Yes, for many ADHD-challenged individuals and couples, a weekend without ADHD meds can be a very big deal. This first-person story speaks to two common reader questions:
- Is ADHD a real thing?
- Do the medications for ADHD really make a difference?
In the early days, I shared the facts and figures. After all, mounds of double-blind research show the potentially life-changing benefits of stimulant medication for ADHD. That is surely more impressive and convincing than mere opinions, right? Wrong.
Eyes glazed over during these first few fact-based recitations. Then I got wise: After quickly mentioning the published research, I relayed the before-and-after stories of real-life adults with ADHD.
As one of my college journalism professors used to repeat: “Show, Don’t Tell.” In other words, give your readers facts but enliven those facts with illustrative stories.
With that in mind, I offer you this “as told to” story from a man named Jason. For this couple anyway, it answers the question, “Does the medication really make a difference?”
He’d written to tell me about the weekend that his partner, Ethan, ran out of medication. (Yes, Jason and Ethan are both men, a reminder that ADHD’s effect on relationships is not a “Mars-Venus Thing.” ADHD does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, creed, political persuasion, or sexual orientation.)
Here’s the thing: Jason did not know Ethan before he was diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medication. In fact, when he first learned about Ethan’s medication, Jason assumed he was making “too big of a deal” of his ADHD. This “lost weekend without ADHD meds”, however, made him a believer.
—Gina Pera, ADHD Roller Coaster
“A Weekend Without ADHD Meds? Seemed Like No Big Deal”
It seemed like no big deal when my partner, Ethan, said he’d forgotten to call his doctor and would run out of medicine over the weekend. “I’ll just pick it up on Monday, no problem,” he’d said. With hindsight, I should have packed a bag and gone to Vegas. He missed only three days’ medication but the downhill effect was dramatic.
I first noticed the difference on Saturday when it took him three hours to pick up cleaning supplies. On Friday, he had planned to clean out his home office on Sunday. Unfortunately, he made the plans while on his medication. But the event took place while he was off.
On Sunday I sat down to enjoy some basketball games on TV in peace while Ethan cleaned the office. Eight hours later, he asked me to see how it looked. I didn’t know what to say. Yes, the office was cleaner. But the hallway was lined with junk and massive quantities of cleaning supplies.
Then he checks his e-mail.
My ADHD Partner Gets Lost
Two hours later, at midnight, I wander in to tell him goodnight. I found him just staring at the computer. “What’s the matter?,” I asked, full of concern. “I don’t know,” he said. What? How could this be—he is a born geek!
Turns out, his PC was fine. The problem was, he couldn’t remember what he was trying to do! It took a while. It wasn’t easy. But I finally succeeded in helping him to recognize that his “fuzzy-headedness” was not taking his medication in nearly two days.
On Monday, he found out that he couldn’t get the prescription until Tuesday. He spent the evening on eBay shopping for things we didn’t need.
Tuesday morning, he asked me to pick up his prescription; he didn’t have time during lunch hour. But he’d transposed two numbers in the address. Without the doctor’s name, I couldn’t find the office.
He said he’d go by after work, get the script, and have it filled. Okay. Then he became lost trying to find his own doctor! He called me for directions, ranting and blaming me because I couldn’t find the doctor’s office earlier. Despite not having the correct address. Huh? He slammed down the phone, saying he would call back.
Now I’m To Blame?
Two hours later, he arrives. I asked why he hadn’t called back. Given the mood he was in, I was worried. But he didn’t remember saying he would call.
Where had he been for two hours, though? “Shopping,” he said. But the only thing in his hands was a little bag containing his medication. “Oh, I forgot the things in the car.” He comes back in, carting unneeded groceries and more of the same cleaning supplies he purchased Saturday! Now, we have two of everything, including the world’s largest bottles of Simple Green!
“Self-Medicating” ADHD By Watching Atrocities?
When we finally cleared the air over who was responsible for him being lost, we sat down to relax by watching TV. He chose a show about terrorist training. After all the bad news on this topic, not to mention the last three days’ tension at home, I didn’t consider that relaxing. “But it’s really good!” he insisted.
After 20 minutes of watching him “self-medicate” by seeing torture victims suffer atrocities, I said, “No, I don’t want to watch this.” He stubbornly left it on, so I left the room. He said, “If you don’t like it, change the channel!” He had forgotten that he was holding the damn thing in a death grip. Argh!
Finally, he took a dose of the medication this morning. Hopefully, we will be headed back to a more even keel shortly. Hopefully, he will remember to fill his prescription next time before he runs completely out.
In fact, I think I’ll put it on the calendar.
Another Weekend Without ADHD Meds
—I’m struck by the similarities between Katy’s “Drug Holiday—or Horror” and Ethan’s experience. Don’t know that ADHD can mean not “putting the brakes” on obsessive behavior? Then you might think she has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Instead, it was another Weekend without ADHD Meds.
—What do I mean by “self-medicating” (as in the heading above “Self-Medicating” ADHD by Watching Atrocities)? We use this term to describe the various, almost unconscious behaviors that some people with ADHD resort to in order to rev up their focus. You can read more here: When ADHD Leads to Self-Medicating with Arguments
How about you? Can you relate to these examples?
Do you have others to share? What’s the biggest difference medication has made in your life or your ADHD relationship?
21 thoughts on “Our Lost Weekend Without ADHD Meds”
Finally someone gets it. ADD isn’t just a minor learning disability-you can’t treat dyslexia with meds-or cute hyper flighty people. Awww adorable. My Dr. seems to think missing ADHD meds is no big deal. No brakes means for me means my emotions are supersized and I am opinionated and edgy and grumpy. Or depressed-very depressed. It feels so fuzzy like I am under water looking up at people on the surface. Everything takes too much effort. If there was a doctor in a 50 mile radius who was accepting new patients and took our insurance, I would switch. (maybe not I am afraid of getting something worse) There is probably a global shortage but one in the greater Boston/Greater Manchester NH area. The counseling center or New Hampshire became the counseling center of New England then became Life stance Health which I prefer to call Conglomo. Getting a live person is like finding a lemonade stand in the Sahara Desert. Anyhow. Day one without meds and after 2 emails to my provider-one Sun and one Mon and here it is Tuesday and all I hear is crickets. I am reminding myself no one cares an I am word vomiting but it feel good to let it out. I have been struggling with my provider for years but this is the second problem in a month.
I hear you. It can be TOO HARD!
It’s been tricky at any time. But now, in particular, with COVID-related reductions in medical professionals, shortages of popular stimulants….argh.
Here’s the thing…..sometimes solution is to self-educate and self-advocate. Then you don’t have to put all that effort into finding an “expert prescriber” when there really aren’t….many.
The best prescriber, say the folks in my local Adult ADHD group, is the one who will work with you, listen to your suggestions after offering reasonable explanations.
So, if you’re chasing that expert prescriber, you might give up that ghost for now.
But, it sounds like you might just be trying to get a refill! If that’s the case, you might see if you can get home-delivery. Four times annually vs. 12 times? No thought required! 🙂
Thanks for the great posts.
If I don’t take my ADD meds in the morning, by 11am I’m lethargic and ready to take a nap.
I was wondering if this is common among fellow ADDers.
I’m not sure what you mean. You mean, even before you started taking medication, you were lethargic by 11 am?
If that’s not what you mean, why are things different now than before you started taking medication? In terms of being lethargic by 11 am?
I’m wondering, for example, if whatever medication you’re taking is cutting into your sleep. Perhaps an amphetamine like Vyvanse or Adderall?
Or maybe your mornings are different now….e.g. you’re in a new job or have some other “non-stimulating” responsibility that leaves you unmotivated?
So many questions!
But generally yes, some people with ADHD tend to be lethargic. They sleep a lot, if not always well. It’s not so much being “sleepy” as being “unaroused.”
I just completed an in-depth course on sleep and medication. If you’re on my mailing list, you’ll receive news of the Labor Day “flash sale” (soft launch).
Yes! My doctor said because I have been taking it for so many years, when I don’t take my medication I will be extremely tired for at least two days. She says my body is trying to catch up on sleep since I don’t sleep much when I’m on my medication. After two to three days I’m fine but I do eat alot as well. I guess I’m catching up on eating too since I never eat when on medication.
I encourage you to look into other medications. My guess is that you’ve taking an amphetamine, probably Adderall.
I’m skeptical of your doctor’s rationale — that you’re tired after not taking your medication. You’re not so much tired, more likely, as under-aroused. That’s what stimulants do – regulate arousal.
But if you’re losing sleep — AND not eating when you’re on medication — chances are very good that your approach to medication needs revisiting.
I don’t remember being lethargic before taking meds.
But now when I forget to take them in the morning, by 11am I’m already feeling lethargic and realize I forgot to take my meds.
I feel like it may be a withdrawal, like my body needs it?
Gena. You remain the best! Thanks for everything.
You’re most welcome, Steve. It can take a bit of sleuthing to figure out what’s happening!
Before the folks in my courses and groups start medication, I encourage them to write down (or video) how they are feeling now (physically and emotionally), the situations that frustrate them, what they’d like to be different.
Because, believe it or not, most people with ADHD won’t have clear memories of that later, after they start medication. 🙂
So, does this mean you are taking an amphetamine? It might really be too much for you. You might not be getting restorative sleep. Etc.
It might be that either a different delivery system of amphetamine or a methylphenidate product might do better for you.
Yes I’m on vyvanse.
Remember that, unlike the methylphenidate Rx, the amphetamines “push out” neurotransmitters from the neuron. This can prove depleting over time.
A good diet, healthy proteins and carbs, vitamin-mineral supplement, and sleep are really important toward getting the best benefit over time.
Not sure if this is the place for my post, but here goes…
My girlfriend was lucky enough to have a mom with a Masters Degree in Psychology who diagnosed her ADHD early on. She grew up taking Adderall. Her mom was patient, and used incredibly creative parenting techniques to help her learn methods and workarounds that enabled her to cope and even excel, in spite of her ADHD.
She stopped taking medication for her ADHD in college, and now, she is one of the smartest, cleanest, most organized people I’ve ever met. Me – not so much.
I am one of seven children who, along with my dad, have lived (struggled?) with (mostly undiagnosed) ADHD almost my entire life. Most of my siblings and I self-medicated, abusing alcohol as well as both illegal and legal drugs (prescribed for other conditions) for years. After my younger brother fatally overdosed in 2015, I knew I needed to get professional help. I got into an opioid treatment program. My addiction doctor put me on Suboxone and also had me tested for ADHD. Bingo!
Currently, I am also prescribed Ritalin, 3x/day, and for the first time in my life, I feel “normal”.
That said, being an addict, self-control has never been my strong suit. Being completely honest, I will admit that I have and do struggle daily with taking more Ritalin than I am prescribed. It is not hard to find. I have been honest with my girlfriend about abusing Ritalin, and she is understandably worried and angry about it. I am doing my best to get back on my prescribed “track”, but now my girlfriend is adamant that taking my meds as prescribed is not good enough. She believes that if she could successfully quit taking ADHD meds then anyone can, and that I definitely should taper down and eventually quit taking them altogether, given my history.
This truly terrifies me.
For the record, I’ve known her for 30 years, and we absolutely love each other. We’ve talked about our desire to marry, live together, but we both agree I need to complete my treatment before making any plans that are so important about our future together.
I plan to be completely off Suboxone in 6 to 12 months, but honestly, I don’t see how I could live a normal life without my ADHD meds.
She is sure that once I get organized, toss the clutter, and develop good, consistent habits (i.e. always hang car keys in the same spot, so they never get lost) that I can live drug-free.
I am not convinced, and unsure what to do other than to try to live life her way. Seems idyllic in theory, but idiotic in reality, and I envision a car crash in my future… Any thoughts, experience or advice you or your readers have would be appreciated.
Thanks for being a strong voice and advocate for adults with ADHD. I love your blog!
Anyplace on my blog is a good place for reader comments. 🙂
As it turns out, though, that post is the perfect one for your subject.
I understand this is an important relationship for you. I don’t want to make waves. But I do want you to take care of yourself.
But your girlfriend has put you in a very tough position, in my opinion, and she’s basing her request on some very wrong assumptions.
People with ADHD are not clones! I know there’s a lot of yammering online about the “ADHD brain.” But there is no such thing! It’s just a cheap marketing slogan.
People with ADHD are individuals. ADHD is a highly variable syndrome. There are also commonly co-existing conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.).
AND then there’s the rest of the person’s genes, development, etc. to add to the equation.
Overall, human brains are like snowflakes: No two alike. And that applies to people with ADHD as well!
I’m trying to recall the number that a conference presenter used as the possible combinations of ADHD symptoms. I think it was something like 168,000. 🙂
Check the symptom list here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
You say your girlfriend grew up taking Adderall.
That means her brain developed differently than if she had not taken medication.
There is some research evidence that medication improves the functioning of dopamine neural pathways in a way that can permanently linger after medication is stopped.
She also benefited from the higher functioning that the medication allowed. She probably had greater self-esteem and less negative feedback from the world. All that has an impact.
You grew up as one of seven children. (I’m familiar with that because I am the youngest of 7. Lots of moving parts!)
Where your girlfriend benefited from a mother helping to “hard wire” her brain with both medication treatment AND supportive strategies, it sounds like you were left to your own devices.
And that included the influence of siblings with their own substance-use problems. Perhaps your family’s genetic lottery included a few extra genes in that department. (Again, people with ADHD are not clones! Not by a long shot!)
Substance use can have its own adverse effects on the brain. Fortunately, our bodies are miracle self-healers. But that healing does not happen overnight and it requires smart strategies, not platitudes.
Perhaps your girlfriend’s ADHD is not as “resolved” as she thinks it is. If it were, perhaps she’d be viewing your situation with more empathy and more appreciation of complexity.
It sounds like she is thinking in “black and white” or “all or nothing” terms. This is a common challenge for adults with ADHD. Medication helps improve, for many, the ability to think in complexity, to see gray area.
Another common challenge: Over-optimism and being poor at predicting consequences.
She is risking a lot, asking you to forgo medication. ADHD is not just a matter of dealing with clutter or finding your keys. It is, as you say, risking a car accident. That is nothing to take lightly. The risks of untreated ADHD to driving safety is well-documented. Tons of research. (Check out my first book’s chapter on driving.)
Not to mention: the risk of substance abuse with untreated ADHD. Again, nothing to take lightly.
Maybe you can avoid the topic for a while and focus on completing your treatment.
I hope that your girlfriend will learn more about ADHD, especially that one person’s experience is just that: One person’s experience. With one brain.
I just want to be very clear: It is totally inaccurate to say, “If I did it, anyone can.”
First off, congratulations on this post. This is really awesome but
that’s what you always crank out my friend. Great posts that we can
sink our teeth into and really go to work.
I love about the Self-Medicating By Watching Atrocities and you know, you’re right.
off to share this post now, I want all study bloggers to see that.
I read your online article “When someone you love has ADHD & it’s like reading my life .
My husband and I have been to so many couple therapists thru our 12yr marriage. None helped or he’d stop wanting to go saying I have a problem not him. This year I convinced him on a last plea to come to counselling thinking he has narcissistic tendencies & early Alzheimer’s, he’s 53 ( his whole mom’s side has Alzheimer’s). Finally this therapist picked up on my concerns & asked him specific questions and Bingo said I think you may have ADHD. He refuses to believe it is so. And I hardly doubt he’ll be open to taking meds. My life is no longer a life. He’s become mentally abusive, defensive to the point I really believe he is a Narcissist. I stay because I keep hoping for that light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like you wrote in your other article (When someone you love has ADHD) I am loosing my mind. I’ve come to always second-guess myself because he blames me for his forgetfulness. I just fin he acts so much like a narcissist yet all the signs point to ADHD which I can empathise with.
Hi again, Christina,
You are on the right track. Keep learning and getting validation for your perceptions.
How about that…your husband seemingly prefers to believe that it’s better to languish for the rest of his life with an untreatable brain disorder (Alzheimer’s) rather than pursue treatment for an often highly treatable brain condition.
Of course, there’s no logic there.
Remember: The brain that’s causing him problems is the same brain he is using to evaluate these problems. There are many “gaps and skips.”
Now I’m on my soap box and standing TALL. I’ll bet a fair amount of substance abuse legal or otherwise occurs when legitimate symptoms and alilments of ADHD hit us hard and we are left in the cold to deal with them. NO MEDICATION on hand, between refills, or appointments due to procrastination OH YES I SAID THE P WORD. NOTHING CAN OR WILL help except our MEDICATION. YET WE ARE LABELED AS DRUG SEEKERS OR VEIWED AS ADDICTS. When will doctors,pharamacies, and insurance companies wake up and realize that not writing, not refilling, and overcharging on medications is ABSOLUTELY FUELING THE ILLEGAL and ILLiCIT DRUG ABUSE IN THIS COUNTRY. FOR ALL OF THE OTHER FOLLOWERS THAT FEEL THE SAME WAY, PLEASE SING HI PRAISES FOR GINA AND THIS AMAZING FORUM. ALL MY RESPECT: DAVE
haha! Preach, Brother Dave!!!
I agree wholeheartedly!
Wow Gina all of your insight is spot on perfect.
I am an adult male 45 years old who has ADHD. With my VYVANSE I am a successful very talented CARPENTER/CUSTOM HOME BUILDER. I HAVE DESIGNED AND BUILT STRUCTURES IN CHICAGO that HAVE WON AWARDS.
Without my medication, due to doctors vacations, booked appointment schedules at doctors office, 3 days early on my dr visit. Etc. forced to go 2 to 4 days without medication, RARELY but on occasion when that does occur OMG I cannot function properly and my life emotionally, mentally, physically comes to a screeching HALT.
I do not drink alcohol of any kind. Absolutely no illegal drugs of any kind. ALL I DO ALL I AM is based on my TALENT OF BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTING. Without my Vyvanse 50mg once daily I cannot even find the energy to make the bed.
That last comment comes from someone who works at least 60 hrs per week. No less than 3000hrs per year. Never ever been unemployed/never ever been arrested or in any trouble with the law or otherwise. Successfully put 2 AMAZING children through college and raised a great family. All that with the help of a little blue and white pill. NO PILL NO ME.
What I am trying to say is ADHD does exist it is REAL it affects so many of us. The medications used to help us WORK. SO WHY ARE THEY SO DIFFICULT TO CONSTANTLY OBTAIN LEGALLY. FOR EXAMPLE it’s FRIDAY and the pharmacist smirks and says your prescription is 3 days early I can’t fill TIL monday. Our pharamacy opens at 9:00am. Does he or she know that they have just stolen 3 days of my life and oh yes jeopardized my job and work performance on Monday, I start work at 6:30am as a union carpenter. Can’t tell the boss I need to run out at coffee break to pick up my Vyvanse.
LONG WINDED POINT BEING is that ADHD IS REAL, ITS ALIVE AS I AM BUT the constant need of my VYVANSE and the understanding of importance from doctors and pharmacists of that need seems to be NON EXISTENT. I love your honesty your insight your complete understanding and compassion for all of us. ALL MY RESPECT DAVE
Thank YOU for making those points so clearly! I needed to hear that today.
I stuck my neck out in “asocial” media and boy did I get lambasted. I tried to point out that a “viral video” of an unknown psychologist with uncertain credentials (who insists on calling herself “Dr” without exception…even Dr. Barkley doesn’t do that) should not be applauded. By anyone but especially people with ADHD.
Because this woman’s message is, “ADHD is a gift; you just need to find the right job.” It’s a “pretty lie” and one that many people with ADHD lap up. But it’s not to their benefit.
Any topic involving ADHD demands lots of intelligence and ability to understand apparent contradictions — and definitely complexity. It is no simple thing!
I’m sorry you have to wait until Monday to get your Rx. Unfortunately, the pharmacist might be simply following the law. Still, he could have shown a little compassion.
I stopped dealing with the pharmacy years ago and opted to get my husband’s Rx filled via the mail-order pharmacy. Only 4 times a year!
Notice that the opioids weren’t hard to get for millions of Americans, and many of them had undiagnosed ADHD. I’ve heard from quite a few who said that taking the opioid meant they were motivated and “clear” for the first time in their lives. Who could blame them for wanting that feeling? We all want it.
I hope you have a lovely weekend anyway and thank you for the kind support!
I’ve read your book , is it you, me or adult adhd a few years ago. My now ex husband was completely against any medication unless it was for me or the kids. I have taken all the tests and don’t technically have adhd myself, but our oldest child does and she does well With her meds. However it’s harder for her to deal with dad now that we are divorced. She says she experiences the blame game with her dad all the time now that it’s just her and her sister visiting him on weekends.
I wish I could help, only thing is that, I had to get away from his ADHD without meds because it was becoming physical and psychologically abusive, to the point of feeling crazy because of his lack of self control.
I gave him a choice to get meds or end the marriage and he chose to end it. However he constantly tells the kids I ended it.
You’ve hit upon an angle that has long interested me: How children of adults with ADHD manage the relationship while keeping intact their sense of self and what is right/wrong.
On the one hand, it is not a bad lesson for your daughter. Many people have no idea that “otherwise normal looking” adults can behave so dysfunctionally. She is learning young and, we hope, will recognize similar behavior in the people she associates with, works for, etc. She won’t be blindsided, gaslighted, and all the other things.
You don’t mention her age, and that matters. An older child might be able to say, “I don’t want to spend any more weekends with dad.” A younger one, perhaps not so much. Especially if there is court-ordered shared custody.
In my book, I try to warn the partners of adults with poorly managed ADHD: If you have children and you think divorce will solve your problem, think again; you will be co-parenting with that person as long as you both live.
It’s a bit after the fact, but an ultimatum can truly backfire. For some ADHD partners, it will be the final sign that you “mean it.” But for others, focusing on the medication as a term of marriage can feel like a nullification of their worth as a person, unmedicated.
There are many ways to attempt to work through denial. They aren’t foolproof, of course. And some people with “in denial” ADHD can truly be lacking empathy and acting narcissistically. It can be very difficult to get through.
It might be, at this point, that your daughter could try being very frank with your ex — perhaps a written letter will be best. “I love you, Dad, but I cannot tolerate your blaming me and my sister for things we have not done — in fact, that you have done. It is unhealthy, and I’m sure you don’t want to hurt us.”…..
Perhaps food for thought.
As for what he tells the children, you and they must learn to ignore it. State the facts to your children and let the truth unfold, as it seems to be.
I wish you all luck in a good outcome here.