When a client is newly diagnosed with ADHD, they often ask us whether they should pursue medication. This is a very personal decision. For some people, they decide to try more behavioral strategies before adding on medication. For others, trying behavioral strategies doesn’t work without the help of medication. Whatever you decide for yourself, we hope that you think through all the aspects of the decision. Below are some helpful things to consider.
How ADHD Medication Can Help
People take ADHD medication for multiple reasons, but the most common is they’re not functioning the way they would like to. ADHD medication can help people control their focus and energy. Some people take it because it quiets the noise in their brains. For others, it gives them the focus to accomplish daily tasks without struggling so much. It can help people sit still, control impulsive behaviors, and increase their productivity. The effects of the medication are very different from person to person and depend on their body chemistry, environment, and support needs.
Medication can help people reach what feels like a more even playing field with their peers. It helps them function better at work and regulate at home. Some people who are on medication tried behavioral strategies to cope with the challenges that come with having ADHD, but they still weren’t quite where they wanted to be. Others were able to learn about helpful strategies but couldn’t put them into practice without help. They started medication so they could actually use what they learned. Learning to ride a bike is a helpful metaphor to understand this process. Some people learn to ride a bike but still struggle to ride as well as they want, and some people understand how and why they should ride a bike but need help to actually do it.
Why Some People Choose Not to Take ADHD Medication
There are many reasons people choose not to take ADHD medication. They might have health conditions that make it difficult. They might find coping strategies work just fine for them and they don’t really need it. To go back to the bike metaphor, instead of riding the bike they learn other ways to get where they need to go, maybe on foot, or roller skates. Whatever way they choose works just as well for them. Some people struggle primarily with things they don’t have to do in their daily lives, so they don’t need daily help to deal with tasks.
Addiction and Misuse
There are many valid reasons why someone might not take medication. But societal stigma about ADHD medication is something that unhelpfully keeps people who need to from taking it. These medications have gotten caught up in the war against drugs because the most common types are stimulants. People who don’t have all the information think about medications like Adderall the same way they think about actual meth. Sadly, even doctors do this. Many doctors refuse to prescribe stimulant medication because they think of it as a narcotic that will be abused. There is an intense fear that people will become addicted or will start selling their pills to people without prescriptions.
Unfortunately, addiction and misuse does happen. However, with proper monitoring and accurate diagnosis, this isn’t nearly as likely as people may believe. People who actually need ADHD medications aren’t seeking a fun drug trip; they just want to go through life struggling a little less. They do not deserve to be treated like criminals just because they want some help. People have the right to choose not to medicate, but no one should be kept from taking ADHD medication just because addiction is a possibility.
Stigma about Psychiatric Medications
Addiction isn’t the only barrier to medication. People also reject ADHD medications because society thinks of them as a crutch. Mental health medications frequently receive this stigma. People receive ableist messages that using medication is a sign of weakness or laziness; if they just tried harder, then they wouldn’t need the medication. Stigma about medication perpetuates the belief that people are cheating or using their meds like steroids to get ahead, instead of viewing medication as the legitimate intervention they are. When these messages are internalized, the ADHD-er begins to believe that medication is the easy way out, and that it’s better to struggle without any assistance.
The truth is that, for those who choose to take them, medications simply make things more equal. It’s time to start thinking about ADHD medications like we think about glasses. We don’t treat glasses with suspicion. People don’t try to convince friends to drive without their glasses because they don’t want them relying on their lenses. People don’t believe, if they were trying hard enough, they could drive without their classes. There’s enough shame around mental health interventions; we don’t need to make it worse by stigmatizing effective supports.
Other Factors To Consider
There are a few other things to consider while you decide whether taking medication is right for you.
What do You Want Out of Medication?
Consider what your goals are around taking medication. Different meds will have different effects on different people, and they aren’t a magic pill that will fix every challenge you have. You can select the most effective option if you understand what progress looks like for you.
If you want to take stimulants, get a check-up to make sure your body will handle them. They can impact blood pressure and can be dangerous for people with diagnosed heart problems. You don’t have to be in perfect health to take them, but make sure you’re not going to harm yourself because of a condition. If you can’t take a stimulant, there are other options that are less physically taxing, which are discussed below.
What Type Of Medication Do You Need?
The most well-known medications for ADHD are stimulants, which include brands like Adderall and Vyvanse. But there are also non-stimulant options as well that aren’t classed as amphetamines. These include Strattera, Guanfacine (which is an anti-hypertensive drug), and several others. Doctors will sometimes use SNRI’s and off-label anti-depressants like Wellbutrin to medicate ADHD. Most people find that stimulants have the best effect, but these non-stimulant options are useful for people who can’t or don’t want to take stimulant medication. They have their own set of side effects, just like any drug, but they can still make a big difference.
Other Strategies You’ll Be Using
Medication by itself is somewhat helpful, but it works best when it’s paired with another intervention like therapy. The pills are the gas in the car, but therapy gives you driving lessons. If you have no interest in exploring coping strategies or accommodations, it may impact the effectiveness of the medication you decide to try. It will still benefit you, but if you’re not pairing it with some other support, you should be realistic about how much change you can expect.
So, Should You Take ADHD Medication?
The answer to this is that it’s completely up to you. It’s a very personal decision that only you can make. If you’re struggling with this decision, consulting with a neurodiversity-affirmative adult ADHD therapist or doctor to see if medication is the right path for you. If you’re interested in learning behavioral strategies before starting medication or instead of taking medication, send us a message or book a free 20 minute consultation call with Dr. Abbene, Dr. Barajas, or Dr. Goldman to see how we can help.