effects are decreased appetite, weight loss, problems sleeping, stomach-ache, feeling sick to your stomach. Some teens feel “ a little unusual” shortly after starting them (maybe this is what was meant by “feeling weird”) and some people feel irritable. Usually these side effects get better with a little time. But if you are feeling like a “zombie” or your irritability isn’t going away, that would be something to tell your Dr.
There are some rare, but serious, side effects that your Dr. will watch for – like hallucinations (seeing or hearing something that isn’t there), agitation (much worse than irritability), suicidal thoughts and talking, and liver and heart problems. Because of these rare but serious side effects, your Dr will make sure you have a true diagnosis of ADHD before thinking about prescribing medications, and they will also make sure you (or your family) have no medical problems that mean you shouldn’t. And with some of these medications, there is a risk of abusing them. SO they shouldn’t be taken as an extra “boost” during exam time, or without a good diagnosis of ADHD and close medical supervision.
Having problems with your medications but you need them? No problem! You just need to be honest with your Dr about what you’re experiencing so that he or she can change the dose, the medication, or other parts of the treatment regimen.
Q: “What happens if I stop taking them?”
Stopping your ADHD meds is a decision you make with your Dr. A lot of teens actually grow out of their ADHD symptoms, but others go on to have ADHD for the rest of their lives. There are a few things that might mean you can talk to your Dr about trying to see how you do off meds:
- if you’ve been without symptoms for more than a year on a steady dose
- or if you’ve been without symptoms even if you miss medication doses
- if you notice you are having increased concentration and attention
The length of treatment is different for everyone. And it takes a few months to see a full effect of a selected treatment. Some medications can be stopped all at once, but others need to be tapered more slowly. If you and your Dr. decide that going off meds is appropriate for you, there needs to be a plan for regular followup so you can make sure that your symptoms don’t come back and interfere with your life again!
More info? This Medication Guide is written for parents, but it’s a good resource for you too…from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association
Click here for the LINK
More questions about ADHD itself or ADHD medications? You know where to ask! Right here - add a comment. And #JoinTheDiscssion