An ADHD Drug holiday, they call it. As if stopping to take ADHD medications guarantees a fun, freedom-filled break from tedious routine.
On a recent trip to Hawaii, my friend John decided to not take his stimulant medication. After all, he was on vacation! Only after he arrived home did he realize: “I way overdid it in the souvenir stores.” Now, to outside observers, this might seem “obsessive” shopping. But to the ADHD-savvy among us, we recognize it as “no brakes.”
“No brakes” can manifest in myriad ways.
For example, we might assume that “neat freaks” or “obsessional housecleaners” have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When it comes to diagnoses, though, be on alert for look-alikes. You might be surprised at the many ways in which ADHD can camouflage itself as something else—depression, anxiety, OCD, and much more.
Which brings us to a remarkable story. My friend Katy was late in getting her monthly stimulant prescription filled. So she’d have to spend a few days without—what’s the big deal, she thought. Lo and behold. That’s when she found herself launched into a roaring display of OCD behavior. Or so the uninitiated might assume.
Now I’ll let Katy tell you the story. At the end, you’ll find another post on this theme: Our Lost Weekend Without ADHD Meds
It Was a Lousy “ADHD Drug Holiday”
By Katy Rollins
I was out of Concerta for a couple of days. In the interim, it was funny watching the ways that I unravel, when I don’t take my medication. Of course, the unraveling isn’t always what people might expect if they didn’t know much about ADHD. One thing’s for sure: It’s no holiday.
1. I was up until 2:30 am because I got obsessed …
…with a shopping dilemma online and just…didn’t go to sleep.
Didn’t even want to go to sleep at 2:30. But I realized I had to get up in 4 hours. So I laid there for a while. Pretty typical ADHD scenario, but then…
2. Sunday night, my husband fell ill with the flu….
… No prob.
So I needed to clean and do laundry solo. But thanks to “no meds”, I was really crabby about doing it and put it off for two days. But once I started, I couldn’t stop.
I fell into my “pre-meds life” mode of working working working working working until I was so tired that I was completely nauseated. And easily enraged. Haha.
My husband came downstairs, at one point, to see how I was doing. He said, “WOW, I can’t believe everything you got done!” All I could think was, “If he doesn’t get the **** back in bed and leave me alone, I am going to punch the **** out of him”.
(It’s basically a miracle that this didn’t come out of my mouth).
Meanwhile, I was feeling like I’m about to vomit and refusing to stop. Some ADHD Drug Holiday.
3. Even when I finally made myself stop…after hours of binge cleaning…
…I went in the bathroom to pee and then said, “I can’t stop”
I don’t know how to stop. I can’t stop. I can’t stop cleaning. I can’t even stop to pee. Because all I see is stuff that needs to be cleaned. I can’t stop seeing it and I just want it done RIGHT NOW.
I’m just staring at the bathroom sink. And I can’t stop. I was getting upset.
It wasn’t about germs or order or any of that OCD stuff. It was about the fact that I hadn’t taken meds. That means I couldn’t shut out my environment and all the “stuff” in it.
There were so many things to do. So I was going to do them.
I was completely possessed and it was all I could think about.
4. I finally made myself pee and go to go to bed. But then…
… I had to clean the bedroom room. It had gotten messy over the weekend and I couldn’t take it.
The room was “screaming” at me. So I cleaned it.
While I was cleaning, I set my prescription out. That way I could remember to fill it in the morning. So I could stop feeling crazy.
5. This morning…I now have an exhaustion hangover …
…from all the cleaning. I feel turrrrrible.
I almost couldn’t come to work this morning.
I felt shaky. (I hadn’t eaten dinner last night because ADHD and don’t like stopping what I’m doing to eat or pee or anything while I’m hyperfocused like that). And dizzy.
I Used To Do This ALL THE TIME!
I was up all night getting things done—then unable to function in the morning. My struggles with sleep time are nothing now, compared to what used to happen to me before I took stimulant meds. Nothing.
This is why, in some ways, I was more “productive” when I didn’t take meds. Yet, as for my consistency, endurance, and emotional stability? So much better with stimulant meds. My stress level is lower, too.
An important caveat: I can’t always make myself “productive” when I don’t take meds. I can only do it if it happens to be the thing I care about right that minute.
So, on one day I might have obsessed over answering my entire email box. Another day: obsessed with a particular art project.
With meds, it’s easier to choose to do the various things I need to do, with more consistency. That way, when I have more time and energy I can do some of the things I want to do, not just the things I need to do.
People Say, “You Have ADHD, Yet You’re So Organized?”
- Organized in spurts
- Organized at the last minute
- Organized when my job was on the line
- Organized when the idea is new
Now I have reminders in notebooks—and many fewer clutter piles. I don’t panic about laundry on Sunday nights anymore.
As great as my house looks today, I don’t miss feeling that way all the time! It was terrible. I remember how I used to do this when I was a kid! I binged on “productivity.” Until I had to lie down in the middle of my project. Sometimes on top of it—such as when I was cleaning my room and stuff was all over the bed. I had to just go to sleep before I threw up.
All the time. For decades.
I can’t believe I lived like that for so long!
How about you? Can you relate to Katy’s “ADHD Drug Holiday” experience?
Please share in a comment.
In general, “drug holidays” are not a good idea when it comes to ADHD treatment.
—Read about another couple’s experience: Our Lost Weekend Without ADHD Meds
—This Harvard Health Newsletter addresses some of the general-health issues around “drug holidays” (Should You Take a Drug Holiday)