Ask the Experts

Q: My Oppositional Tween Refuses His ADHD Medication!

A child with ADHD who is also oppositional and defiant may refuse to take his ADHD medication. Without treatment, his behavior will only worsen and tear apart the family. But how can a parent effectively enforce treatment rules when the adolescent is verbally and physically abusive?

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Q: “My 12-year-old son is verbally abusive and physically violent with our family. He has been this way for years. Is this part of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) or something more? He has seen many doctors and therapists, and they can’t decide what is wrong or how to help. He refuses ADHD medication and doesn’t care about consequences. He shows no empathy or perspective about how he treats us, and we are so torn apart. What will help him to be kind and happy? We don’t know what to do!”

A: “There are some things in life you have a choice about. Taking ADHD medication is not one of those. That said, sit down with your son and talk to him about his concerns regarding medication. If he has a valid reason, then say, ‘Let’s talk about it with your doctor to find solutions, but not taking medication is not a choice…'”

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Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the facilitator of the ADHD Dude Facebook Group and YouTube channel. Ryan specializes in working with males (ages 5-22) who present with ADHD, anxiety with ADHD, and learning differences; he is the one professional in the United States who specializes in teaching social cognitive skills to boys from a male perspective.

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Updated on August 16, 2019

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  1. I have a son with ADHD who at various points refused medication. It’s very hard to force a 12-year-old to take medication. But what I found worked was asking him his concerns about the medication. For example, as he got to be a teenager he became more embarrassed about having to go to the nurse’s office to take his second dose of medication. We were able to change to a long acting dose so he only had to take one in the morning before school. It’s so important at this age to get their buy-in to taking it. That happens best when they are more self-aware and understanding about its benefits. I found that by showing a lot of empathy and a true willingness to listen to his concerns, he became much more invested and willing to take it. There is a great book by Dr. Ross Greene called the Explosive Child which was very instrumental in helping me understand how to approach these and other issues.

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