ADHD recent studies have focused on how adolescents perceive their taking of ADHD meds and how they react to them.

These will provide a useful insight and help us to adopt useful strategies in helping teens come to terms with their ADHD. 

One of these studies which was recently reported in the Journal of Attention Disorders provides a fascinating insight into the world of teen perceptions and expectations. Although the study was a small one with less than 200 participants, I still feel that it can be useful in providing us with some ideas for the way forward. 

Ask any ADHD teen…. 

Ask any teen about taking their ADHD meds and they are likely to be concerned with losing their personality and part of their self. Most will be able to benefit from improved concentration and focus but that is usually as far as their positive expectations will go. 

The study asked all the subjects (two thirds of them were males) and who were all college students about how they had fared with the ADHD psychostimulant drugs. They had all been on these for several years. 

Vital feedback on the effects of ADHD meds 

The study asked for their feedback in four main areas. 

  • How they had fared academically? Had they noticed better grades and were they able to focus better on tasks?
  • Did they feel better equipped socially?  Had they noticed that their social relations with peers were facilitated and that they felt more at ease on social occasions?
  • Did they feel that a part of their personality had been removed and that they felt less artistic less relaxed and that their character had irrevocably changed?
  • What were the most common side effects of the drugs?  Did they interfere with appetite, sleep and did they feel more anxious? 

Why they stopped taking meds and their reactions 

When this group who had stopped using the drugs was compared to those who were still on medication, the following patterns emerged. Those who had stopped were :- 

  • Generally convinced that the drugs helped them in their studies although they were still sceptical that their academic performance had improved overall.
  • They were not really convinced that they had been helped socially
  • A sizeable proportion (about 40%)  really believed that their personalities had been negatively affected
  • There was no difference in the accounts of the side effects by both groups. Both were very consistent in their reporting of these. 

As regards their overall impression of stimulant drugs, they had a negative attitude in general. 

Other ADHD studies 

In other ADHD recent studies, it was revealed that the average amount of time on these drugs is about three years. Now this is good news in a way because it means that children and adolescents manage to get off them but with what results? Are the successful and are they able to benefit from alternative treatment?  That is really the sixty thousand dollar question! 

On the other hand, this is bad news in that three years is never long enough to assess the long term effects of these drugs. That may be one reason why these statistics are not available. There are other reasons too but I cannot go into them here. 

What are the useful strategies we can learn from these studies? 

We can make sure that teens are fully involved in any decisions about continuing or not with their meds. This is the age where appropriate decisions can be taken by themselves and their parents. This will be part of the maturing process.

The following useful strategies can be tried :- 

  1. If you teen is doing really well, ask him or her how she feels and would they like to stop taking their meds? If, on the other hand, there are troublesome side effects, you may ask your teen and your doctor what an alternative med and/or dosage could be.
  2. Talk to your teen and stress that meds are not a cure for ADHD. Tell him about all the other ways that can help him cope. You could have a frank talk about school, diet, sports, house rules and so on.
  3. Make sure your teen is involved in all decisions and that includes setting limits and discussing, rather than imposing the consequences and withdrawal of privileges if she or he happens to ignore them.
  4. Talk about routines and forgetting things. Try out various strategies so that post its and notices on the notice board might actually help. See what works and ask your teen for feedback on the getting up routine, breakfast and getting out of the house.
  5. Your teen probably thinks that he is the subject of far too much attention at home and at school and the stigma of having to take meds is really getting to him. He wants to be a normal kid and is subject to peer pressure like every teen.
  6. Talk about having regular checkups with your doctor and psychiatrist and make sure that the visit is a three way discussion so that your teen is as fully involved as he can be. There may be troublesome side effects and these should be discussed openly.   
  7. Anxiety is often not mentioned as one of the side effects of these meds yet it is very common. I do not know why that is. Your teen might be very relieved to get off the meds.  But then he has to weigh that against being distracted, forgetful and impulsive. On the other hand, he or she may be sufficiently mature to learn a few coping skills for these problems.
  8. Talk openly about alternative treatments and stress that there is no magic cure but many of the herbal and homeopathic remedies are totally free of side effects and that could be very appealing. There is absolutely no harm in trying and the teen should be actively involved in monitoring his progress. I would say that feedback is absolutely essential here and your teen may well feel that he is more comfortable using these. 

There is no easy answer from ADHD recent studies but the loving and open support from parents is absolutely essential in helping your teen learn to manage his or her ADHD.

We are there to help them fill in all the gaps left by meds and therapy! 

Robert Locke is an award winning author and has written extensively on ADHD and related child health problems. You can visit this page on ADHD natural treatment to find out more.

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