Ask the Experts

Taking the Treatment Reins in High School

Three ways teens with ADHD can master the challenges of medication in high school.

Mother helping her teenage daughter take responsibility for her own ADHD medication at a pharmacy
Mother helping her teenage daughter take responsibility for her own ADHD medication at a pharmacy

No one likes being “different,” particularly as teens, when fitting in is important. That’s why many students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) decide to discontinue the ADHD medication they took as a child.

But contrary to popular belief, ADHD doesn’t usually go away with age. Stopping medication could make your differences stand out more and lead to social disaster.

Here are better ways to deal with the challenges posed by your ADHD.

“I’m embarrassed that everyone knows I have ADHD and take medication. If don’t take medication, no one has to know I have it.”

As a teen, having ADHD is your business, and whom you choose to share this information with is your decision. Talk to your parents about an action plan to minimize your feelings of embarrassment. There are now once-a-day medications that mean you don’t have to go to the school nurse for a midday dose.

If you have an insensitive teacher, talk to him or her about respecting your medical privacy. If you visit a friend, take responsibility for your own medication so others won’t have to know you take it.

[Make Your Teen the CEO of His Treatment Plan]

“When I take my medication I’m never hungry, so I’m a lot smaller than everyone else my age.”

To put on weight and muscle, create “windows of opportunity.” Try to eat a huge breakfast before your first dose in the morning. Make it a hamburger or pizza if you want; there’s no law that breakfast has to be cereal and toast.

Accept that you may not be hungry at lunch. Try eating small amounts of high calorie foods such as cheese, peanut butter or ice cream.

Time your medication so that it wears off between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. Your appetite should return and you can enjoy a hearty dinner, even though you may not be able to do your homework at this time. Take your final dose after dinner if you need it to concentrate. If this timing isn’t practical, ask your parents to excuse you from eating and save your plate for later, when your medication wears off.

Some kids make smoothies using high calorie food supplements such as Ensure. Add your own ingredients — ice cream, milk, fruit and flavorings.

[Free Download: ADHD-Friendly (and Delicious) Meals]

If you still cannot gain weight, discuss with your doctor the possibility of switching to another medication that does not affect appetite. In any event, don’t worry. While medication may slow your growth somewhat, studies show it has little or no effect on your ultimate height.

“Some of my friends drink beer and smoke pot. I don’t want them to think I’m uncool. Is just a little okay?”

Sorry, but it’s not okay. Besides being illegal, drugs and alcohol don’t mix well with ADHD medications. Even if you don’t take medication, drugs and alcohol can worsen your ADHD symptoms, which can make you a social outcast. If you’ve already got problems controlling your impulses and your social interactions, what’s going to happen when drugs and alcohol take away whatever restraint you have?

That said, let’s get real. If you find yourself in a social situation where you think you may be drinking, make sure your medication is not in effect. If it is, be forewarned that you may experience a greater “high” or “buzz” than expected. Use less.

Regular use of alcohol and drugs with ADHD medications can lead to serious problems. As a teenager, only you can decide whether to step into adult shoes and do the mature and responsible thing. Take it slow or better still, don’t drink and don’t use illegal drugs.

[Dangerous Cocktail: ADHD Medication and Alcohol]