The ADHD Medication Shortage: How to Survive & Thrive

Demi Aspey
10 mins read
Nov 26, 2023

I won’t lie to you; it’s a terrifying time to have ADHD if you’re medicated.

Supplies of Elvanse (Vyvanse in the USA) are in dire shortages - some argue this is easing, while others say the low stock will continue across 2024.

As a woman who has only been diagnosed with ADHD for just over 12 months, I can tell you the incredible difference stimulant medication has made to me.

Is it the only option?

I’ve survived for 29 years without it, but I can say this for sure - I haven’t thrived without it.

That said, reliance on medication is not the answer.

So, let’s unpack what’s going on with the state of ADHD medication supply in 2023.

More aptly, let’s discuss how we can thrive without it because that’s the ultimate goal either way.

The ADHD Medication Shortage: What’s Going On?🕵

So, why the disappearing act? 

Let’s break it down:

1. Supply Chain and Manufacturing Mayhem:

It's like a game of Jenga – one block moves, and everything tumbles.

Global supply issues mean our meds are stuck playing catch-up.

2. Demand Skyrockets, Supply Plummets:

More folks are getting diagnosed (yay for awareness!), but this means more people are joining the medication queue.

It’s like everyone showed up for the party, but there’s only one slice of pizza left.

3. The Regulatory Quota Quandary

Regulators have set limits on how much medication can be made, like telling a baker they can only bake so many loaves of bread daily.

Helpful? Not so much.

I’ve taken the below from the Derbyshire NHS website:

“Medications affected by the current supply disruption

Some important notes:

  • The ADHD medication shortage is a global issue and is affecting everyone throughout the US and the UK
  • It doesn’t matter whether you’re an NHS patient or a private patient
  • There is no clear indication of when ADHD medication will be back to the usual supply levels
  • You must consult a professional before completely stopping or changing your medication
  • You may take alternative medications, but you must speak with your health professional
  • People are advised to call other pharmacies if their regular pharmacy does not have a supply

But say you’ve exhausted all avenues and need help without the meds - at Deepwrk, the body doubling app, we’ve got you!

ADHD Medication: Elvanse, Concerta, and Atomoxetine 💊

Each morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do is take my Elvanse 50mg. 

Like most diagnosed ADHD folk, I’ve tried other medications.

Atomoxetine (non-stimulant) and Concerta (stimulant). I didn’t agree with either. 

Atomoxetine made me feel ill, even after months of awaiting its effects.

From speaking with many people who take this medication, it seems to be a common symptom. 

Concerta made me feel stimulated, but not in a good way.

I felt overly agitated, and to be honest, it heightened my emotional dysregulation to the point it made life MORE tricky. 

I felt like maybe ADHD medication wasn’t for me.

Then I tried Elvanse, and my prayers were answered.

I felt calm, my chronic depression lifted, and I was able to enjoy the tasks I’d repeatedly swept under the rug.

When I say Elvanse has changed my life, I am not being hyperbolic. 

Getting diagnosed with ADHD meme
Credit: @danidonovan (X)

So, you can bet my dismay when the discourse surrounding shortages sparked online.

My heart dropped, instantly panicked, and I worried that everything I had achieved would be swiftly undone.

To an outsider, this might sound like an addiction. But it is medicine needed to help a very real and often severe disability.

Before seeing news on Elvanse, I first felt the effects back in the summer when I was alerted I wouldn’t be able to get my Atomoxetine prescription.

At the time, I was on a combined therapy of Atomoxetine and Elvanse.

Though I was wearing thin with the non-stimulant, as it repeatedly made me feel horrific, I wasn’t all that bothered about slowly coming off it.

As soon as I wasn’t able to get my regular 50mg of Elvanse, I figured it was going to be a rough road ahead.

The Cost of ADHD Medication & Private Care 💸

The UK's doing its best impression of a sloth with a staggering 7+ year wait for an ADHD diagnosis.

This might take a while sloth meme

No disrespect to our National Health Service, but our government doesn’t seem all that bothered about mental health, regardless of the tokenistic statements you’ll see flashed around.

After my own poor experience with several “ADHD professionals” in public care, I opted for private.

When my GP first referred me, I thought I had bipolar. She seemed very confident it was ADHD.

I mention this because ADHD hadn’t crossed my mind, despite droves of people who know me saying it was obvious after I told them. 

Adults with ADHD drowning meme

I didn’t go to a private psychiatrist in search of some wonder drug, I went in search of answers.

That answer was ADHD, and combined with therapy, Elvanse eventually became the antidote.

Private psychiatry is expensive. This means it isn’t accessible to everyone. 

I spent shy of £1,000 getting diagnosed, £200 for monthly checkups (to start), £45 per prescription written up and then around £120 per month for my medication.

When I first started my ADHD journey, I did not have this money.

I am grateful my situation changed, but for so many others, they’re stuck or facing terrifying costs they cannot afford.

The Reality of the ADHD Medication Shortage 🫣

In September 2023, my regular 50mg of Elvanse was out of stock nationwide.

I was given the option of a 20mg dose and a 30mg dose to make up for my usual strength.

Did I get these for the same price? Nope. Double. I had to pay the total value of each. The pharmacy refused to give a discount.

Considering it’s the same strength but in two capsules, I was baffled, but I’m not a medical expert, and I’m sure there’s nuance here I’m missing. They tried to help, and for that, I am grateful.

Role on to October 2023, it’s time to put in my next prescription, and I’m told I can only get two lots of 20mg of Elvanse.

Elvanse 30mg has taken a hike for the imminent future. Okay, I’ll take what I can get and appreciate the offer.

“You’ll be placed on a waitlist, and we’ll be in touch for payment when ready”. 

Wait? Sure, we ADHDers are known for our excellent ability to wait and be patient - especially without our meds.

But look, you can get mad about this stuff or accept it’s out of people's control. 

Executive function tasks meme
Credit: @jennhasadhd

I called the pharmacy on November 16th (a different one from the last because the shortage means shopping around) and was WAY down the list.

I’m at the point of rationing my meds, so the anxiety was building.

Thanks to the brilliant Priya, a pharmacist with ADHD on TikTok, I learned that dextroamphetamine was the closest medication to Elvanse.

The difference is it is quick release, meaning you need to take around three doses per day, rather than slow release with one capsule per day with Elvanse.

I asked the pharmacist if I could explore this option.

He was beyond helpful, gave me all the information I needed, and forewarned me that they might be more expensive because I have to take more.

He asked me to speak with my psychiatrist to receive a new prescription, but not to worry. In the meantime, there is no issue with dextroamphetamine stock at present. 

As this blog goes live, I am currently awaiting my following review with my outstanding (she honestly is the best!) psychiatrist to arrange a switch over to the new medication.

It’s important to note that stimulants are highly regulated, and it’s incredibly difficult to switch or move because a high level of care is needed. 

Another reason people don’t just get diagnosed is to get their hands on this stuff. It honestly isn’t worth the effort if you don’t have ADHD.

10 Lifesaving Tips to Manage Without Your ADHD Meds 🚑

I have so much to do adhd meme
Credit: Brain Gordon

Here are ten solid gold tips to keep you on track without your meds:

1. Move It to Improve It: 

Shake, rattle, and roll your way to focus better.

A little exercise goes a long way.

Get that energy out and increase your motivation with endorphins.

2. Eat Smart, Think Smart: 

Brain food is real, folks.

What happens in our mind often starts in our gut. Omega-3s, protein, whole grains – it’s like fuel for your noggin.

Protein-rich foods are also the best fuel for energy, so avoid essential carbs or high-sugar snacks.

I know, I know…impossible. But give it a try; it may just be the answer.

3. Sleep Like a Boss: 

Your bed is more than just a comfy cloud.

It’s a recharge station for your brain.

Sleep is THE most critical action for any human, but especially those of us with ADHD.

Put down the phone, get 8 hours, and there’s no harm in a daytime nap if needed (where possible).

4. Buddy Up with a “Body Double”: 

No, not a stunt actor – a pal, professional, or coach who helps keep you focused.

ADHD body doubling online (aka virtual coworking) is like having your own personal cheerleader.

5. Meditate to Regulate 

Consider meditation (not medication!) as a CTRL-ALT-DEL for your brain. Reboot and refresh!

It sounds bonkers asking an ADHDer to sit and focus on their mind.

But it’s where true mastery begins, and you won’t believe how much you’re capable of until you…well, put your mind to it!

Start small, with a minute or five at each stitting.

6. Caffeine with Caution 

A coffee can be your best friend, but remember – friends don’t let friends over-caffeinate.

Before diagnosis, I used to cane energy drinks until my therapist told me they were contributing more to my anxiety and emotional dysregulation. 

If you’re tired, get more sleep. Have coffee, but limit it to one or two cups per day. 

7. Routine for the Win 

We thrive on routines but we hates it adhd meme

Automate the small stuff to save your brainpower for the big leagues.

If you can delegate, do. If you can ask for help, ask.

If you can get tech to automate it, get it sorted.

Take the pressure off; you’ll likely find these solve many daily ADHD struggles.

8. White Noise/Brown Noise 

Turn on those soothing sounds to drown out distractions.

It’s like giving your brain a cosy blanket.

I find this particularly helpful for achieving a flow state of work.

9. Tech to the Rescue 

Apps, alarms, reminders – let technology be your sidekick in this caper.

The OGs will know my love for Asana, but I use my notes app, alarms, and automation like extra brains.

For some ideas on what tech or products to use check our article with the top ADHD products and best ADHD productivity tools.

10. Find Your Tribe 

Support groups, online forums, your quirky cousin who also has ADHD – build your support network.

We have a brimming community of ADHDers who are here to help you and be your tribe during the good and the bad.

Additional Side Note:

💡 Stigma is lessening but still heavy in many places.

It can be challenging to speak about what you’re going through, but if you need help, you must cut through the noise.

Speak to your employer about reasonable adjustments.

Reach out to ADHD coaches, family, and friends.

Get in touch with your healthcare professional sooner rather than later.

Find your ADHD accountability buddy with Deepwrk's accountability partner app.

You’ve Got This, and Deepwrk Has Got You!

you got this, me pushing thru meme dog

You’re feeling exhausted, I’m feeling exhausted, and the whole ADHD community is feeling exhausted.

But we excel at adapting to situations and environments not designed for our neurodiverse brains.

Is it acceptable?

No, but we have to accept it. 

We will get through this, and together, we will continue to thrive. Keep your chin up, your self-belief high, and your Deepwrkrs by your side.

We’ve got you, and you’ve got this!

We’ll keep you posted on the ADHD medication shortages - be sure to follow us on Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter for daily doses of support.

Frequently Asked ADHD Medication Shortage Questions: 

Why is there a shortage of ADHD medications?

Think supply chain chaos meets demand explosion meets regulatory red tape. The issues are global and ongoing.

How long will the ADHD medication shortage last?

Predicting this is like trying to guess the British weather.

Bring an umbrella, just in case.

It’s expected to last for at least the remainder of 2023. 

What’s the game plan for dealing with the ADHD medication shortage?

Improvise, adapt, overcome (Bear Grylls, anyone?).

Embrace alternative strategies, and remember, your brain is your best asset.

You can achieve great things either way.

Have faith in yourself!

Where can I find more ADHD resources?

For more insights into living with ADHD, check out our selection of ADHD Podcasts and ADHD books.

In case you want to explore some less understood ADHD terms, head over to our articles on: ADHD Tax, ADHD burnout cycle, ADHD masking, RSD, ADHD intrusive thoughts.

And in our ADHD Awareness Month feature we explore in detail the ADHD misconceptions and stigmas.

Sources & References

  1. NHS, National supply shortage of ADHD medication
    https://www.derbyshirehealthcareft.nhs.uk/getting-help/understanding-your-medication/national-supply-shortage-adhd-medication
  2. Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2023, Statement on shortage of ADHD medication
    https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/news-and-features/latest-news/detail/2023/10/19/statement-on-shortage-of-adhd-medication
  3. FDA, 2023, FDA Announces Shortage of Adderall
    https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-announces-shortage-adderall
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.