Top Ten Things I Wish Students With ADD (ADHD) Knew About
Their Medication When They Arrive On Campus
Patricia O. Quinn, M.D.
1. Know the name of your medication and how it works.
Ritalin (methylphenidate), Dexedrine, Adderall (amphetamines)
or Strattera are the most commonly prescribed medications
for ADD (ADHD). Ritalin and Dexedrine come as either short-acting
(usually 4 hours) and longer acting (6-12 hours) preparations.
The shorter acting medications take effect in 20 minutes while
the longer acting ones may take up to an hour to be fully
effective. Both of these medications work on correcting the
neurobiochernistry of the brain, which is thought to be the
cause of the symptoms seen in ADD (ADHD). These medications
enhance brain receptor functioning, inhibit the breakdown
of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, and themselves
act as neurotransmitters.
2. If you needed medication to concentrate in high school,
you most likely will need medication to concentrate in college.
Stimulants are the treatment of choice for ADD (ADHD). They
increase concentration and focus while decreasing distractibility
and impulsivity. Seventy (70) percent of individuals with
ADD continue to have problems with attention throughout their
lifespan. ADD does not go away!
3. Stimulants improve cognitive functioning but you still
have to put in time studying and attending classes.
Taking medication before classes can help you concentrate
on what is going on and enhances information gathering. You
can also use your medication dosage times to establish a schedule
for study. You should know how long your medicine will be
effective and therefore determine how much focused study time
you have available. Set up a schedule for studying accordingly.
Stimulants can also help you stay focused while you are
reading and thus improve your reading comprehension. Students
frequently report that they read all of the material but have
no clue as to what they have just read because they weren't
paying attention. To solve this problem be sure your stimulant
medication is in effect while you are reading.
4. ADD (ADHD) affects all aspects of life - social, home,
sports, and employment.
You don't just need to concentrate in class you also need
to focus on what your friends are saying or on instructions
on the job. Focus and concentration are important in sports
whether you are playing tennis or catching a football. Often
being distracted and/or acting impulsively can get you into
trouble with your friends or (when driving a car) with the
law. It is important to assess how much the symptoms of ADD
(ADHD) are affecting your functioning and to take your medication
accordingly. Improved concentration may improve the quality
of your life in many ways.
5. It is important to take medication as prescribed for
you by your physician. Don't self-medicate.
Many students have a mistaken notion that if one pill works
well, two will work better - while that may be true for other
medications, that is not the case for stimulants. Stimulant
medications work best within a "window of efficacy."
For each individual there is a dose of medication that is
most effective. Higher or lower doses than your ideal dose
will be less effective. The amount of medication you need
does not depend on your body weight or on the severity of
your symptoms but rather on what works for you. You should
periodically reassess whether your medication is still functioning
at optimum effectiveness. Many students come to college on
the same dose of medication that worked for them in elementary
or high school. That's fine if you've had a recent careful
review of your needs and it's clear that the same dosage level
continues to be most effective, but you shouldn't assume that
the same dose continues to be most effective for you.
6. It is illegal to distribute (share) your prescription
Stimulant medications are controlled substances. The law
states that all medications should be kept in their original
container and labeled with your name, name and dose of medication.
It is important not to transfer your stimulant medication
to another bottle for any reason. It is against the low for
you to distribute a controlled substance. This means sharing
your medication with a friend who needs to study for that
big test or concentrate in class or a sport. Many students
carry their medications with them at all times to avoid leaving
them unattended in their rooms where they may be more accessible
7. Drugs and alcohol do not mix with stimulants.
Your ADD (ADHD) is caused by a chemical imbalance in your
brain. You are taking stimulant medication to try to correct
that imbalance. If you use other drugs such as marijuana,
which also affect brain dopamine, you wreak havoc with an
already imbalanced system. Your medications will not be as
effective and you will be more impaired in your functioning.
Taking stimulants also affects the metabolism of alcohol in
the body and can result in higher blood alcohol levels and
increase the risk of alcohol poisoning. Mixing cocaine and
the stimulants can kill!
8. Check ups are important - Check in with the health
center on campus when you arrive and monthly after that.
As a controlled substance stimulant prescriptions need to
be refilled monthly. When you arrive on campus it is important
to visit the health center and set up a mechanism for you
to receive your medication prescriptions regularly. If you
depend on other systems they usually break down at some point
and you may be left without medication usually at critical
times like before a test or during study for finals. It's
also important for the staff to become familiar with you so
that if questions arise about dose or side effects they can
answer them more readily. You can also have your weight checked
monthly to make sure you are still eating enough calories
and not losing weight because you are not hungry or forget
9. Report any side effects you experience promptly. Do
not stop your medication on your own. Talk with someone about
addressing these side effects.
If your stimulant medication is proving to be effective
and making a difference in your life there is no reason to
stop it because of unpleasant side effects. It is important
to report these side effects to the health care facility or
your primary physician. Based on their experience they will
usually have techniques for dealing with these side effects
that you may not have though of. Don't stop your medicine
on your own. Do go to talk with someone about them. A change
in medication or reduction in dose may be all that you need
but let the professionals decide that course of action.
10. See your primary physician at least once a year for
an examination and blood tests.
As with all chronic conditions and medications that are
taken routinely, it is important to have a regular check-up.
Blood tests that assess liver functioning are important. Your
physician back home is likely the one that diagnosed your
ADD (ADHD) and knows you the best. Be sure you check in with
him or her to assess how things are going from time to time.