I’ve always hoped to find a way to rid myself of ADHD without the use of medication. Some magical herbal supplement or the perfect lifestyle change… but I have yet to find what I’d personally deem as a cure for my attention deficit disorder. The more I look into it the more I realize there is no real cure. This is the way my brain works, plain and simple. I can’t change that. What I can do is use the tools available to me to work with my brain instead of trying to change it.
As of right now, I’m revisiting the idea of taking medication. I took medication for my adhd in high school, and (the days that I actually took it) it seemed to help a lot. I felt weird about the idea of taking a pharmaceutical drug so I would often secretly throw away my pill before leaving for school. I’m assuming this is why I nearly flunked out of high school and ended up dropping out three months before graduation.
I knew there was no way I was going to graduate. I was going to have to repeat the grade. I couldn’t imagine doing that. High school was a living hell for me due to severe anxiety and a lot of social awkwardness. So in my mind dropping out and getting my GED seemed like the best case scenario. And that’s exactly what I did. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I’d taken my medicine regularly. I didn’t have access to the science and research behind the medicine I was taking, and understandably I was afraid of it. Left and right I heard things like “It’s basically Meth!” and “ADHD is a made up disorder”. If I’d had the knowledge about it that I have now I would have taken it every morning and I’d be willing to bet that I would have graduated and attended college for more than two semesters.
Instead, after dropping out I attended GED classes. Because of my ADHD I ended up dropping out of GED class soon after starting it. After awhile I went back and tried it again. It took me several months longer than any of the other students, but I did finally graduate. I remember watching as other students started and graduated, group after group, as I continued working my butt off trying to get through the same class. It was humiliating and my confidence in myself continued to diminish throughout the experience.
After that I attempted a beauty school where I was taught how to paint nails. Again I found myself struggling to get by, watching student after student start and graduate while I tried my hardest to get through the class. Finally after feeling humiliated and defeated, and being told by the instructors that I was literally the only student in the history of their school that hadn’t graduated in the expected amount of time, I gave up and dropped out. From there I attempted two semesters of community college before giving up on that too.
I’m surprised I never attributed my track record of failures to ADHD, but I just wasn’t informed about what ADHD meant. I honestly thought it was a made up disorder, a reason for lazy parents to drug their kids and not have to deal with them.
Because of feeling so uncomfortable with the idea of pharmaceutical medications, I spent a lot of time searching tirelessly for a more holistic approach, not even knowing that ADHD was the thing I was trying to fix. I just knew something was off about me. I thought maybe I wasn’t as smart as other people or that I might be a lazy person in general. I didn’t feel lazy or unintelligent but all the evidence seemed to point to that. Nothing seemed to fix me. I tried yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices, optimizing my diet, proper sleep schedules, daily exercise… the list just goes on forever.
To be fair, my inability to stick to things didn’t help. The point of using these methods is probably to actually stick to them for a long period of time! But to the best of my ability I tried to incorporate them all into my life. And I do think I did pretty well considering my history. But… like I said, going about it this way did not work for me in the way I wanted it to. It took all of my time and energy just to implement a daily self-care schedule in my life, and I found myself having little to no time for anything besides trying to care for myself.
So after a lot of research and acceptance of the reality of my situation, I decided it was time to try the meds out for real this time. This all being said, that doesn’t at all mean it’s impossible to deal with ADHD in a holistic manner. Everybody is different and will respond differently to different methods. What works for one person may be the worst possible thing for another person. No need for judgement, because there is absolutely never a one size fits all when it comes to this sort of thing.
If you find yourself feeling like you’ve exhausted all your other options and still feel like you’re struggling, please know that there’s no shame in trying the pharmaceutical route. Most of the scary stuff you hear about ADHD medicines are either exaggerated, misinformed or totally false. And yes pharmaceutical companies are renowned for their desire to take your money, and that’s something that royally pisses me off (this is a topic for another article), but those holistic products claiming to cure your ADHD want your money just as badly. So keep that in mind.
I want you to be well informed about the medication you have available to you. I don’t want you to spend so much of your life feeling helpless and getting nowhere like I did just because you’re afraid of taking a pill. Believe me, I completely understand your fears.
But here are 3 reasons why you don’t actually have to be afraid of your ADHD medication:
- Long Term Effects
In terms of medical health or other functioning, there are no negative long term effects in people who have taken medication compared to those who haven’t.
A study was done by Dr. Rachel Klein, phD, Professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine where her and a group of colleagues did a 2-year controlled study of more than 100 school-aged kids in the late 1970s, then followed up with them repeatedly over 33 years. Most of the kids are now 41 years old and those who took ADHD medication showed no negative effects in their medical health or other functioning compared to the kids that did not take medication. Here’s a short video from Dr. Klein talking about this study.
And here’s an article from The Child Mind Institute talking about this and other concerns parents may have about medication. As an adult with ADHD I found the article to be relieving to read as well.
- Death Statistics
Very few people have ever died from ADHD medication
I really love how Gina Pera, author of ADHD Rollercoaster puts it. So I’m going to go ahead and share this one in her words:
Perusing Death Statistics
Given a tiny bit of Google searching, you can easily learn that nearly 20,000 people died in 2014 from opioid pain relievers. You can also easily find that attacks by sharks, bears, crocodiles, cows (yes, cows!), dogs, and venomous ants kill almost 200 people annually (“Animals That Are Most Likely to Kill You This Summer”).
If, by comparison, the stimulant medication for treating ADHD is so dangerous, these medications must be killing hundreds or thousands or even millions of people! Right?
According to the FDA, 25 people in the U.S. died from prescribed stimulant medication during 1999-2003 (FDA: 25 Died From ADHD Drugs). That’s on average 5 people per year. Of these 25, 19 were children. Moreover, later it was discovered that many of them had a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
(Gina has written about the higher incidence of ADHD among some very sick children, in a two-part post: The Truth Behind Toddlers Medicated for ADHD. She wrote this in response to yet another highly sensationalized article on ADHD medications from The New York Times.)
To further put this statistic in context, it would help know how many people were prescribed and took stimulants during that time period. As part of that same report, the FDA reported one death or serious injury per 1 million ADHD drug prescriptions filled.
Since that time, stimulant prescriptions have increased. And, guess what? People with medically treated ADHD are not dropping like flies. Far from it, if longitudinal studies of ADHD are any guide. That is, these ADHD folks taking prescribe medication are significantly reducing their risk from the premature death that is associated with untreated ADHD, including driving unsafely and many other risky, ADHD-fueled behaviors.
Take a look at the whole article. Lots of relief there!
- It’s just a trial
A trial of medication is just that, a trial. You might as well see if it helps and if it doesn’t, now you know!
I love what Dr. Ned Hallowell (super nice guy who happens to be a successful doctor with ADHD) has to say about this:
“A trial of medication is just that, it’s a trial. These meds are in and out of your system in a matter of hours. So the worst that happens is you have a few hours that you don’t like. A few hours where you feel jittery or a few hours where you’ve lost your sparkle or your special sauce. It’s not surgery, which is irreversible.”
That’s a quote from a short video clip of Dr. Hallowell talking about medication.
After finding all this research I felt way better about considering the medication route. Like I said earlier, if I’d known all of this way back in high school I really think I would have taken my medicine each morning instead of being afraid and throwing it away. My fears were completely valid, and it wasn’t necessarily my fault that I wasn’t informed. There wasn’t much information available to me on the subject and I wouldn’t have known how to find it even if there was.
So if you’ve been afraid to try taking meds for your ADHD I hope this article helped you feel better about at least trying it. Maybe it’s not for you, but maybe it is. And maybe it will make all the difference in the world for you.
I’ll write an article in the near future about my experience starting back on ADHD meds, complete with all the pros and cons I observe first hand. That should shed even more light on the subject.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On