What Every High School and College Kid Needs to Know About Their ADHD Medication

There are many issues I can discuss here under the broad topic of ADHD medication, so to set your expectations for this article I will tell you that this is NOT about the pros and cons of taking medication.  This article is going to assume that your teenager or your college-age child is taking medication to manage their ADHD symptoms.  There are important things kids need to know about their meds, and know how to manage taking responsibility for possessing their meds, that I don’t believe gets enough attention.

There is a huge problem nationwide with people (students and adults) using ADHD stimulant medication without having been properly diagnosed.  We know that a significant number of college kids take Stimulants that were not prescribed to them, or were prescribed inappropriately, in an effort to deal with academic pressures.  There are also people using Stimulants as part of a weight loss strategy.  There are even students who use Stimulants intentionally to prolong the amount of time they can consume alcohol.

I am not going to focus here on the ethical issues of students who do not have ADHD using Stimulant medication, except to say that some compare it to athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.  And as for those who choose to take Stimulants to manage their weight or to mess with the effects of Alcohol, frankly, that is their concern.  My concern is with your children, the ones who are legitimately taking their ADHD Stimulant medication to help them.

How do we best support kids and prepare them to safely, effectively, and appropriately manage the storage and use of their ADHD Stimulant medication?

There is a myriad of issues that students must be aware of and prepared for regarding possessing and using what is legally known as a Controlled Substance –  which ADHD Stimulant medications are.  Unfortunately, many prescribers are not adequately discussing and educating the students or parents, and also many kids have been on their meds since they were young when the issues may not have been yet relevant.

As I review the issues that students must consider and prepare for, please keep in mind the something I always teach teachers and parents: advocacy is a developmental skill.  It cannot and should not be an expectation.  We sometimes look at a child’s age or intelligence and assume they should be able to ask for what they need or speak up when they are being inappropriately spoken to.

Advocacy is a skill that, like reading and writing, must be taught and supported as the child gains their comfort.

We must be sure to provide kids with tools, support and perhaps even opportunities to role-play situations that they may not be comfortable or familiar with.

Issues that kids need to be knowledgeable and comfortable with regarding their medication:

Being approached by others to share or purchase:  I am starting with this issue since this can create one of the greatest concerns for kids.  As I mentioned earlier, there are a significant number of students and adults who are using Stimulant Medication that was either inappropriately prescribed (without a full and proper diagnosis) or by acquiring the meds from others how acquired them legally.  Let me be clear.  ADHD Stimulant Medications are considered Controlled Substances.  It is illegal to possess a Controlled Substance without an authorized prescription.  This means that if your child possesses Meds without having them properly prescribed to them, it is a crime.  Furthermore, if your child sells or even gives their meds to another person, they are subject to criminal penalties even if money does not exchange hands.  The penalties for sale/transfer are much higher than for possession of a controlled substance.

I believe it is vital that you actively discuss this issue with your child.  But beyond the knowledge, your child must know what to do if they are approached by friends and others who may request your child give or sell some of their meds to them.  As I mentioned above – advocacy is a developmental skill.  These can be sticky and uncomfortable situations for your child to deal with, and you want to both help them be prepared and know that they are not alone.  Especially if they feel they are being threatened or bullied.  Unfortunately, they may need to consider not letting others know that they are on meds.  I say “unfortunately” since sometimes in sharing of themselves they have the opportunity to gain closeness and support from others.  Some of the things they can say to others are:

  • It is illegal for me to share or sell my meds because they are a Controlled Substance.
  • I need every one of my pills since I am not given any extras in my prescription.

Medication Storage: Because your child may be away at school or some other living situation, it is important to discuss where he may keep the meds.  Unfortunately, there are numerous cases of kids having their medication stolen from their dorm rooms or apartments.  The “street value” is significant in making them an easy target.  You may want to help them purchase a lock box or some other type of discreet container to keep their meds from view.  Also, make sure they know the importance of storing or transporting their medication in the subscription bottle with their name on it!!!  If for some reason they are pulled stopped and there isn’t a prescription bottle with their name, they will be accused of carrying an illegal drug.

Refills: If your child will be responsible for refilling medication, make sure he knows exactly where to get the refill.  If this is a new experience, review how to read the bottle to know the RX number, the phone number, and hours of the pharmacy they should be ordering the refill from.  Make sure they know to anticipate when they should call for a refill as well as how far in advance they can call for a refill since in some cases a pharmacy may be temporarily out of a particular medication and will need to order.  It is part of the ADHD to be forgetful and disorganized – so support these concerns rather than making them a requirement early on.

Alcohol Use: Using Stimulant medication can make the effects of alcohol feel stronger while at the same time delaying that feeling you get when you’ve had too much to drink.  As a result, one may not notice their body’s natural cues that it’s time to stop. This raises the risk of alcohol poisoning or a drinking-related accident.

Dosage/ Formula:  Once your child heads off to college or other opportunities, their needs for medication may shift.  He may no longer have a Monday through Friday schedule that requires that they take their medication first thing in the morning.  They may now have classes in the early part of the day and in the evening.  While some students will do best to keep a regular medication routine, others may decide they want to adjust when they take their meds based on their studying needs and/or emotional regulation needs.  There are several different options regarding short and long lasting formulas as well as adjusting doses and dispensing mechanisms.  Discussing these issues with an expert in ADHD medication would be best to explore options.

The bottom line is that ADHD Stimulant medication, when used properly, can make a huge difference in your child’s academic and social world.  However, it is important to prepare your child for the issues involved in being responsible for their own medication management.

Here are some other articles you may want to read:

Medication – The Parent Factor

Let’s Address the REAL Lesson of the Suicide of Richard Fee

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4 thoughts on “What Every High School and College Kid Needs to Know About Their ADHD Medication”

  1. Although my daughter is still in middle school, this is such valuable information to know and plan for before sending her off to college in 5yrs!!! Thank you Cindy for your continued guidance in gaining wisdom on my daughter’s ADHD journey! Just wish I had known about you & your practice while we lived on Long Island many years ago! But, very happy I found you and able to connect from afar!

    • Thank you for explaining this. We always hear the words advocacy without a detailed explanation what that means. This information is valuable and informative.

  2. Unfortunately you can’t just call in to have it refilled. They need to call their dr tell them they need a prescription then go to the office and pick it up then take it to the pharmacy. It’s a controlled substance they won’t do automatic refills or refills over the phone. I have to show my liscence too when I pick iup my kids medicine and they scan it. So this needs to be taught too. Thanks for the information it’s very helpful.

  3. A comment on refills, these medications cannot be “refilled”; no Schedule II Controlled Substances can be (stimulants and certain narcotics). A new prescription is required each time. The clinician prescribing it cannot simply phone the pharmacy to authorize a new RX. It has to be sent using a secure, authenticated system using the prescriber’s charting system OR provided to the patient on paper, handsigned by the prescriber and printed on special paper that is tamper-proof. Some prescribers can set up new RX to be sent to a pharmacy at future dates; this depends on the charting system used, and whether a pharmacy can accept them. Not all states accept RX from prescibers in other states.
    Thus another aspect of medications at college is figuring out the logistics of safely getting the RX or medication. Discuss this with your prescribing clinician.

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