• Ask the Pediatrician

    Question: What are the pros and cons of discontinuing my child’s ADHD medication over the summer break, and the best way to restart when school begins?

    One of the challenges for parents of children on medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is whether to discontinue use during the summer when schools are not in session.

    There are pros and cons, and different options work best for different patients. But one thing is certain: stimulant medications (such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta) may be discontinued periodically, but non-stimulant medications (such as Intuniv and Strattera) should not be stopped suddenly, because they take longer to work and longer to leave the body. Talk to your doctor before adjusting any medication.

    If you decide to discontinue medication, keep in mind: restart at least a week before the first day of school, to monitor for side effects. Two major side effects of stimulant medications are a diminished appetite and increased trouble sleeping, so taking a “holiday” from medication can be beneficial. If you aren’t comfortable stopping medications for an entire summer, some families stop for weekends, or a holiday period, and that can be helpful as well.

    Remember, too, that ADHD symptoms affect more than just school performance and can cause impairment in everyday life. For many children, the best option is to keep taking their prescriptions consistently.

    Nick Deblasio, MD, works in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics.

  • More Information

    Nick Deblasio, MD, from the Division of General and Community Pediatrics.
    On finding the right prescription:
    Some families become frustrated in the beginning, and that’s understandable. It can sometimes take several months to find the right medication at the right dose. It really is a team effort between you, your child’s doctor and the school.

    On the question of stimulant vs. non-stimulant:
    Stimulant medications are more widely used than non-stimulant medications. The stimulants have a short half-life, and they go in and out of the system fairly quickly. Non-stimulant medications can take several weeks to reach a level in the body that is effective.

    Facts about ADHD medications:
    The primary symptoms of ADHD are difficulty paying attention, maintaining focus and hyperactivity, challenges that commonly arise in school. About 3.5 million US children age 6-12 take stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin and Vyvanse. That’s about five percent of the kids in that age group. About half-a-million take nonstimulant prescription drugs such as Intuniv, Kapvay, and Strattera.

    Source: National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD.