Afraid of taking ADHD medication? You’re not alone

A ADDitude A reader recently wrote, “I was diagnosed in my early thirties with inattentive ADHD. Not being able to successfully manage the disease led me to seek out helpful advice on how to manage my daily life, as well as advice on medication. I avoided drugs because in my late teens I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was prescribed Depakote, which caused me to gain 40 pounds and become a zombie.

“I was again misdiagnosed in my mid-twenties as suffering from depression. I was prescribed Celexa for a year which reduced my anxiety but did little to lessen my symptoms of ADHD These misdiagnoses contribute to my fear of drugs, and it wasn’t until I finished college later in life that I received a correct diagnosis of ADHD.

“I’m in graduate school now and I can’t concentrate. I spend too much time online trying to distract myself so I can’t concentrate. I would like some advice for inattentive ADHD, as well as medication advice. »


I admire your perseverance and determination. Despite your difficult experiences with misdiagnoses and medications, you are still searching for answers. As your story shows, the path to an accurate ADHD diagnosis and effective treatment is neither straight nor narrow.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD / ADD?]

ADHD is an umbrella term for the hyperactive-impulsive presentation of ADHD, the inattentive presentation of ADHD, and the combined inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive presentation of ADHD. The inattentive presentation of ADHD, like yours, is often missed or misdiagnosed, due to a lack of commonly recognized ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Unfortunately, your misdiagnoses are frequent. Because there is no medical test to detect ADHD, it is a diagnosis of exclusion – determined by ruling out other possible causes for the symptoms. The process of elimination is based on your history of symptoms, an examination to rule out physical causes of symptoms, or a variety of tests to assess major challenges.

The Changing Nature of ADHD

ADHD is developmental in nature, meaning the condition looks different at different ages. Symptoms of hyperactivity may become less obvious as someone ages. Many teens and adults seem calmer, but they feel restless and distracted inside. Inattentive presentation typically lasts from childhood through adulthood and includes ongoing executive function challenges, such as forgetfulness, disorganization, and problems concentrating. It is common that over time and with a longer history of identifying symptoms, a professional can correctly diagnose ADHD and rule out common coexisting mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.

A missed diagnosis is disappointing for the patient and, in your own case, it has led to fear and distrust of medical treatment.

Now that you’ve been properly diagnosed, it’s understandable that you’re hesitant to use medication as the sole treatment for ADHD. You are looking for complementary treatments to drugs. Medications for ADHD are effective in reducing symptoms of attention deficit, but it is not a standalone treatment. It works best with other treatment approaches, such as talk therapy, coaching, behavior modification, and disease education.

[Free Download: Your Ultimate ADHD Diagnosis Guide]

Questions for your prescriber

The FDA has approved a handful of drugs to treat ADHD. To experience the positive benefits of ADHD medication, you need to have all three “rights”: the right medication, the right dose, and the right time. When looking for a prescriber you trust, I recommend asking the following questions:

  • What type of drug is it? Stimulating or not stimulating?
  • How does this drug work in my brain? How does this help my ADHD?
  • What negative side effects are normal with this medicine?
  • What health checks should be carried out, if any?
  • Are there any side effects that would warrant me calling you or stopping taking this medication?
  • How will I know if this medication is working? What differences will I notice?
  • When should I take this medicine? Does it matter if I take it in the morning or at night?
  • Should I take this medicine every day?
  • If I want to stop taking this medication, how should I do?
  • Do I take this medication with or without food? Does it matter?
  • How long will this medicine take to start working?
  • How long do the effects of this medication last after taking it?
  • What is the plan for monitoring and adjusting the dose of this drug?

find focus

Having trouble initiating or staying with an unpleasant or uninteresting task is a common challenge for people with ADHD. In an attempt to engage our brains, many people with ADHD get distracted by more interesting activities.

Starting a task involves more than just starting to do it. It requires executive functions affected by ADHD, such as prioritizing, organizing, planning, and time awareness. As ‘global thinkers’, many people with ADHD are overwhelmed by the ‘start-up’ stage. Global thinkers focus on the big picture and don’t see the details. When faced with a big project, you need to define the goal you want to achieve, gather all the information, and break the task down into smaller pieces that can be accomplished in time, according to priorities, deadlines, etc. This process is difficult for people with ADHD.

Here are some suggestions for getting started:

1. Ask yourself what is the goal you are trying to achieve. Accurately identifying your outcome will help you master starting the task. Is the goal to write a two-page article? Read three chapters of your textbook? Are you preparing for a test? Knowing the specific outcome helps sharpen your focus.

2. Divide the total task into different pieces. If the goal of the task is to read your textbook, break that broader result down into “read chapter 1, read chapter 2, then chapter 3.” These are smaller, more achievable tasks.

3. Estimate how long each small task will take. People with ADHD often overestimate or underestimate how long it will take to complete something. In order to compensate for this, double the time you think it will take to complete something. The remaining time is a bonus!

4. Approach the elements of the task in small increments of time – say, work 15-30 minutes at a time, followed by a short break. Experiment with different time intervals to find the one that works best for you.

5. Ask yourself when your brain is most productive. Be sure to schedule your toughest tasks for these times.

6. Be aware of what distracts you and minimize it. If you notice that checking email constantly takes you away from the task at hand, plan to only check email for a certain amount of time at certain intervals.

7. Try using background noise to focus on less interesting tasks. A particular type of background music or conversation helps some people focus on a task by providing the stimulation their brain needs. Working in public places, like cafes, provides a kind of “variety” that helps us stay engaged.

This is an exciting time in your life. You’ve finally got an accurate diagnosis of ADHD and you’re ready to face your challenges head-on – anything is possible.

[Choosing a Professional to Diagnose and Treat ADHD]

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