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Is Your Child Ready to Stop Taking ADHD Meds?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on March 29, 2021

Stimulant and nonstimulant medications are the main treatments for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). They can improve attention, impulsive behaviors, and hyperactivity.

Some kids need to stay on ADHD meds until adulthood. Others outgrow their symptoms or learn to compensate for them as their brain matures. At some point, your child may be ready to stop taking these medications.

If you feel that time may be now, don't do it on your own. Ask your child's doctor for advice on when to stop their meds and how to do it safely.

Is It the Right Time to Stop?

The decision to stop ADHD medications is a personal one. The right time is different for each child.

Here are a few reasons to consider taking your child off their medicine.

They've grown out of ADHD. One of the main reasons to stop is if your child no longer has symptoms. About one-third of those who get an ADHD diagnosis as children don't have any symptoms by the time they reach their teens.

It might be time to stop the meds if:

  • Your child has been symptom-free for more than a year while on medication.
  • Their symptoms have improved without a dose increase.
  • They missed a few doses but didn't have any symptoms.

The medicine isn't helping. It doesn't make sense to stay on a medication that isn't working. Just make sure you've given it enough time. Some ADHD drugs take a few weeks or months to get to work. Before you stop it entirely, you might want to adjust the dose (with your doctor's help). If your child has been on a medicine for months without results and you've tried a dose change, then it may be time to stop or switch to something else.

Your child needs a refresh. If your child is struggling with intense ADHD symptoms, the doctor might take them off all medications to figure out what's causing the symptoms and whether the medicine might be to blame.

How to Stop ADHD Meds Safely

Stopping an ADHD medication is a process, just like starting it was. Over time, your child's brain adapts to the medication. It can take time to adjust to being off the drug.

Choose a time when your child's situation is stable. It's not a good idea to go off ADHD medications during a period of change, such as during a move to a new home or while switching schools.

Check with your child's doctor before you make any changes to their medication. Your doctor will give you a schedule for tapering off the medicine safely. Only take your child off of one ADHD drug at a time.

The best way to stop depends on the type of medication. Stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) are short-acting. They're out of your child's body within a few hours. Your child can just stop taking them without problems.

The effects of nonstimulant drugs such as antidepressants last longer in a child's body. Stopping them too quickly can sometimes lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, dizziness, and headaches.

Watch for Symptoms

Once your child is off the medication, watch their symptoms for a week. Ask their teacher and any other caregivers, such as babysitters, to also watch and take notes.

At the end of 1 week, share these notes with your child's doctor. If your child seems to be doing well off the drug and their symptoms haven't returned, try another week. Continue to write down any symptoms. After a few weeks, you and the doctor should be more confident about whether your child can stay off the drug or if they need to go back on it.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: "Frequently Asked Questions."

CDC: "Treatment of ADHD."

CHADD: "Discontinuing ADHD Meds."

Child Mind Institute: "Can You Grow Out of ADHD?" "How to Take Kids Off Medication."

Cleveland Clinic: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy."

European Neuropsychopharmacology: "To stop or not to stop? How long should medication treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder be extended?"

Mayo Clinic: "Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?"

TeensHealth: "ADHD Medications."

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