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ADHD Drug Holidays: Should Your Kid Take One?

Drug Holidays: What to Expect

There aren't good studies that tell how many children stop and start their medications. But of those kids who do, up to one-third "do OK with a drug holiday," Vitiello says.

You may be part of the majority of parents who notice an immediate change in your child when he's taking a break from his stimulant ADHD medication.

Pam Feldman, a social worker who lives in Ferndale, MI, twice forgot to give her 9-year-old son his dose of stimulant medication. Mere hours after he left the house, she got calls from teachers and a camp director asking her to pick him up or otherwise get him under control.

The experience forced Feldman to set up a system where her son can't miss his pill in the morning -- it's there, in his orange juice cup.

"I learned my lesson, and now I'm afraid to not have him on it," she says.

Yet Feldman says she still halves his dose on the weekends. Why? Because she fears that she is seeing him only when he's on his medications and that he won't learn to control his behaviors without them.

"It's my fear of medicating him too much. Part of impulsivity is sensory overload; at home, when it's just us, he doesn't have that. From 3:30 to 5:30 on, it's just him," she says.

ADHD Drugs, Weight Loss, and Growth

Stimulants tend to curb the appetite in many children, and studies have shown that while on medication, boys' growth slows by about half an inch a year -- during the first 2 years of treatment. Their growth after that does not seem to be affected, and in some cases catches up, even if they continue taking the meds.

"It's not all kids who don't grow. But if you look at the average, it lasts about a year or 2. The effects haven't been seen on long-term growth," Wolraich says. "That's why we recommend monitoring height and weight. If there is a decrease in growth, it's something being followed closely.''

Why stimulants delay growth is unknown, Vitiello says. It isn't only because of a loss of appetite, but also may be due to changes in levels of the hormone testosterone.

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