Should Your Child Take an ADHD Medication Break?

Most kids who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) take medication to manage their symptoms. You may have heard that there are benefits of taking breaks from the medicine. It may be a good idea for some kids, but talk with the doctor about what’s right for your child. Keep these things in mind before making the decision.

The Pros

  • A medication break can ease side effects. A lack of appetite, weight loss, sleep troubles, headaches, and stomach pain are common side effects of ADHD medication.
  • It may boost your child’s growth. Some ADHD medications can slow a child’s growth in height, especially during the first 2 years of taking it. While height delays are temporary and kids typically catch up later, going off medication may lead to fewer growth delays.
  • It won’t hurt your child. Taking a child off ADHD medication may cause their ADHD symptoms to reappear. But it won’t make them sick or cause other side effects.
  • It can be a chance to see if other treatments will work alone. For some children, talk therapy or neurofeedback may work as well as medication. If your child isn’t taking medication, it’s easier to tell if another treatment is working.
  • It can help your doctor find out if your child’s symptoms are changing. For many kids, ADHD symptoms (especially hyperactivity) lessen over time. Sometimes they even go away completely. It may be easier to determine how severe their symptoms are when they're not taking medication.

The Cons

  • It may make your child’s ADHD symptoms reappear or get worse. Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention may become problems again within a day or 2 of stopping medication.
  • You’ll need to be extra attentive. Medication helps kids with ADHD pay attention during tough tasks like driving. It may even lower the chances that your child will do risky things, like smoke and drink. You should be prepared to watch your child more than usual during a medication break.
  • It might take a while for your child’s medication to work again. Some nonstimulant medications take several days or even weeks to work the way they’re supposed to.

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Signs Your Child Might Be Ready for a Break

Your child may be ready if:

  • They've been symptom-free for more than a year while on medication.
  • Their symptoms were not a big problem when they forgot a dose or two of medication.
  • They seem to be concentrating better than ever.

Keep in Mind

You should never stop or change your child’s medication without talkintg to their doctor first. It’s a good idea to discuss the medication break with their teachers, too. You’ll want to make sure they understand what your child is going through and will tell you if their behavior changes.

Weekends, holidays, summer vacations, and other “slow times” are the best time to take a medication break. That way, if your child is struggling with their symptoms, it won’t affect their schoolwork. You may also have more time to pay attention to how they're doing and help them

Taking a break from medication isn’t the only option. Your doctor may recommend lowering your child’s dosage, switching to the shorter acting form, or trying another medication instead.

If you decide that they should take a break from all medications, other treatments, like talk therapy or neurofeedback, can help them manage their symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 12, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Chorniy, A. Labour Economics, July 2016.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and

American Psychiatric Association: “ADHD: Parents Medication Guide.”

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: “ADHD: Frequently Asked Questions.”

Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, adjunct assistant professor, Florida Atlantic University; sub-investigator, Clinical Research Studies, Florida Atlantic University Schmidt College of Medicine, Boca Raton, FL.

Naomi Steiner, MD, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, Boston Medical Center.

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