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Our Teen Is Resisting ADHD Medication. Any Advice?

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Updated June 22, 2012

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Question: Our Teen Is Resisting ADHD Medication. Any Advice?
“My teenage son has been diagnosed with ADHD. We have gone through parenting classes and some counseling. The doctor is recommending a trial of stimulant medication, but my son doesn’t want to take drugs. I think he is more embarrassed about having to take them than anything else. My husband and I are at our wits' end. We don’t want our son to continue to go downhill. He is a very good boy and we think medicine may help, but we don’t want to force him to take it if he doesn’t want to.”
--About.com User
Answer:

Adolescence is a tough time, and it can be even more difficult to be a teen with ADHD, especially if the condition is untreated. Your son may still be adjusting to his diagnosis and trying to sort out what it all means. One of the most important things you can do right now is to provide your son with accurate information about ADHD and how it affects his behavior.

Talk with his doctor and set up times to meet together so you can both ask questions and learn more about ADHD. Ask for book recommendations. Search through reputable websites and learn all you can together as a family. It is very important for teens to be active in – and supportive of - their own treatment plan.

It may also be helpful for your son to learn more about how ADHD medication works. Stimulant medications “stimulate” and increase the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that help an individual concentrate, plan, organize thoughts, remember information, and control impulses.

Dr. Russell Barkley, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, as well as an internationally recognized authority on ADHD in children and adults, explains that the condition is akin to having too little brake fluid in your car; when you press the brake pedal, you can’t stop. He says that when an idea to do something pops into the head of a person with ADHD, he or she can’t stop and consider whether it is good or bad before they do it, because the chemicals that control those impulses aren’t working properly. Stimulant medications work to help increase the availability of these neurotransmitters.

Your son may be experiencing a wide range of emotions about ADHD medication. Give him a safe place to share his thoughts and concerns. Listen, reflect upon, and respect his feelings. Medication is not a “cure all” for ADHD. Treatment for ADHD involves several components, but medication is often an essential part of the plan for many individuals with ADHD. The more your son understands about the medication, the more informed a decision he can make and the more comfortable he may be in trying it.

The good news is that your son has been properly diagnosed and can now move forward to put strategies in place that will help him succeed. He can learn to cope and compensate for his areas of weakness, and by doing this he will be better able to nurture and develop his areas of strength. Frame things in a positive way for him. With treatment and an understanding about ADHD, life can finally begin to feel happier and under better control.

Sources:

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS. Teenagers with ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Woodbine House. 2006.

Russell Barkley, PhD. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment. Guilford Press. 2006.

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