More than 6 million children have ever been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a 2016 study revealed that 62% of children with ADHD used medication to treat their symptoms.
Stimulant medications, such as Adderall and Ritalin, help children focus—especially at school. Without those drugs, kids with ADHD might have trouble paying attention to lessons, staying in their seats, or completing assignments. And because of that specific school-time function, some parents consider putting their children on a “drug holiday” during summer break, when focus isn’t as necessary.
Physical development concerns are the main reason parents want their children to get a break from their meds, says Sara A. Spencer, PharmD, clinical instructor of pharmacy practice at the Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Binghamton, New York. “Studies have shown that children on stimulant ADHD medications tend to lag in height and weight compared to their peers,” she says.
Also at play is basic ADHD management, Dr. Spencer explains. Parents want to see if there’s still a need for medication, and a summer break is the best time to check in. But that doesn’t mean that a drug holiday is right for everyone. Many children with ADHD will still need to control their symptoms with medication, even outside of school.
“ADHD can affect many other aspects of a child’s life,” says Dr. Richard Silver, director of the Thrive Center in Columbia, Maryland. “Can the child control their impulses in social situations? Can they manage their emotions? The child may have tasks to complete that aren’t academic, like chores at home or tasks at camp. Stimulant medications can help with those as well.”
Dr. Silver goes on to say that parents should consider the end result of their children’s medications, not just on school performance, but on functioning in life. These medications often help the child do better and feel better in many settings. Therefore, you should only consider a drug holiday if your child is using the medicine strictly for focusing at school. And above all, you shouldn’t make this decision alone.
“Discontinuing any medication, even temporarily, warrants a discussion between the provider and patient/caregiver,” Dr. Spencer says. “Parents and children should be aware that discontinuation of ADHD medications may lead to symptoms of withdrawal, decreased energy, or depression.”
The bottom line is, there is not one right answer that will fit every child with ADHD. If you think your child might benefit from a summer drug holiday, talk to your doctor.