Medicating Myself

By Rick Green

I don’t want to take ADHD medication.

I don’t want to have to take a pill every morning.

I don’t want you, or your child, or a loved one to have to take ADHD medication.

And guess what, you don’t have to take medication. No one does. And yet millions have and still do. Because they find the upside outweighs any downside.

I’m not pro-medication. Which is why isn’t sponsored by Pharma companies. It is maintained through sales in our shop. (When people tell me, ‘You’ve saved my family and made a huge difference in my life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you,’ I want to shout, ‘Go to our shop and purchase our videos. That way we can make a difference for other people like us.’ But I don’t.)


It’s estimated perhaps 20% of adults who have ADHD know they do. And perhaps half of us who know are dealing with it. The word doctors use is ‘treatment.’ Medication being one aspect of treatment.

Exercise,ADHD medication, self-medicating diet, mindfulness, coaching, etc., are other strategies that make up a balanced, holistic approach. (Check out the shop… Oh, sorry.)

But the vast majority of people with ADHD have no good idea why they are struggling with organizing, emotions, clutter, work, overwhelm, procrastination, motivation, focus, getting things done, etc.

Lacking a good explanation, they invent bad ones. ‘I’m lazy. Weak-willed. Hopeless. Dumb. Flakey. Unreliable. Bad.’ And what’s the treatment for being Dumb? Or Bad? Or Hopeless?

Worst of all, none of them are seeking treatment either. Or are they? I’m going to suggest that the vast majority are treating their undiagnosed ADHD. Using haphazard strategies that come with big risks and appalling side-effects.


In our new video, ADHD Medication: Straight Answers to Big Questions, a number of doctors outline the things that adults with undiagnosed ADHD do to wake up their brains.

I’m going to suggest that most of us find ways to manage our undiagnosed ADHD.

I was confronted by this idea after interviewing 18 adults from ADHD support groups. They spanned a wide range of ages and experiences, almost all of them mention things they used before getting diagnosed: Caffeine. Nicotine. Cannabis. Extreme sports. Alcohol. High-risk careers.

I know it’s an outrageous statement, but I believe… Pretty much EVERY SINGLE ADULT WITH UNDIAGNOSED ADHD IS MEDICATING THEMSELVES.

We do things that make us feel good. Or help us focus. In other words, things that give us the blast of neurotransmitters that we’re lacking.

I speak from experience.


It was 15 years ago. I was reading over the results of the tests the school had recommended for my 12 year old son. Until that moment, I had no idea ADHD might be part of who I am.

Gradually, over the next few months, as I worked with Dr. Fleming, and devoured book after book, I came to see hundreds of ways ADHD had undermined my life, and in some ways propelled my life forward. Certainly my ADHD wasn’t a disaster for my career.

As for first my marriage? Friendships? Finances? That’s where the damage lay.

At first I was terrified of the idea of taking an ADHD medication. Then I heard a very interesting term. One that was invented by addiction researcher Ed Cancion – ‘self-medicating‘.

adhd medication, self-medicatingWe ingest, or inhale, or sign up for something that wakes up the brain.

We treat ourselves. With substances or behaviors. Or misbehaviors.

No wonder I crave 5 or 6 cola drinks a day. It’s not the sugar, it’s the caffeine. The stimulant.

Caffeine & Adrenaline. My unconscious medication strategy.

ADHD explained why I always had 1,000 things on the go. One year I co-wrote, acted in & directed 22 episodes of The Red Green Show, and also wrote, and hosted 26 episodes of another TV series, Prisoners of Gravity. Oh, and I co-wrote a play and a number of newspaper articles.

ADHD explains why I get up on stage in front of thousands of people and feel calm, clear, and alive. Using Adrenaline to make up for the lack of Dopamine. You may well know that feeling… like running the appliances in your house on 58 volts instead of 120 volts. That’s how life felt. Everything was hard. Disheartening. Exhausting.

This is why I believe that almost every single adult with undiagnosed ADHD is medicating themselves. (And if you consider ‘Avoiding’ a way of self-medicating, well, I’d argue it’s all of us. ‘I don’t like going to loud concerts.’ ‘I turned down a promotion cause it meant I’d have to do paperwork.’)

Until we are diagnosed, and even after that, we are ALL using something, usually several things, to manage and mitigate our symptoms…

If you don’t like the word symptoms, call them ‘our traits, our mindset, our challenges.’

The problem is it’s not a conscious, informed choice.


Once I was diagnosed, I tried a stimulant medication, Ritalin. It was not an easy decision, as I explain in the Straight Answers to Big Question video.

Like about 20% of the adults who shared their stories, I was lucky. The change was immediate and without any noticeable side-effects. The shift was so dramatic, a whole bunch of emotional stuff came up for me. That’s pretty common when you get the diagnosis. In our video Now You Tell Me?!, we show how to get through it.

Since ADHD involves neurology and the symptoms are always there, for most of us, it’s inherited. It’s all we’ve ever known. When you’ve lived your life up to your neck in water, always pushing harder than others, always facing extra resistance, always getting left behind, unable to keep up… Then you discover something that frees you from that struggle… Well, as I say, a lot of stuff comes up. Relief. Regret. Anger. Hope. A tornado of emotions.

Yes, some forms of self-medicating can be positive, even healthy. Addicted to exercise. Soaring in a career that works with ADHD.

Caffeine, and adrenaline from work were my particular poison. For others it’s gambling, alcohol, cannabis, risk taking, drama, explosive anger… All designed to wake up the brain.

Until I understood my mindset, caffeine and a career full of constant stress, deadlines, and adrenaline were my form of Self-Medication.

What was it for you?

This article, Medicating Myself, first appeared on | Adult ADD | ADHD in Adults.

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