ADHD Treatment: Medication & Therapy

October 28, 2021

If you, or your family members, have been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be experiencing mixed emotions. On the one hand, the diagnosis may be a relief, revealing previously inexplicable observed behaviors, or, on the other, it may be a shattering and emotional experience.


After an ADHD Diagnosis... it's ok to be relieved and to be sad

In this article, we'll identify the broad range of treatment options available to you, ranging from pharmaceuticals to natural methods of healing. Far from impeding healthy and happy living, ADHD provides many advanced skills and capabilities useful in life. The challenge for a person with ADHD is to identify from the many management strategies available, those that support personal equilibrium and social functioning while capitalizing on their full range of unique abilities.


We know how daunting reading articles from start to finish can be, especially when you have ADHD, so we added this clickable Table of Contents to easily navigate our articles 😉 :

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.

Education

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.

Training

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.


The Best Therapeutics for ADHD

Medical Therapy

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.

Behavioral Therapy is the number 1 recommended treatment for ADHD


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.  

Adults with ADHD struggle with appropriate behaviors, coping skills, and experience daily struggles


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.


Natural Therapy

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.

Supplements

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.


Diet

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.

Elimination Diet helps in identifying food that can further contribute to your ADHD symptoms.


Sleep

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.

Sleep is an important factor in an ADHD brain. It can affect the person's concentration, motivation, mood and overall health.

Exercise

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

ADHD Medications

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.

Advise to talk to medical professional when struggling


1) Barbaresi WJ, Colligan RC, Weaver AL, Voigt RG, Killian JM,  Katusic SK.  Mortality, ADHD, and psychosocial adversity in adults with childhood ADHD: A prospective study. Pediatrics 2013;131(4):637-644.


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Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s best to see a professional for a diagnosis.

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