My 13 yo Is Refusing His Meds!

My son is 13 and refused to take his ADHD meds this summer and the start of the school year.  I had him sign a contract stating that if he got written up at school and/or grades dropped then he would have to start taking his medicine again.  He says he hates how it makes him feel.  I think it makes him less impulsive and able to pay attention a little better. Anyway, he got written up for cutting class and I made him take his pill today.  I’m just looking for some advice on this subject.  My pediatrician will just increase the dosage when I discuss this with him–not so great on the monitoring of his meds.

Thanks, Lisa

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for this important question. Early adolescence is a tough time, and most kids are desperate to fit in and not be seen as different or weird. It’s very common for a teen with ADHD to suddenly become uncooperative about taking medication (and let’s face it, lots of other things as well) when they reach middle school. It’s the stage of life when they’re beginning to test their independence, and gently or not so gently push you away.

Medicines for ADHD affect chemical signals in the brain and central nervous system. They help with ADHD by increasing the level of neurotransmitters in the brain called dopamine and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that assist in sending messages between nerve cells in the brain. In addition to pills, some medications are also available in a patch that can be placed directly on the skin, allowing medicine to be absorbed.

Chances are, the medicine does make him feel ‘different’, but it’s not clear whether that’s what’s behind his refusal, or if he’s practicing independence and control. But in either case it looks like some of his impulsivity is showing, and that will cause problems. We know that teen impulsivity can impact his peer relationships and so much more. Talk with him about it and let him know how concerned you are about the consequences.

It’s important to respect his need not to be seen as different by his peers, but at the same time you need to set limits and let him know that you won’t allow his impulsive behavior to harm him. You are the mother. He’s demonstrated that he didn’t keep his agreement with you when he got into trouble after he stopped taking his meds, so a new impulse control strategy is called for. Ask your son to help you brain-storm solutions. It’s important to include his doctor in this conversation, because he may be able to suggest a medication that works better for him. Schedule an appointment for the three of you to discuss it.

Your guy is at a tough age when it’s not easy to talk openly with parents. It sounds like he might benefit from a counselor or other adult sounding board who’s not his mom. It’s a tough age for you, too. You need to gradually offer more autonomy by offering him the opportunity to show that he’s earned it. The trick is to stay in the driver’s seat while he learns the skills and responsibility needed to take the wheel.

Good luck!

~  The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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2 responses to “My 13 yo Is Refusing His Meds!”

  1. lori kocan

    Really- that’s your answer for this poor kid. He’s crying out to not be medicated and our answer is to find a new medication.

    ADHD can be greatly controlled by nutrition, supplements and exercise. Can we start there first? Sure it takes alot of time and effort, but it’s your son-change your unhealthy habits.

  2. Virginia Tinney

    I know this response is a year late and hopefully you have things back on track.
    With that being said, I am the Mother of a 30 & 18 yr old both with ADHD, and was diagnosed with ADD a couple years ago myself. You have to find the right medication for your sons immediate problem but also one you may later have to justify to him, as well as yourself. Ritalin was the prescribed for my 30 year old when he was 6. Until the day he came home and told me he felt his “Heart was gonna blow up.” I immediately called his Dr. They had me bring him in, gave him a dose, and monitored his Heart rate for 2 hrs after, concluding that Ritalin was still the best alternative. I refused to continue the medication and asked for a different Dr. Now Ritalin is linked to male Gynecomastia (growth of breasts), which has no DIRECT link to the heart, but maybe a hormonal imbalance caused heart related symptoms in my son.
    I’m not an advocate for chemically produced medications & pharmaceutical companies. I believe that in their beginning, people had genuine concern & good intentions to help & cure. But that those good intentions, were quickly taken over by others, whos agendas are driven more by $$ signs instead of concern for their fellow man. I encourage you to research & educate yourself, as well as your child(ren,) because if history has shown us but 1 thing, it is that chemically based medications, have had some pretty serious and sometimes deadly, side effects. Remember, whatever you give your child(ren,) could come back to haunt you years later.
    Three questions I ask my doctors are: “How long has this medication been on the market?, How often do you prescribe it ? and What side effects have you seen?” Please do not discredit what your son is trying to tell you. Instead, ask him to explain a little more.
    My 18 year old knew he was ADHD long before he was diagnosed. He hit his Dr with a well researched knowledge, facts and questions while discussing his treatment plan. She looked at me and I said “Its his body and he’s obviously done this homework.” He was 15 at the time and to this day he will not take a medication without first asking several questions and then educating himself. Good Luck

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