Understanding Someone with Adult ADHD and Quitting Medication

Published October 21, 2012 by Tabby

It’s amazing how many people unknowingly have friends, family, and/or colleagues with adult ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. These unseen conditions do affect people and awareness would greatly benefit not only those with these conditions but also their loved ones. Maybe it would also lessen those who believe these conditions don’t really exist. (I’d invite them to spend a day with an adult ADHD sufferer, without their meds, in a small non-stimulating environment).

Part of having these conditions is facing the decision whether to medicate. I’m not a fan of taking medication or the belief many non-sufferers have that we take medication just to be taking a pill. While I do believe many are over-prescribed and some people do abuse them, but not everyone. It’s sometimes an amazing/unreadable concept to some that some people need medication to function in an every day life. I’m sure many people who need these medications would love to stop spending the money, stressing their liver and dealing with side effects, it’s just not plausible. Natural cures are great if they work, but they don’t for everyone. And for the Tom Cruises out there, exercise and vitamins are great regardless but don’t correct glitches in your brain.

A less favorable aspect of necessary medication is finding the right one. Since modern medical science doesn’t yet understand what causes ADHD, they are also unsure of why certain medications work and others do not. This means that often people must try multiple medications until the right one is discovered. It’s not fun being a human experiment while searching for the correct medication: there are vast unpleasant side effects. In addition, it often takes months or years to find the correct medication and dosage. And sometimes you have to judge if the long term effects from the medication are worth the payoff. Most of the time there is no choice.

One example for adult ADHD is Adderall. It is a controlled prescription form of meth, basically. It’s a stimulant. Adderall is highly addictive and abused (not just by people who need it). The side effects include dehydration, addiction, insomnia, lack of sexual desire, irritability, mood swings, heart palpitations, skin wounds, urinary tract infections, and more. Not everyone experiences these effects but they are pretty common. But for those who try Adderall in the quest for a normal existence and discover it is not for them, there is another problem: you can’t instantly quit taking it. “Cold turkey” stopping of the medication can cause lifelong seizures, death, and same withdrawal symptoms of a lifelong drug addict quitting heroin. They must slowly reduce their dosage until they can safely stop taking the medication. This withdrawal time is the hardest. The following is an article from a website for ADHD sufferers attempting to quit Adderall. Please keep this in mind if you or anyone you know is going through a withdrawal period-it’s not just for street drug addicts.

“How to Help a Friend Quit Adderall,” Quitting Adderall.com, http://quittingadderall.com/7-ways-loved-quitting-adderall/

Note: I’m going to switch gender pronouns back an forth. Most of this applies to guys and girls, friends and spouses.

1. Be the one person who understands why they’re quitting

For your friend, one of the hardest parts of quitting Adderall will be that everybody else will think he’s crazy. If he were quitting cigarettes or alcohol, all of his good friends would pat him on the back and say “Good job, Jimmy! Congrats on getting sober! We’re so proud of you!”
But that’s not what happens with Adderall.

On the contrary, most of his peers will act concerned and disapproving when he quits, and say things like “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you getting your work done? Why are you sleeping all the time? Why are you so morose lately? Did you take your medicine today? You should take your medicine, because you’re pretty worthless without it. What do you mean you’re quitting?! It’s just a medicine. I mean, I take prozac. It’s not a big deal. Just take it.”

Think about what’s going on there. Think about how he hears those statements: He is trying to quit taking a drug, and all of his peers are directly or indirectly encouraging him to stay on the drugs. This makes quitting Adderall a very lonely struggle for your friend, who will constantly question his decision because it gets so little support from his peers.

He knows that to make everybody else happy, it would be easier just to stay on Adderall. But he’s at a point where he’s finally ready to start trying to make himself happy first. And for somebody like him, who cares very much about the approval of others, that’s a big step. Now, what you can do as his friend is be on his side when nobody else is.

Even if you cannot become convinced that quitting is the right thing for your friend to do, for his sake it will help if you at least understand his motives and encourage him to see them through.
If you’ve never taken Adderall, it might be a bit hard to fully understand why somebody would want to quit, but I’ll try to explain anyway…

Why most people quit Adderall

In the movie Neverending Story II, there’s an evil witch who gives the main character (Sebastian) a device that will grant him any wish he desires, at the expense of one of his childhood memories (one memory per wish granted).
Wish by wish, young Sebastian gains a power and loses his memories. By the end of the movie Sebastian is very powerful, with all his wishes granted, but he has forgotten everything that makes him who he is. Adderall has a similar effect on many people. This is why the number one reason people decide to quit Adderall is “To get back of a piece of myself that feels lost.”
By quitting Adderall, your friend is hoping that he will eventually get back some of those special parts of himself that he feels like he’s lost. Maybe it’s a passion (acting, writing, painting, making short films, etc.) that he doesn’t prioritize enough when he’s on Adderall. Maybe it’s his sense of humor. Or maybe it’s his willpower and self-discipline that he misses.

Pain is an important part of life. Pain tells you when you’re doing something stupid and wrong that you should stop doing. Adderall, in a way, is like an anesthetic for work-related pain. On Adderall you will never think “this work sucks”. You will never think “I don’t like this job.” And you will never think “Gee I really wish I was doing something I enjoyed.” At least, not to the extent sober people feel those sentiments.

Part of finding your place in this world is going through lots of work you don’t like doing to find work that you do like doing. Adderall blocks that process. So part of what your friend is doing is turning his pain sensors back on so he can step back on that path that will lead him (through discomfort) to a calling that suits him.

Whatever he’s lost, he’s hoping that by quitting Adderall he will get it back. And he’s counting on being able to feel pain again to point him in the right direction. He knows he’s going to be worthless for a while. He knows it’s going to be very hard. But he hopes that eventually with enough work he’ll be a stronger, more genuine person than he ever was before. And here’s the secret: he will be.

In time, he will be noticeably better, and his decision to quit Adderall will be seen in a more positive light by his peers, who didn’t realize what he was doing until it was done.
Your role, as his angel and friend, will be to swallow an ounce of faith and support his reasons for quitting before anybody else does. It’s a very courageous thing your friend is doing, and you can be his hero by seeing it in that light when nobody else does.

2. Understand that she doesn’t like being an unproductive slug all day

Your friend/significant other turned to Adderall in the first place because she has a deep desire to contribute and excel in all areas of her life, especially work. When she quits Adderall and suddenly loses her ability to produce, it will be very hard for her.

She has pressured herself into a very high standard of productivity, which Adderall helps her maintain even to exess. When she quits Adderall, she still has this high standard, but suddenly she can’t bring herself to meet it anymore, and the pressure of her sudden helplessness compared against the mountain of work she has invited on herself will crush her at first.

She’s the type of person who will always feel like she could have done more even when she’s producing twice as much as everybody else, and now she’s completely stripping herself of her ability to produce at all (and for the first time less than everybody else). It’s agonizing. And the guilt is overwhelming.

If you want to make an ex Adderall user reach for her pills, make her feel like you’re disappointed in her for not getting any work done. She wants desparately to get the work done and to do it very well, and she wants to earn your respect and make you proud. But right now, for this little period of her life, she can’t.

3. Point out positive changes when you see them

There are plenty of negative side effects that crop up when a person quits Adderall, but there are also some good, pleasant side effects as well. It will help to point out these positive changes when you notice them, to help show your friend that he’s making progress even if he may not be aware of it.

As you observed your friend over the course of his time on Adderall, you probably noticed many of the positive affects of the drug: He was more energetic, more confident, he seemed to be much more productive, he lost weight, etc.

And you probably noticed some undesirable quirks in his behavior too: Maybe his sleep cycle was erratic (binge/crash), he spoke too fast, he spent too much time on trivial details and sometimes had trouble completing projects because he got so wrapped up in them and ran out of time.

If you’re in a relationship with the person, there’s a whole slew of additional negative behaviors you might notice when they’re on Adderall. Maybe they don’t pay as much attention to you, don’t seem to need you as much, their sex drive is lower than you’d like it to be, they can’t have silly fun like they used to, they can’t relax when you just want to chill out and have fun, they’re always thinking about work, or they obsesses over too many things. Maybe he’s a little full of himself.

Often when a person quits Adderall, all the positive and negative changes the Adderall brought are completely turned on their head (reversed). If their sex drive went down on Adderall, it will probably go up when they quit. If they were full of themselves on Adderall, they will probably feel insecure and inferior when they quit.

You can pretty much go down the list of what they were like on Adderall, and expect the direct opposite behavior when they quit. This is why quitting Adderall is one of the biggest changes you can make in your life: it turns your world around, quite literally.

Many of the behavior changes you notice after they quit Adderall will be unpleasant and negative, for you and for them. But there will be a few things that are noticeably positive improvements. It’s important that you point these positive changes out to your friend when you see them, because it’s very hard for him to feel the good parts of quitting despite the bad (at first).

Positive changes to watch for:
Sense of humor coming back
Sex drive pleasantly increasing
Ability to chill out and relax more
Talking about/renewed interest in artistic & creative things like writing, painting, acting.
In general, watch for these: Humor, sex, silly fun, child-like creativity, love of being outdoors.
When you notice these positive changes, say something! It really helps.

4. Take any work off her plate that you can (at first)
When she first quits Adderall, it will be very hard for your friend to do anything besides lay in bed all day and deal with the withdrawals. When she does manage to crawl out of her dopamine-depleted coma, it will be a challenge for her just to make food, get dressed, and make it into work reasonably close to on-time.

Adderall is a drug that helps people work. So when it’s taken away, they’re left with what remains of their natural work muscles (willpower, self-discipline, etc.), which won’t amount to much after years depending on Adderall to get the job done. Think of it like somebody who’s been walking with bionic-assisted legs for years, and then the bionic attachments break and she has to try and walk on her shriveled, atrophied original muscles. It’s not pretty.

In the first months after she quits Adderall, your friend will be putting off and casting aside tasks as if she were the laziest person ever born. But it’s not laziness. She is acutely aware of every single task, and she wants to get them all done and make everyone proud, but she can’t figure out how to get through them without incurring so much stress and mental pain that she goes running back to her pill bottle. So she just shuts down.

To help, take whatever tasks you can off your friend’s plate. Reduce the stress of her workload. Take tasks in shear numbers, or leave her the easy tasks and you take the big, creative, heavy-lifting ones (note: here I mean mental heavy lifting). Give her time to be a slug and recover her chemicals for a month or two. The more you depressurize her to-do list, the less she will have to be anxious about, and ultimately the more she’ll be able to focus on her recovery.
Remember: She would do it for you.

5. Try not to throw big tasks at him, but do throw little tasks at him

Do you remember your last math class in school? Math is easy when you only have to worry about one variable, like “x”. It’s a little tricky when you start adding “y” and then it gets downright daunting when you have to worry about x, y, z, m, and lots of other factors…all of which have to be factored for and calculated with perfect arithmetic or the whole problem goes to hell.
This is why math teachers start out teaching single-variable problems. Then as the class moves through the chapters and the students get comfortable, the teacher starts increasing the number of variables and complications in each problem, until eventually you find yourself coasting easily through a problem at end of the semester that would have given you a panic attack if you’d seen it at the beginning.

Generally, this is the approach you should take with your friend the newly-sober Adderallic. Start him off on very simple problems with few variables, and work him up as he gets comfortable.
When he first quits Adderall, it will be the large, complex, multi-variable problems that are the most difficult for him (because his attention span, interest level, and patience will be 1/10th of what they were).

Trying to make your friend do a task that is too mentally demanding too early will be the equivalent of throwing a PhD-level math problem at a freshmen and telling him that he has to solve it right now or he will fail at life and everyone he cares about will hate him.

All that said, do throw tasks at him. He will need a little discomfort to keep his willpower and work ethic on the mend. Just don’t go too big too early, or it’ll break him.

Here are some tips:
Physical tasks (e.g., “clean the basement”) are more manageable than mental and emotional tasks (e.g., “fill out this application”)

In terms of your friend’s reactions to the work: Groaning and discomfort is fine, but watch for anxiety. You want to avoid causing him so much mental stress that he freaks out.
You goal here is not to push him and give him “tough love”. Your goal his to help him convince him that he is still capable of doing work, by giving him things he can digest.

6. Be a pleasant distraction for her

The one thing your friend is going to crave like crazy when she first quits Adderall is distractions. Something, anything she can use as an excuse not to face the horrible reality that she is now excruciatingly incompetent at all things productivity and work.

In the beginning, she will often trap herself between her sense of obligation to work and her inability to meet that obligation. You can offer her escape from this by jumping in and wisking her away to fun distractions. See, it’s hard for her to distract herself without feeling guilty like she’s procrastinating. But if you pull her away for something pleasant, she allows it though her guilt filter. Because you are an obligation. She has to keep your approval. So if she has to go ride roller coasters with you to keep your approval…that’s permissible in her mind.

It is in this way that you can give your dear friend a much-needed sense of break and enjoyment in her quitting Adderall struggle. Don’t pull her away if you see her actually making progress on something, but if she’s slumped on the couch looking like she wants to die, give her something better to do.

Additionally, most Adderall uses report a significantly increased desire to exercise after quitting Adderall. That’s something you can do together, which can be fun and beneficial for both of you.

7. When in doubt, just leave him alone and let him recover.

If you’re too much in their face, you become an obligation that stresses them. This is especially true of Introverts. Quitting Adderall is in every way a battle against the self. It is a very lonely war that few people are capable of fully understanding. Ultimately, you can help them in lots of ways, but they’re going to have to teach themselves how to live and work again without Adderall.
Most Adderall users are by nature approval addicts, who are hyper-sensitive to obligations that they feel are placed on them by others. This is why a largely hands-off approach can often work best (as a default approach) when dealing with a newly-sober Adderallic. Give them lots of time and space to feel free of others and obligations. Part of the quitting process will involve them creating, sometimes for the first time, a space in their life that is all their own. It is in that space that they will grow into the kind of person that doesn’t need Adderall anymore.


9 comments on “Understanding Someone with Adult ADHD and Quitting Medication

  • Hello,
    My ex-boyfriend and I are extremely close. We have known each other for 2 years. We are best friends and would see each other and talk to each other every day. We play tennis almost everyday. He has always been energetic, a lot of fun, and super creative. He has always been very thoughtful and taken good care of me when I am with him.

    He has just quit taking adderall and other medications for ADHD.Since quitting his medication, I seem to have ceased to exist. All the things you describe above seem appear opposite to me.

    We went out the other night and he spent the whole night talking to other girls while I stood next to him and didn’t not introduce me. I could not introduce myself because his body position cut me off from the group. At one point, he leaned across me and carried on a conversation with a girl as if I wasn’t there. He then proceeded to stare at all the girls in the bathroom line. I left and later told him I felt invisible. That one statement did not even have to be clarified for him. He immediately recognized my meaning and apologized and said he was distracted. He has never been that rude to me before, so I forgave him with the understanding of the distraction.

    Everything seems more business like now. When he answers my call, he seems totally disinterested. I spent some time with him on Christmas Eve and he spent the whole time looking at the internet while he talked to me. My subjects of discussion were of no interest to to him.

    Now, he barely acknowledges a phone call or text.

    All of this has literally happened in a weeks time. A week ago he was constantly telling me how much he loved me and he was so happy I was in his life. Now it’s as if I don’t exist.

    I was supportive when he told me he had quit his medication. Now, I wonder if I should expect our friendship to be over and if he has discovered he has no feelings for me. I feel I should not continue to try to contact him because I figure if he wanted me in his life being off medication would not affect him.

    Any thoughts?



    • Hello!!

      Thank you for your comment! Just to let you know, I’m by no means an expert but I will give you my opinion no problem! And people have different bodies so medication and coming off of it will affect people differently.

      How long has he been off of the medication? Did he quit all at once or gradually lower the dosage? Adderall is an addictive substance and should never be stopped all at once. If he hasn’t been gradually lowering the dosage he will be suffering horrible physical and emotional withdrawal. Withdrawal is common even with gradual stoppage.

      I know personally when I came off the medication my boyfriend and I didn’t have the greatest time. He was very understanding and put up with a lot. I felt VERY cranky and just wanted to be left alone. Although I appreciated the support, I didn’t want my boyfriend to cuddle with me or show any overt affection. I was a little stand-offish because I just wanted to be alone. Plus, I knew I was angry and cranky and I tend to isolate myself when I know I am so I don’t hurt feelings. He may be feeling the same way. This lasted for me for a few weeks. It could last longer for him, depending on how long he was on the Adderall.

      The being distracted when you’re around, such as surfing the internet, etc. is totally a part of the ADHD. That’s what it is-we can’t focus on one thing at a time and we get distracted easily, pretty much from a complete lack of attention. It doesn’t mean we don’t like the person that’s talking to us, we just get…”ooh shiny!” For example, I can’t just sit and watch tv. I have to surf the internet, read something, and such while I watch tv. That used to drive my boyfriend insane until he “got it” that I can’t sit still like other people.

      However, the looking at other girls and talking to other girls doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with withdrawals. That just sounds rude. I would think if it was just withdrawal crankiness, he wouldn’t really want to talk to anyone at all, not just avoiding you. Or he could just be distracted by any kind of movement in his line of sight. Have you talked about it yet? It also depends on how long he’s been off the medication. It’ll take a few weeks at least before he feels somewhat normal. If you think it’s still the medication withdrawals, I’d give him space but to where he’d still know he has your support. If it’s been a few weeks or a reasonable amount of time since he’s stopped taking the medication, I’d talk to him about that. He could possibly just need a nudge that he’s being a jerk.

      Lastly, no amount of emotion in a relationship can override the chemical imbalance in the brain of ADHD. A person doesn’t stop being ADHD (or bipoloar, schizo, having cancer, a broken limb, etc.) just because they’re in a relationship, regardless of how happy they may be. It’s always an adjustment until the medication is regulated/changed and/or that person discovers what is right for them. I would definitely have a non-accusatory, non-arguementative talk about how you’re feeling.

      Hope this helps and good luck!

      • Thanks so much for the quick response. I’m not really sure how long he has been off it. I suspect just recently. Two weeks ago things seemed fine. His ADHD behavior just became noticeable in the last week. We had not spoken for the week before because we were in a fight.

        He has made me his constant companion and I was beginning to feel confused. I then discovered he had spent a Saturday evening playing tennis with me and then had another woman come spend the night. I told him I could not be his appetizer before a full meal. I understood he did not want to be in a relationship and it was extremely hurtful that he would think nothing of enjoying my company for fulfillment and another woman for sex. At that point, I told him he obviously was incapable of truly loving someone if he only had sex with with women he didn’t love. I know he wasn’t dating this woman because he has spent every evening with me for the last 2 months.

        I asked him if he had not taken his meds the night he was busy looking at every woman except me. We had played tennis earlier and he had some slight temper tantrums, then he lost his conversation in thought he was so busy staring at the bathroom line. That’s what caused my suspicion about being off the meds.

        He told me he quit taking his meds because he was tired of not feeling anything. I have to wonder if my telling him he was incapable of loving someone may have anything to do with his quitting, but I know it really doesn’t matter. We did not have a detailed discussion about what “not feeling anything” meant.

        I realize his being sucked into everything around him is part of his adhd. He definitely was not the perfectly normal guy when on his meds. His ADHD is very severe and still noticeable on meds. I had to admit I had to learn a lot of patience to even get as close as we are. Not too long ago he thanked me for my patience in dealing with his ADHD stuff and has non-stop told me how important I am to him. I’ve always felt he is confused about our relationship but accepted it for what it is at present.

        Maybe he does feel crappy from withdrawal, etc. All he has told me is that quitting is hard. I just worry that maybe without the meds he has lost interest and me and could possibly think of me as boring. I don’t want to call him and talk to him because if he continues to ignore me I’d be embarrassed.

        I feel like being out of site out of mind will mean he will forget about me. It all just a total bummer. He lives 2 blocks away so I feel like my closest friend has forgotten me.

        I realize I should be patient and give it time. Thanks so much for listening.

        🙂 kat

      • Not a problem! Most of it sounds like withdrawal from the medication. But the having another woman spend the night is in no way due to ADHD, that’s all on him (at least to me). Some people believe reckless behavior like that is part of it, but I don’t really think so. There are some theories that state people with ADHD are without morals but I just find that offensive and ignorant. But him with other women would be what I’d be the most upset about that.

        The “not feeling anything” is probably quite literal-sometimes on these medications you can’t feel sad, happy, mad, or anything. You start to feel like a zombie and can’t really enjoy anything. Sometimes you have to decide if that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make in order not to suffer from the ADHD. Lol, yes patience is definitely a part of it. I’m not a very patient person, lol. At least he acknowledged that he noticed you were being supportive of him. Changing medication wouldn’t make him think of you as boring, he just may want to be on his own for a while to get used to life without the medication. It’s a big change and you notice it every second. He’ll probably have to get completely off off the Adderall before he can switch to anything else if he chooses. I would maybe just let him know you’re there when he’s ready to talk and leave him on his own for a while. He’ll probably contact you when he gets himself sorted out.

        Not a problem!!

      • Thanks so much. Yes, the other girl thing was awful. And he knows it.

        Anyway, I went ahead and called him. After I read your other response it made me think he may just not want to reach out. He really does not sound like his old enthusiastic self and I’m sure he is going through a lot. We may play tennis today and I plan to let him know I am here to support him, find out how he is feeling, and tell him I will try not to take things personally.

        The funny thing about him going out with me the other night, I know he did it to make me feel as if I was more than a tennis friend to him and important to him. It was the first evening out we’ve had in over a year. (It took us a while to come back around to friendship). He was trying to do a good thing yet as I told him it totally sucked being invisible. So his good gesture back fired. I know he thinks I’m sexy, hot, wonderful, intelligent and all that. I know he doesn’t want to be in a relationship because he needs to work through personal issues besides ADHD. But the other night ignoring me and the other woman sleeping over after seeing me was totally unacceptable and he knows it. He does know it was disrespectful and cannot happen again.

        Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. In my mind, I know he is going through a lot but I just needed some validation.

        Have a wonderful day.

        🙂 kat

  • Sure! That’s awesome to be supportive but be sure you also don’t let him walk all over you with the other women aspect. Other than friendship I’d leave the situation alone for the reasons other than the ADHD.

    Thanks, you too!!

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