It’s now been nearly a year since the FDA officially declared a nationwide shortage of Adderall. For many people with ADHD, it’s been a year of getting turned away by frustrated pharmacists, falling behind at work and school, and struggling through the return of debilitating symptoms. In August, one Charlotte-area therapist estimated that 30% of her clients were impacted by medication shortages.
While Adderall is more readily available than it once was, access to stimulant medication remains unpredictable and inconsistent. October is ADHD Awareness Month, and it’s time to talk about the struggles that come with this misunderstood diagnosis.
If you’ve been impacted by the shortage of Adderall and other stimulant medications, here are some tips for persevering.
If you take Adderall and are having trouble filling your prescription, one step you can take is to talk to your doctor about alternative medications. In some cases, they may be able to prescribe you a similar stimulant, like Ritalin or Vyvanse, until your regular medication is available again. A generic version of Vyvanse was recently approved and can cost as little as $30 with insurance. Your prescriber may also be able to write a prescription for an alternative dosage of Adderall, as some dosages are in shorter supply than others.
Another option you may have is using a compounding pharmacy. Unlike typical pharmacies that receive shipments from drug manufacturers, compounding pharmacies have the ability to create medications in-house. While compounding pharmacies may be subject to ingredient shortages, you may be able to get a chemical equivalent of your medication compounded for you at this type of pharmacy.
If neither of the above solutions work for you, there are also non-stimulant options for treating ADHD. Medications like Strattera and Wellbutrin can treat ADHD symptoms and are not impacted by the Adderall shortage. This solution may not be ideal, but discussing the pros and cons with your doctor can help you make an informed decision.
Coping Without Medication
If you’ve worked with your doctor but are unable to access your prescribed medication, there are still steps you can take to manage your symptoms and safeguard your mental health. Here are some tips:
1. Ask for accommodations at work or school.
People diagnosed with ADHD may benefit from certain accommodations at work or school, such as additional time for assignments and tests, permission to record lectures, reduced distractions in the workspace, and regular breaks to recharge focus. These accommodations aim to put those with ADHD on an equal playing field and set them up for success. Provide teachers, professors, bosses, and human resources staff with information about your diagnosis and specific challenges. Most are willing to make appropriate accommodations, especially given the extenuating circumstances of the medication shortage.
2. Focus on overall health and wellness.
Without medication, the challenges that come with ADHD can make it harder to stick to regular exercise, cook nutritious meals, get good sleep, and maintain other pillars of wellness. However, making small, sustainable efforts to care for your physical and mental health can provide benefits and help compensate in the absence of medication.
Strategies like taking a short daily walk, preparing simple nutritious snacks and meals, and consistently aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep can support your overall well-being and lessen the intensity of ADHD symptoms. Working with a trained therapist or counselor can also be an effective way to develop an action plan for temporarily managing without medication.
While difficult without medication, making small efforts adds up, so be compassionate with yourself and do what you can.
3. Go easy on yourself.
What you’re going through right now is incredibly difficult. When ADHD goes unmedicated, it often leads to reduced productivity, disorganization, mood swings, and problems managing daily responsibilities. Your struggles and needs are real.
During this medication shortage, it’s essential to adjust your mindset and expectations of yourself. Let go of rigid schedules and ideals of productivity. Celebrate small wins, take breaks as needed, and understand that your brain will function differently without medication. Thriving with unmedicated ADHD takes tremendous effort—appreciate yourself for persevering in less-than-ideal circumstances.
ADHD Awareness Month: Fighting the Stigma Around ADHD and Medication
For many with ADHD, this year has been a painful reminder of the stigma still surrounding this diagnosis.
Although the need for medication is often dismissed or criticized, study after study has shown stimulant medication leads to better outcomes for those with ADHD. In fact, people with ADHD who take medication are statistically less likely to struggle with substance use, suffer from mood disorders, or get into car accidents than their unmedicated peers. Access to medication can be life-changing.
The Adderall shortage highlights the continued need to destigmatize ADHD and ensure access to care. If you or a loved one with ADHD is struggling due to lack of medication, please be compassionate. Reach out for support and know you aren’t alone.
Most importantly, speak to yourself with kindness and patience. Talk to yourself as you would a close friend in this situation. Check on your emotional state regularly, and don’t be afraid to lower daily goals or ask for help. What you are dealing with is not your fault. By utilizing coping strategies, leaning on your support system, and practicing self-care, you can get through this—one day at a time. Brighter days are ahead.