Why My Son Kept His ADHD Medication a Secret in College

By Maureen Paschal on Sep 18, 2017

I dreaded a lot of things the summer before my son with ADHD went off to college. But my biggest fear by far was sending him to live in a college dorm with his ADHD medication. I was convinced that a college campus was the worst place for a teenager with a prescription for a controlled substance.

I dealt with my fear by being proactive. My son and I have a great relationship, so I started talking with him as early as possible. Together, my son and I tried to imagine different scenarios that might arise in college involving his ADHD medication.

What would he do if his roommate saw the medication on his dresser? What if someone offered him a drink of alcohol after he’d taken his medication? What if another student asked for a few of his pills to help with studying?

After much discussion, we decided the best strategy was for him to keep his medication a secret. He would only tell the staff at the college health center.

We didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. We’ve never been ashamed that our son has ADHD, and we’ve never apologized about his taking medication for it. My son is one of those people who responded positively almost immediately once he went on medication, and we’ve never regretted our decision for him to take it.

But we felt that college was different. I’d heard stories about college kids who were so intent on studying that they would illegally obtain ADHD medication from classmates—all in pursuit of a higher GPA.

The thought of this worried me because my son is good-natured and generous. I worried that he would have a hard time saying “no,” especially in the beginning when he was still making friends and getting to know people. I worried that the temptation to make someone else happy would outweigh the discomfort of going without his medication for a few days. And I worried that he might “help a friend” and end up in trouble for handing out stimulant drugs.

My son agreed with me. He didn’t want to put himself in the position of being the kid with ADHD medication in the freshman dorm. He didn’t want the pressure of people asking him to give them a pill.

So he and I made a plan:

  • He wouldn’t hide that he had ADHD if asked, but he would tell no one (except college health services) that he had an ADHD medication prescription.
  • He would put his prescription bottle in a secure dresser drawer in his dorm room.
  • He would use a weekly pill organizer, which he also kept private.
  • He would count his remaining pills every week.
  • He would bring his daily pill into the communal bathroom when he went to brush his teeth. That way the prescription bottle would never have to leave the dresser drawer.

At times, he did need to talk to his professors about accommodations for his ADHD, like extra time on exams. But he didn’t need to say anything about medication. The professors simply asked that college health services confirm his ADHD status, and then they allowed the accommodations.

Before he left for college, we both wondered if this plan of secrecy was extreme. However, when my son returned home for the holidays, he confirmed that some students on his campus were willing to give a pill to a friend or sell a pill to a stranger. He was never asked because no one knew he had medication.

My son no longer lives in a freshman dorm. In fact he’ll graduate soon. Looking back, it’s clear our plan worked. It saved him from having to deal with a lot of difficult and awkward situations. And it let him focus on having a good college experience.


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    About the author

    About the author

    Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, teacher, librarian, and mom to four kids, one with ADHD. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student.