Treating Your Child

“I’m Sick of Taking Meds!”

If your teen forgets or resists medication, here’s how you can persuade him to stick with the program.

Teen boy with ADHD crouches on floor by wall frustrated by having to take medication
Teen boy with ADHD crouches on floor by wall frustrated by having to take medication

One of the problems with medication is that teenagers with ADHD don’t always remember to take it. As one psychiatrist said, “If a teen can remember to take his medicine consistently, he probably doesn’t have attention deficit.”

When our son, Alex, was in high school, he went through periods during which he stopped taking his medicine. His reasons varied: Sometimes he forgot, and other times he was frustrated by having to take medicine every day. Knowing that he could be impulsive and daring, we were worried until we got through those rough spots.

One thing we learned: Nagging your teen to take medication doesn’t work. Imagine an irritable women being asked by her husband, “Did you take your hormone pill today?” Many teenagers don’t mind taking their medication because they know that it helps them succeed in school, sharpens focus, and improves their driving skills. The big challenge is to make it a consistent thing. Here are some strategies that worked for us, and, I’m sure, will work for you.

[The Teens’ Guide to Making Meds Work]

Don’t assume the worst. “Medication refusal,” which sometimes occurs during adolescence, may be “medication forgetfulness.” If parents mistakenly assume the worst — that the teenager is willfully refusing to take the medication — it will set off a power struggle. A teen will tune you out or flush the pill down the toilet to get even.

Create a reminder system. We filled our son’s weekly medicine container and placed it by his breakfast plate. That way, we knew at a glance if he’d taken his medicine, and didn’t have to nag him about it. If he forgot, we handed him the container and said nothing. If we were away from home, we would text him a reminder.

Talk amongst yourselves. When Alex refused to take medication, we asked him why. We listened, discussed his concerns, and made adjustments. Sometimes giving him a sounding board was enough. When your teen ticks off his complaints about medication, you might say, “I know you get tired of taking it. It stinks that you need medicine every day. I know how you feel” — then give him a hug. “I’m in the same boat. I hate it that I have to take blood pressure medication all the time.”

Make your child an expert. Soon after Alex’s diagnosis, we educated him about medication and how it worked to improve his focus and impulsivity. He became an expert of sorts by participating in teen panel discussions about ADHD and medication. His expertise helped him understand how valuable meds were to his everyday success. Talk with your local CHADD group about setting up a teen panel on medication.

[Get Inside Your Teen’s Head]

Connect him with other teens who have ADHD. Getting advice directly from other teens with the same challenges helps. Alex and I created a DVD, called Real Life ADHD (available at and, in which teens explain that medication makes life easier. Emily explained, “My grades went from Ds to As and Bs when I started taking medicine.” Anthony adds that while “it stinks” to have to take meds, he couldn’t do college work without them. Max summed it up when he said, “Medicine brings out your whole potential.”

Go med-less for a while. On one occasion, when Alex was adamant about not taking medication, we permitted him to go med-less for a while. We said, “OK, Alex, we need to set up a scientific way to see how you do in school without meds. Let’s give it a six-week trial. You can tell us how you think you’re doing without medication in school each week. We’ll check with teachers for an update midway through the six weeks.” After a week, we asked Alex how things were going. He admitted that he was struggling and agreed to go back on medication.

Lay down the law. The rule in our house was: If you’re driving, you have to take medicine. It wasn’t negotiable. Without the benefit of medication, Alex was likely to have an accident.

Involve your doctor or treatment professional. If the family can’t resolve the medication problems, set up an appointment with your doctor or treatment professional to discuss solutions.

3 reviews

  1. My teen flat out refuses to take meds. We allowed him to fly solo for 5.5 months. His grades were poor, barely passed his classes, however, with the ODD and anxiety on top of the ADHD he’s so stubborn that he won’t admit meds help him and says the meds are toxic. He doesn’t care about his grades and truly believes he’s doing okay without meds. We’ve sat down and validated his concerns and assure him we wouldn’t do anything that hurts him, but he’s completely closed off. I used to leave his meds next to his breakfast and he’d tell me he took them but then I’d find it. Then I had to resort watching him take it, but then I began to find it in the toilet or in the sink – he’d stick it in his mouth, drink water and open up his mouth showing me the tab had gone but I later learned he’d pop the tab between his cheek and teeth so I wouldn’t see it then he’d spit it back out. He doesn’t believe he needs help.

  2. We are going through the same thing. We thought we finally had a combination of anxiety meds and adhd meds that worked. My son told us he felt better. He has never been good about taking them on his own though. We tried this past summer to get him to take ownership because he was going to college. Once at school he stopped taking them. Of course everything fell apart. He is back home. He says they don’t help. I can tell that he is depressed but he doesn’t see it. It is so frustrating and scary. I don’t know how to help him. The only thing I can do is not give him money. I can’t force him to do anything. I don’t know where to turn. When I saw your reply it was the first time I felt like I connected with someone who was in the same situation.

    1. This article offers further insights on this topic that you might find helpful:

      Also, a gap year between high school and college (or even two years) is often very helpful. ADHD is a developmental disability, so, while you son may be 18 and have a high school diploma, his day-to-day functioning on his own may be more like that of a 13-15 year old in many aspects. Gap years allow time for kids with delays to catch up a bit more to the expectations of college.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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