30 days or 30 years? How Long People with ADD Should Take Medication

image via Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

image via Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

People with ADD show a great deal of variability in the length of time that they require medication as an aid to control weak attention. Because ADD is a biologically-based, constitutional problem that people do not out grow, some individuals require use of the medication for a lifetime.

Fifteen years ago, I more was more optimistic about helping individuals get to the place where they could be independent of the medication. With lots more experience, I now know that independence from medication is the exception rather than the rule.

Over the years, I have become particularly cautious about my patients’ being off medication when I know they will be behind the wheel of a car or in social situations where their decision-making has potentially serious ramifications.

When we look closely at all areas of life functioning, more than 75% of my patients continue to demonstrate a need for the aid of medication in adult life.

Pre-Requisites for Going Off ADD Medications

Some individuals do reach a point where they can “do it on their own” for varying periods of time. I have found that the key pre-requisites for a patient’s getting to this place include:

  • a firmly established balanced healthy daily routines
  • a keen awareness of what his problems are and how to control them, and
  • an ability to see at risk situations in advance and make the necessary adjustments.

My patients who are most likely to meet these pre-requisites generally have:

  • ADD that is moderate in its severity
  • a number of strengths that can be mobilized to compensate for attentional weaknesses, and
  • a history of close involvement with professionals

The Benefits of a Great Support Team

image via Flickr, Bruce McKay

image via Flickr, Bruce McKay

Additionally, my most successful patients who tackle ADD challenges without medication usually fully accept their differences, are highly motivated, and are surrounded by supportive family members, friends, teachers, and others.

The shortest period of time a person I have treated has needed the assistance of the medication has been three months. More commonly, individuals with ADD require medication for at least several years before they are able to function effectively without it at least for a brief period of time.

How We Transition Patients Off Medication

In my practice, when a patient appears to be ready for an extended trial off of medication based upon parent, spouse, teacher and other feedback, I have him stop medication for a couple of days and come into the office where we determine via testing and structured observation his readiness to discontinue the medication.

When everything suggests that he will be successful off medication, I have him remain off the medication for an additional 1-2 weeks. For the patient who is in school we notify teachers of the plan. I then have the patient come back to the office in two weeks to assess how he has performed day in and day out off of the medication. When he has done well, I see him monthly for six months, then quarterly.

Don’t Hesitate to Resume Medication When Needed!

Whenever I see signs of increased attentional problems that result in a significant life dysfunction, I resume the medication.  I’ve outlined my thoughts on a successful medication experience in 7 Keys to Successful (and Safe) Medication Treatment for ADD.


Dr. Liden’s clinic, The Being Well Center, offers free resources for people working through the challenges of living with ADD, both on medication and off.  Don’t miss the BWC resources page for free downloads and ideas that could help you or a friend today!

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

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