An ADHD Drug holiday, they call it. As if stopping to take ADHD medications guarantees a fun, freedom-filled break from tedious routine.
My friend John decided to not take his stimulant medication on a recent trip to Hawaii. Only after he arrived home did he realize: “I way overdid it in the souvenir stores.” Some might view this as “obsessive” shopping. But many folks with ADHD recognize it as “no brakes.” It can manifest in so many ways.
For example, we might assume that “neat freaks” or “obsessional housecleaners” have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). But when it comes to diagnoses, there are many 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.
My friend Katy couldn’t get her monthly stimulant prescription filled soon enough. That’s when she found herself launched into a roaring display of OCD behavior—or so the uninitiated might assume. I’ll let her tell you the story.
At the end, you’ll find another post on this theme: Our Lost Weekend Without ADHD Meds
I Ran Out Of Concerta—and 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.
This Is Why People Say To Me, “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!
Originally published Jun 17, 2017
How about you? Can you relate to Katy’s “ADHD Drug Holiday” experience?
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)