“Meds Make Me Feel Weird!?”

Many young adults feel different when taking ADHD medication, and not always in a good way! Our expert explains how to find the right treatment plan.

A young woman with ADHD after a neurofeedback session
Woman with ADHD wearing hoodie and leaning against wall staring into space

I’m a senior in high school with ADHD. I know lots of people who take ADHD medication. I know some kids who take medication who don’t have ADHD. When I take it the way my doctor prescribes, it makes me feel weird. I don’t feel like myself. That’s a high price to pay. On the other hand, I can’t handle the college prep curriculum-much less college-without it. I’m considering joining the Marines instead. Any advice?

Heather: Feeling weird on ADHD medication so you can succeed in class is a high price to pay. However, that price doesn’t have to affect your whole life.

The smartest thing I did after being diagnosed with ADHD was to continue to see a therapist, so I could understand the nuts and bolts of how my ADHD brain works. That decision allowed me to function better when I wasn’t on medication. When I knew how my brain is wired, it made it easier for me to keep my symptoms from getting in the way of success. For example, if you know you’re forgetful, make a plan for keeping track of things, such as writing everything down and keeping it in sight, or keep a list on your phone where you’ll see and remember it. Doing simple things like this to manage your ADHD makes it easier to function when you’re off meds.

Therapy also helped me cope with med management. A therapist who is trained in managing ADHD knows how stimulants affect your day-to-day life. She can help you learn to be a good consumer of them. If meds make you feel weird, you may need a change in your dose or in the type of ADHD stimulant you take. Not all ADHD medications affect everyone in the same way. It took me a lot of trial and error to get my med dosage right. I couldn’t have done it without my therapist.

Don’t give up on college if it’s something you want. ADHD medication makes you feel different. Work on understanding yourself and your ADHD more. You’ll see a world of difference.

Wes: I gave Heather the writing assignment above during her college winter break, which doubles as a medication break for her and many students with ADHD. A week later, I checked in with Heather. She’d forgotten all about the assignment. She’s a sharp young woman and conscientious, so she apologized. The next day she went to work on it. At 10:30 a.m., she messaged me to say she couldn’t think of anything to say. I noted that she should have a lot to say about this topic, particularly now that she missed the deadline. At noon, she said she was considering joining the Marines. I said that while I had great respect for The Corps, this seemed a drastic step to take to avoid a writing assignment.

At 3:30 p.m., Heather sent what she’d written so far. It said, “The smartest thing I did after being diagnosed with ADHD was…” I suggested that the smartest thing she could do right now was go back on meds for a few days, so we could meet our deadline. The next day, she not so magically wrote a fine article.

Heather’s story illustrates the predicament you’re in right now. Meds might make the difference between handling college some day and doing something else with your life. While there are exceptions, many with ADHD who take stimulants feel like they’re different people, and that’s not always a positive thing. So, my first suggestion is to figure out who you really are. Are you that “off-meds person” who can’t focus or get anything done? Or is that just who you grew up to be, minus the correct brain chemistry?

As you think this through, consider how perspective and attitude affect everything you do, including medication outcomes. Some people take stimulants and exclaim, “OMG. Is this how other people think?” Others complain, “I don’t like how it makes me feel. I feel like a zombie. I just sit there and read a book.” One person’s liberation from the fog of ADHD is another person’s inhibition from unbridled creativity.

For example, most of us do not call sitting there reading a book “zombified.” We call it studying. If you prefer being “up,” fun, or hyper over being studious, then you’ll associate focus with having your brain eaten away. If you value learning and education over being carefree, you’ll take the hit of feeling subdued along with the benefit of concentration.

You’re not alone in this struggle. I find that most people who need to be on stimulants have a love-hate relationship with them. That’s why it boggles my mind (and many of my ADHD clients’ minds) as to why anyone would use stimulants recreationally or as study drugs. The benefits don’t outweigh the consequences. If you’re correctly diagnosed, however, the cost-benefit analysis probably runs the other way. While I’m all for serving our country, and the Marines have worked out well for many young people, you shouldn’t join just to avoid the discomforts of managing your ADHD.

4 reviews

  1. I can’t second their opinion enough. I was diagnosed at 6 yrs old in 1978. Years of drinking black coffee until middle school when I found out it was quicker just to get it done along with strict routine had me turning around my grades from C’s & D’s to straight A’s but constantly getting in trouble for making noise while concentrating. Lol. I graduated Valedictorian with a full scholarship to college. In 1990 the prevalent thought HAD been that you outgrew ADHD. I graduated, married and started attending college in 1990.

    After 3 attempts to finish a college degree, changibg my degree choice 4 times, divorcing, and finally ended up driving truck (which was on my list of things to do, but was only supposed to be long enough to save money for college, lol). I have been in trucking since 1999. With two stints in the office. Each time I worked in the office the negative aspects of my ADHD reared its’ ugly head. I began to put two and two together. My special “superpower” didn’t always work to my advantage.

    I kind of always joked about my ADHD, but was never able to try ADHD medication besides caffeine, which usually helped most of the time. Either cost or because as a truck driver, I couldn’t take it and drive legally even with a prescription.

    At 42, I had been in the office for two years and had started to have issues again. So I went thru the ridiculously stringent requirements of getting diagnosed and getting medication, Adderall in this case.

    At first it made me so sleepy. Thru research I found I was either over or under medicated. After resting, we found the perfect dosage that didn’t make me sleepy. And I didn’t want to take anymore than I needed as this stuff was freaking expensive even with insurance. I felt I lost my “superpower”. But the transitioning from task to task and reverting back to a previous task was soooo much easier. Unfortunately, I hated the feeling of losing my “superpower”, but it helped so much. Unfortunately, my insurance began refusing to pay for my medication. I can say that while I understand your feelings, look at how my life has turned out because of lack of treatment. Military is a great way to go for people with ADHD. But if you have the apptitude for college, something in a field that actually pays, like sciences, computer, medical, engineering, then go for college. If you’re thinking of Arts or Education or Business, then I wouldn’t waste my time. The dividend college pays doesn’t seem to be there right now. I work with people in the same deadend job with Arts, Business, Music and Graphic Design degrees. I never finished my degree. The military often teaches you how to structure your time and life.

    I say all of this to point out exactly what they said… learn from a life time of failed attempts at college. At a continous struggle in my current field. I wish I had received treatment early on other than caffeine. Lol. I might have finished a degree. Learn from my mistakes, take the time to find a medication that works and evaluate how it affects you just like they did above. Good luck!

  2. Regarding the military’s acceptance of recruits with ‘imperfect’ wiring (please tell me what ‘perfect’wiring is?)… Son #1 trained hard for MONTHS with his recruiter, but when exam day came and he told the truth–against his recruiter’s advice–about a very brief treatment for depression, he was immediately shown the door. And I do mean IMMEDIATELY. No explanations necessary. He was heartbroken, and so were we. Son #2 also went against the advice of his recruiter when his exam day came, and didnt hide a scar from a single idiotic adolescent episode of anger when he was upset with me one day. He was NOT a habitual self-harmer. Again, out on his can–immediately. Had both of them lied as encouraged, they would have both been in, no problem. Just want all to know that it seems many factors play into one’s acceptance into the military: its need, physical AND mental health backgrounds, and whether or not one is willing to tell half-truths to get past exams. Our country (while our family still loves it, of course) missed out on two honest, well-adjusted, butt-busting young men who would have served honorably. I’m just saying, if a kid even MIGHT consider the military, parents may have to make some difficult decisions FOR their kids until those kids are old enough to understand the possible consequences of treatment that really helps them in daily life. All things came together for their good, but those were a couple of very disappointed young men for quite some time. Diagnoses and treatments: proceed with caution and an eye on the future.

Leave a Reply