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Gain ADHD Knowledge
When medical diagnosis imposes health labels, there is a tendency in our society to run straight to the medicine chest to see if there is a pill or chemical to help. Pharmaceutical intervention to treat ADHD is often vitally important, and we will discuss available options.
Yet, the first step in anything new is to understand it. I've broken this section into two components: education and training. The first is to educate yourself and others about ADHD; the second is to learn skills and coping mechanisms. Finally, the treatment agreed in conjunction with your doctor will typically use many interventions that will include medication.
For Children and Adolescents with ADHD
For parents whose child has ADHD, you're in luck; there is a wealth of information available to you. I highly recommend the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website as a first stop. As we will see, the first intervention suggested for childhood ADHD is behavioral therapy, and fact-sheets are available to download from the CDC that overview ADHD generally and behavioral therapy specifically.
Another fascinating resource regarding the more clinical aspects of childhood and adolescent ADHD is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website. Finally, healthychildren.org provides valuable resources and information, including helplines.
For Adults with ADHD Symptoms
If diagnosed as an adult, there are fewer options. Given that one-third of children with ADHD will maintain it into adulthood(1), this is surprising. Yet, there are resources explicitly geared to adults.
The Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website discuss diagnosis and treatment, addresses workplace discrimination issues, and highlights gender-specific concerns for women and girls with ADHD. The site also has links to their National Resource Center on ADHD, designed as a national repository for the latest evidence-based information on ADHD.
The Mayo clinic website provides some valuable tips for lifestyle and home remedies and outlines treatment and counseling options. Finally, the National Institute of Mental health offers a comprehensive overview of ADHD, including treatments and therapies for both adults and children.
Understanding a condition is the first step in developing strategies, although somewhat abstract. What most of us need are simple tools and actionable tactics, providing positive results. I've identified some resources that can assist.
For Children and Adolescents with ADHD
This UK website is a terrific resource if you have young children or adolescents with ADHD. With top tips from internationally renowned expert Dr. Susan Young, the site offers coping strategies, training advice, comics to improve school engagement, helpful YouTube videos, and many checklists. This website provides ten actionable strategies for social skills training to assist in socializing your child adequately, without the flare-ups and depressions, while the CDC offers parent training focusing on behavior therapy.
For Adults with ADHD
If you have adult ADHD, CHADD offers adult to adult training programs online, which assist in coping with perceived deficits and the organization of mental space. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (Adda) offers webinars that help live successfully with ADHD while managing executive functions challenges.
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The Best Therapeutics for ADHD
Given that ADHD is often evidenced by difficulties with emotional regulation, organization, impulse control, and time management, it's no surprise that the primary recommended therapy is behavioral-based. The treatments differ between children and adults.
For children, behavior therapy relies on the support of all family members and focuses on teaching the child appropriate behaviors, not reinforcing negative habits, and rewarding improvements in skills, methods of managing tasks, and socially appropriate behavior. Carers, child and families are provided ongoing support and advice from trained counselors, who offer practical approaches customized to the symptoms of ADHD experienced by the child.
Adults face more diverse challenges as they struggle with appropriate behaviors and coping skills, but more importantly, they grapple with the thought processes, emotions, stress, and low self-esteem that result from the daily battle with ADHD. A widely used therapeutic intervention is cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT.
CBT encompasses a broad range of techniques, but all focus on 'cognitive restructuring,' a process of becoming aware of how negative thoughts drive feelings and behaviors. A form of talking therapy, CBT highlights unproductive and negative thought models and reframes them into thoughts supporting and creating positive emotion and behavior.
When someone mentions natural therapies, the science advocates bristle at the thought that something not prescribed by a doctor can be helpful. However, there are widely supported natural therapies that complement medical treatment for ADHD.
Many natural therapists recommend five natural supplements that form the basis of conventional medical treatment for ADHD. These are Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Vitamins C and D, Zinc, Magnesium, and Iron. While not a replacement for conventional medicines, these supplements provide benefits to the body that people with ADHD need.
Studies support that a diet low in chemicals and processed foods, with a particular focus on restricting food allergens, lessens the symptoms of ADHD. Under the guidance of your doctor, elimination diets allow you to identify additives and foods that contribute to your symptoms. These may then be removed from your diet entirely.
People with ADHD can struggle to get to bed on time, causing late nights, poor sleep hygiene, difficulty with waking up, and daytime tiredness. Poor sleep is a critical factor in poor concentration, lowered motivation, depressed moods, and overall health. Implementing strategies for improved sleep patterns is an essential strategy in managing ADHD.
Exercise has been shown to assist ADHD and improve executive functions. It's also shown to increase brain chemicals essential for focus and wellbeing. These include serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins. Research by Charles Hillman and Darla Castelli at the University of Illinois has shown that physical activity improved children's ability to pay attention and found they scored better in academic results. While there is no preferred exercise, it is more important you select the one you enjoy and will be sure to maintain.
Understanding ADHD Pharmacology Options
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, the primary form of medication prescribed for ADHD is psychostimulants or stimulant medications.
These central nervous system stimulants increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, improving focus and concentration.
There are four main drugs prescribed, two being amphetamine and two being methylphenidate. Side effects of these stimulants may include poor appetite, weight loss, poor sleep, moodiness, and muscle spasm. For long-term treatment, there is also a risk of drug abuse.
Doctors may prescribe non-stimulant drugs where stimulants don't work, or people experience drug sensitivity.
These non-stimulants can assist with impulse control and concentration, but they take longer to be effective and may not work as well as stimulants. Side effects of non-stimulants may include upset stomach, nausea, fatigue, and a dry mouth.
Your blood pressure also typically rises during use. With specific non-stimulants, doctors are advised to monitor for possible suicidal thoughts.
The third type of medication involves the use of anti-depressants or SSRIs.
While not explicitly approved by the FDA for treating ADHD, doctors can prescribe these. Used where a person is sensitive to stimulants or prescribed to accompany stimulants where other behavioral factors require their use; possible side effects include reduced sex drive, constipation, nausea, dry mouth, sweating, and trouble sleeping.
Summing up our thoughts about ADHD Treatment
As knowledge and understanding of ADHD have increased worldwide, so have the interventions, resources, and practitioners that support and guide those affected by the condition.
While people will share common symptoms, each person will have unique characteristics that require a customized and targeted health care approach.
Whether you or your child is affected by ADHD, taking control of a long-term management plan begins with knowledge and informed consent.
Educate yourself, surround yourself with the resources and team best suited to your needs and temperament, then devise a management plan, including medication, that fits your lifestyle. I trust this article has helped you take those first steps to a happy and productive life.
ADHD Treatment FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Can ADHD be cured?
No, there is no cure for ADHD. However, there are treatments available that can help reduce the symptoms and enable people with ADHD to better focus, concentrate and manage their behavior. Treatments may include education about ADHD and learning strategies; medications such as stimulants or non-stimulants; counseling and psychotherapy; lifestyle changes involving diet, exercise, and sleep habits; and parent training or support groups.
What's the best treatment for ADHD?
The best treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Medication can help to reduce symptoms like impulsivity and hyperactivity, while therapy can help to teach strategies to better manage symptoms. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as getting plenty of exercise and structure in your day-to-day routine can be beneficial.
Which mental health professional should I approach to better manage ADHD?
Depending on the country you are from, the types of mental health professionals available to you may vary. Generally, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are the most appropriate professionals to approach if you have ADHD.