Should Your Child Take a Summer Vacation from ADHD Medications?

For children, summer usually means time off from homework, school schedules, and many of the demands of their busy lives, but for kids who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), should it mean time off from their ADHD medications, too?

The answer may vary depending on your child’s particular situation, but for many kids with ADHD, doctors don’t think it’s a good idea. ADHD medicines have been shown to be safe for children, they say,  and can be very effective at helping control symptoms including problems paying attention, social behavior issues, and acting impulsively. Still, parents often feel concerned about “drugging” their children and when summer rolls around, they look at it as an opportunity to take a break and assess their children’s condition and behavior without the influence of medication.

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“Many parents raise the question about whether their child should continue taking medication through the summer,” says Kimberly Giuliano, M.D., pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s who specializes in treating kids who have ADHD. “Some parents feel that their children ‘only have problems at school’ or that they ‘can handle the problems at home without medication.’”

Reducing side effects is often a motivation. “Some parents may accept certain side effects during the school year because they feel the benefits outweigh the side effects, but during the summer months, this balance shifts,” says Dr. Giuliano. Although common side effects children who take ADHD medications experience are insomnia and appetite suppression, Giuliano notes that “most appetite suppression caused by ADHD medications is not enough to affect a child’s growth.”

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There are a few studies looking at “drug holidays” in children who take ADHD medications. In one small study, researchers in the Netherlands found that about two-thirds of parents routinely didn’t give their children ADHD medications on weekends or during holidays. In another study, researchers in Brazil studied families in which children with ADHD took the medication methylphenidate (in Ritalin, Metadate and other ADHD drugs) only during the school week, not on the weekends. They found that side effects such as appetite suppression and insomnia improved on the weekend without increasing ADHD symptoms when the children returned to school and resumed taking their medications on Monday.

However, many doctors note that children with ADHD who take medication consistently all year-long reap better results than children who experience interruptions in their medicine taking. ADHD symptoms can affect many life situations outside of the classroom as well as inside. “In general, a stimulant vacation is not advisable,” says Dr. Giuliano. “Children learn in a variety of settings aside from school. Learning to follow directions and attend to conversations is important in extracurricular activities, peer socialization and family dynamics. Children learn these skills best with consistent use of their medicine. Frequent reminders or impaired interactions with family and friends can lead to lower self-esteem.”

And then there’s safety. “Summer is a time when injuries are more common for all children. Since children with ADHD are more impulsive when they are off their medicine, they are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors that can lead to injury.”

The severity of your child’s ADHD symptoms, and the type of symptoms your child experiences most are also factors to consider when deciding whether or not taking a “drug holiday” during the summer is right for your child. The best advice? Talk to your child’s doctor before taking her off ADHD medications for the summer and decide together whether a medication-free summer is right for your child.


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Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.