One topic that I’ve given a lot of thought to is whether or not my kids should have a drug holiday over summer vacation. According to Wikipedia, a drug holiday is not a modern version of Woodstock, but rather when “a patient stops taking a medication(s) for a period of time; anywhere from a few days to many months or even years if they feel it is in their best interests”.
If you’re considering whether or not to give your child her ADHD meds during summer, vacation, you’ll have to weigh pros and cons and decide if it’s right for your child. For example, medications can help your child succeed not only in school but also in social settings with peers, such as team sports, music or dance classes, church, and at home. For our family, Snix and Dude take medication to help ensure their safety (more on that in a minute). Understood.org has a good article on medication vacations. Don’t forget to talk to her prescriber to see if a medication holiday is appropriate and if so, how to begin it.
In some cases, it’s made sense for one of my boys to stop taking meds over the summer, and in other cases, it hasn’t. In my research, here are some things we consider any time we’re thinking of giving the kids a break from their meds.
- Obviously, when a child goes off her ADHD meds, her ADHD symptoms reappear. That’s a no-brainer, but it has to be said.
This summer, we could have taken Snix and Dude off their meds; however, their symptoms are so severe that their safety (and my sanity) depends on it. Yesterday for example, they both ran out in front of a car in a parking lot. Luckily the driver was paying attention and was able to stop, but it could have been much different an ending. Safety issues like this are why the two of them take their meds to start with, and those issues don’t end when summer break begins. So a medication holiday is not an option for them.
- Self-Esteem considerations are important, too.
The understood.org article doesn’t mention the effects on one’s self-esteem that the drug holiday can have on a child. When the child stops taking his ADHD meds, he may likely get into trouble more often, and we all know that getting in trouble a lot can have a negative effect on one’s self-esteem. Regardless of their planned activities over the summer, it’s important to consider that effect, too.
- What side effects are bothering my child?
Verywellmind.com reminds us to consider the side effects.
Appetite problems and poor weight gain can be big problems for some children taking stimulants. If his medication is working very well for him otherwise, not taking it on weekends can be a good idea so that he does eat better at those times.
On the other hand, some children do have more side effects on Mondays after being off their stimulant for the weekend, as they get ‘used’ to it again, so be on the watch for that.
Between 4th and 5th grade, Buddy was on both a stimulant and a non-stimulant. He was too skinny and not growing taller as he should have been, and the stimulant was suppressing his appetite. After discussing it with his pediatrician, we decided to give him a medication vacation over summer break. He stayed on the non-stimulant but we slowly lowered his stimulant dose until he was no longer taking any. That summer, he grew taller and was able to put on some weight, something he’s struggled with since he was a toddler. For Buddy, it made sense, and paid off.
- A drug holiday can let you judge how effective the medication is, after having used it for some time.
Wikipedia also explains that another reason for drug holidays is “to permit a drug to regain effectiveness after a period of continuous use, and to reduce the tolerance effect that may require increased dosages.” The summer we took Buddy off his stimulant, we realized the non-stimulant managed his symptoms just fine. He started the next school year on only non-stimulant and was able to complete his work and participate in class, without his grades suffering. To this day, he takes the stimulants only on rare occasions or if we forget to give him the non-stimulant.
So, as you may have guessed, there is no right or wrong answer when deciding whether or not your child should teak a break from his medication. But think about WHY he’s taking it. Is it only to be able to focus in school? Does ADHD effect his relationships with family and friends? Will a lack of impulse control put him/his safety at risk? Is he experiencing any detrimental side effects of the medication(s)? After you consider these questions, if you decide to pursue a drug holiday, be sure to talk with your child’s prescriber. There may be specific, important, requirements to wean off the drug slowly. Whatever you decide, best of luck for you and your child!