How to Handle ADHD Medications: For Parents and Children Ages 15-18
You didn’t choose to have ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and dealing with it isn’t easy. Some people may think that you’re lazy, not very intelligent, or that you can “snap out of it” at any time. That’s not the case. Here are the facts:
- ADHD is a real medical diagnosis.
- Experts feel that ADHD is caused by low levels of chemical messengers in the brain.
- Researchers believe that ADHD is genetic; it can run in families.
- Many people with ADHD actually have above-average intelligence.
Why am I taking this pill?
Do some of the following traits sound familiar?
·Easily distracted, restless
·Difficulty paying attention
·Problems with organizing or finishing schoolwork or other tasks
·Forgetful; loses items needed for projects or school
·Always on the move
If this list hits close to home, then medication may be one of the ways to reduce the effect of these behaviors on your life. ADHD medications work by giving a boost to the chemical messengers in your brain, helping parts of your brain to work more efficiently. What might change? If the medication works the way it should, then your memory, your ability to pay attention, and your decision-making skill may all improve.
ADHD medication isn’t a magic bullet or cure-all for your issues, though. You will still need to take responsibility for your own behavior and actions.
Besides taking medication, what else could you do to help with the problems listed above?
How to know if your medication is working
Your medication is probably working if your parents or friends say that you’re getting better at paying attention, or that you’re acting better. But it’s best if you see positive changes in your behavior, too. Self-monitoring will help. Self-monitoring means paying attention to what you’re doing, and writing it down.
For example, you could:
·Keep a daily homework log, checking off each item as it’s done. Are you getting faster at finishing your work?
·Track how often you have angry outbursts or mood swings, if this has been a challenge in the past. If the medication is working well, then these issues should be less of a problem.
·Note how often you leave your seat when doing homework. Is it getting easier to stay focused, without needing to get up and do something else?
It’s also a good idea to keep track of how the medicine makes you feel each day.
·If your head and/or stomach hurts or feels strange.
·If the inside of your mouth feels very dry, very wet, or somewhere in-between.
·If your fingers feel very cold, very hot, or somewhere in the middle.
Share this information with your parents and doctor(s).
All of this record-keeping might seem like overkill – but if you really want to know if the medication is working, it’s worth the effort!
Discuss any changes that the medication has had so far, or (if you haven’t started taking it yet) what you think might happen.
How to talk with your doctor
As a teenager who cares about what happens to your body and your brain, you have the right to ask questions — and expect answers — about the care you’re getting.
Here are some tips to make the most of your medical appointments:
·If you have specific questions for your doctor, make a list and bring it with you. Remember: There are no stupid or embarrassing questions.
·You might want to take notes to help you remember what the doctor says, but pay attention: Don’t read or write text messages during the appointment. Turn off your cell phone, or set it on vibrate.
·Always ask your most important questions first.
·Tell your doctor if you’re using any natural supplements, herbs, or over-the-counter medicines. Some of them may not interact well with your ADHD medication.
·Be honest about how the medicine makes you feel. If one medication doesn’t work well, your doctor might be able to prescribe a different dose, or offer a totally different drug.
If any doctor is going to prescribe a new medication for you, for any reason, avoid drug interactions by telling the doctor that you’re taking a stimulant medication for ADHD.
Are you comfortable asking questions during doctor’s appointments? If not, why not? What would make it easier for you?
How to deal with medication side effects
Stimulant medications help reduce symptoms for 70-90% of people with ADHD; you might start to see changes after your first dose, or it may take up to a week. If there are no changes, your doctor may alter the dose, or try a different medicine.
During the first few weeks, you may have to deal with one or more side effects while your body gets used to the medication. Here are some ways to feel better – but remember, always speak with your doctor about any side effects that are bothering you.
·If you have a loss of appetite, poor appetite, or weight loss, then:
o Take your medication with food
o Have lots of healthy snacks – protein shakes and bars, or liquid meals like Instant Breakfast
·If you have headaches, then:
o Take your medication with food
o Ask your doctor about trying a longer-acting version of the drug, or switching to a different medication
·If you have trouble sleeping, then:
o Take your morning dose earlier in the day
o Don’t drink caffeinated sodas, coffee, or tea in the afternoon or evening
·If you find that you’re feeling irritable or moody, then:
o Write down the times when you feel bad, and speak with your doctor
Think of ways to keep track of side effects. What would work best? A calendar? A special chart?
How to handle talking about ADHD and your medication
Having ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of. But it’s not something that you have to talk about, either – even with your good friends. Why is that?
·Many people have their own ideas of what a person with ADHD is like. You could be labeled in a negative way, or teased by people who don’t understand your situation.
·If word gets around that you’re taking ADHD medication, some people may pressure you to share the medicine or sell it. Some may even try to steal it from you, or from your home. We’ll discuss this more in the next screen.
Should you talk about your diagnosis?
·You have the right to keep personal health issues private! Except for the people who care for you when your parents aren’t around, no one else has to know about your diagnosis or medication.
·You and your parents may wait to see if your teachers have noticed any changes in your work habits or behavior, before telling them about your medication.
·You might want to tell friends about your diagnosis, but not talk about the medication.
·If someone sees you taking medicine and asks what it is, you could say that you need to take something every day to stay healthy. Then change the subject.
Which people need to hear about your diagnosis and/or medication? Who already knows? What could you say to people who ask questions?
How ADHD medication is misused
ADHD medication is safe when it’s prescribed by a doctor, and when it’s used as it should be.
If it’s not used correctly, though, there are some serious health risks for the person taking it. And those risks go even higher when the drug is used in a way that puts it into the bloodstream quickly, such as snorting or injecting it.
What are some of the ways that ADHD medication could be used incorrectly?
·As a study aid
·To stay awake
·To control appetite and weight
·In an attempt to get high
Some of the very serious health risks of misusing ADHD medication include:
·An allergic reaction: Breathing problems, throat closure, hives, and/or swelling of the lips/tongue/face
·Very high blood pressure: may have blurred vision, bad headache
·A heart that beats too quickly or too slowly; chest pains, problems with blood circulation
·Psychotic episodes: losing contact with reality
You are responsible for keeping your medication out of anyone else’s hands. What are some ways to keep your prescription away from others?
How to handle friends who want your medication
Teens who take medication for their ADHD are sometimes asked (or pressured) to share or sell their pills. Letting other people use your medication could be dangerous.
That’s because this medication has been prescribed in a dose that’s right for you. It’s based on your size, weight, overall health, and any other types of medications that you may be taking. Your dose may not be safe for anyone else, even if they have ADHD. Think about this: How would you feel if you shared your pills with someone who had a bad reaction to taking them? Or took too many and ended up in the hospital?
Be safe from the start. If people pressure you:
·Say no, and mean it. If you give the same answer every time, they’ll stop asking.
·Explain that you don’t have enough to share. You can’t get refills for this drug in the same way that people can get “regular” refills.
·If your medication is locked up, then you don’t have access to it. Say so.
·Say that you don’t want to risk someone having a bad reaction with your pills. That person could go to the hospital, and you might have a trip to the police station.
·Don’t tell anyone how to fake ADHD symptoms. If they really needed the medication, they wouldn’t have to fake it.
·Tell an adult if someone bullies or threatens you to give away or sell your medication.
Think of situations where you might be asked to share your medication. Practice some realistic ways to say no.
How to store your medication safely
Your bottle of ADHD medication must never be left out in the open, or stored in a high-traffic area like the bathroom or kitchen; it could be stolen by friends, or by people who work in your home.
·Your medication must be kept locked up in a safe place, with your parents or guardian holding the key.
·While it might seem “child-like” for someone else to control and hand out your medication, it will actually take a burden off of your shoulders: You’ll be able to say that your doctor requires your parents to keep the medicine locked up, and you’re only able to get it from them when it’s needed.
If this medication ever has to be discarded, don’t flush it down the toilet, or put it into the trash where someone else could find it. Ask your pharmacist for the best way to get rid of any old ADHD medicine.
How do you feel about your parents holding on to your medication? Does it help your relationship, or cause problems? Why?
What do you think a teen’s responsibility is when it comes to using medication to help with ADHD?
How to stay legal
ADHD medication needs to be handled carefully – and not just for safety reasons. Your medication is a Schedule II controlled substance. It’s in the same legal category as cocaine and ecstasy. According to the law, ADHD medicines can only be prescribed and used in a certain way:
·Selling your prescription medication to someone else, or giving it away, is a very serious crime called diversion. If caught, you’d be considered the same as a drug dealer.
·If you’re found diverting drugs while at school or on the bus, you run the risk of being suspended or expelled. The police may be called, and you may face felony charges that could stay on your record.
·In many states, the person receiving your pill(s) is also committing a crime: Having a Schedule II drug in your possession without a prescription is a felony.
·Selling or giving away your medication – even a single pill – outside of school could lead to police involvement.
Stay safe – and legal:
·Learn your school’s policies about the proper way to handle your medication, and what would happen if you’re caught misusing or diverting your ADHD medicine at school or on the bus.
·Don’t put yourself at risk by making your meds available to other people.
What are your school’s policies about controlled substances? What do you think would happen if one of your friends told his parents (or the police) that he got this medication from you?
·U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://healthfinder.gov (search on “ADHD medication”)
·U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health: http://medlineplus.gov
·Attention Deficit Disorder Association: http://www.add.org