ADHD Treatment

A variety of medications and therapies are used to manage the symptoms of ADHD.

Medically Reviewed
mother practicing yoga with child
Parenting skills training involves teaching parents strategies they can use to help their child with ADHD.Getty Images

Having?attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?can significantly impact someone academically, professionally, and personally, but with proper treatment they can manage their symptoms and live a full, satisfying, and successful life.

Treatment for ADHD usually involves taking medication, but a comprehensive approach that also includes lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, and education is recommended to optimally manage symptoms.

Overall, studies show that stimulant and nonstimulant medication reduce ADHD symptoms better than placebo. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that long-term data (particularly related to long-term side effects) is limited. There is also a lack of head-to-head trials comparing medication to nonpharmacological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

For?children with ADHD, the?American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)?recommends behavior therapy and medication for those ages 6 and older. For younger children, the AAP recommends behavior therapy as a first line of treatment, before medication.

Medication can have more side effects in younger children, and the long-term adverse effects of ADHD medication on very young children have not been well studied, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Different types of medication may be prescribed, depending on a person's specific symptoms. Although experts don’t know exactly how ADHD medications work, it’s believed they may help by increasing the amount of the?neurotransmitters?dopamine?and?norepinephrine?in the brain, according to?Russell A. Barkley, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, and author of?When an Adult You Love Has ADHD.

In addition to medication,?people with ADHD?may benefit from skill-building interventions as well as counseling to improve both their behavior and?social skills. Parents and other family members often participate in counseling to help develop strategies for dealing with potentially problematic situations.

Proper treatment to control or reduce?ADHD symptoms?can lead to better performance at school or work, and an improved quality of life.

Stimulant Drugs for ADHD

Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD, per past research.

Stimulants are available in immediate-release and extended-release forms, notes

They come as a pill, capsule, liquid, or skin patch.

These drugs can cause possible side effects, such as stomachache, headache, irritability, decreased appetite, and?insomnia. Some stimulants may increase the risk of developing heart or psychiatric problems. And particularly in teens and adults, there is a risk of misuse of these medications, including taking too much, inappropriately using them, or sharing them with friends.

Some common stimulants used to treat ADHD include:

Different types of ADHD medications are prescribed, depending on a person's symptoms.

Nonstimulant Drugs for ADHD

Nonstimulant drugs are sometimes used along with, or as an alternative to, stimulants. The first nonstimulant for ADHD was approved in 2003.

Nonstimulants don’t carry the same risk of misuse as stimulants, and can last up to 24 hours. Common nonstimulants include:

Strattera?carries a black-box warning because studies show that children and teens taking it are slightly more likely to develop suicidal thoughts.

Antidepressants for ADHD

Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for the treatment of ADHD,?antidepressant?drugs are sometimes used, alone or in combination with a stimulant, to manage the condition.

But the FDA issued a warning in 2004 stating that the use of?antidepressants?in children and teens may, albeit rarely, lead to an increased risk of suicide.

Antidepressants prescribed for ADHD include:

Counseling and Therapies for ADHD

Children and adults with ADHD may benefit from counseling. Common forms of counseling include:

Behavioral Therapy

This is a form of counseling in which children or adults with ADHD learn behavior-changing strategies and coping skills for dealing with difficult situations. It can help improve organizational and time-management skills, as well as reduce disruptive behaviors.

The therapy may involve practical, organizational assistance, as well as learning how to better self-monitor behavior.

Parents can also work with a psychologist, social worker, or licensed counselor to learn strategies to help their children, which is referred to as parent behavior therapy or parent training.


This type of treatment involves consulting a psychologist or?psychiatrist?about ADHD-related issues to identify ways to cope with symptoms.

Family Therapy

This form of therapy helps parents, spouses, siblings, and other loved ones better manage the stresses of living with someone with ADHD.

Social Skills Training

This type of training or intervention helps children manage peer relationships, improve social problem-solving skills, and decrease socially disruptive behaviors.

Proper treatment to manage ADHD symptoms can lead to better performance at school or work, and an improved quality of life.

Can Lifestyle Changes Help Treat ADHD?

Certain lifestyle changes at home can help create a better environment for people with ADHD.

For children, these measures may involve:

  • Following a regular schedule for meals, naps, and bedtime
  • Frequent physical activity and time spent outdoors
  • Keeping all areas of the home organized and uncluttered; having a designated place for everything
  • Removing distractions, such as TVs and cellphones
  • Using simple words, direct eye contact, and clear commands when giving a child instructions
  • Finding ways to boost self-esteem, such as sports and other extracurricular activities
  • Helping children break down large tasks into smaller, less overwhelming ones
  • Showing affection frequently
  • Setting boundaries compassionately, which includes recognizing and validating the child’s struggle and giving positive feedback for effort and small accomplishments while also being clear, consistent, and firm about what kinds of behaviors are not allowed.

For adults, lifestyle accommodations can include:

  • Frequent exercise
  • Making and sticking to routines
  • Having visible, physical reminders of deadlines, upcoming events, and tasks at hand, such as calendars, to-do lists, alarms and reminders on cell phones, or sticky notes
  • Keeping designated workspaces free from distractions such as phones, TV, or leisure reading books
  • Maintaining designated spots for keys, bills, and important paperwork
  • Breaking large tasks into smaller ones
  • Taking predetermined work breaks, which are often most helpful when planned to follow a difficult or focus-intensive task
  • Getting adequate sleep

Complementary and Alternative Therapies for ADHD

While there is some evidence that certain complementary and alternative treatments may improve ADHD symptoms, the scientific support for the efficacy of such therapies is only preliminary. Since more research is needed to fully assess the efficacy and safety of such treatments, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting or adding a complementary or alternative therapy to manage your ADHD.

Some complementary and alternative therapies for ADHD may include:

Dietary Strategies

Diets for ADHD symptoms can involve eliminating sugar, wheat, milk, eggs, food colorings, or food additives. In general, cutting back on sugar consumption and things like candy or soda is part of a healthy diet overall; research has shown that eating simple sugars and processed foods can have adverse cognitive and behavioral effects on children and adults over time.

Although eating too many sugary, processed foods may impact behavior, there is presently no evidence of a causal link for ADHD, and very limited evidence that cutting back on these foods can help manage core ADHD symptoms. That said, making small, healthy changes to your diet still be beneficial for one’s overall health.

If you’re considering making any significant dietary changes, it’s important to consult your healthcare professional or a nutritionist before doing so.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Although many popular dietary and herbal supplements, like zinc, gingko biloba, and ginseng, that are claimed to help treat ADHD, many lack scientific support and can cause unwanted side effects, notes past research.

Supplements that could potentially make a difference for people with ADHD are omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acid supplements, but research has yielded mixed findings.

For example, one study published in the journal?Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America?found evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may help treat ADHD symptoms.

But a March 2018 clinical trial published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry?showed omega-3 supplementation offered no benefit among children with moderate ADHD.

Other data suggests that omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acid supplements don’t impact ADHD symptoms, but may improve how the body tolerates stimulant medication.

Although there is currently not enough evidence for the use of omega-3 fatty acids to treat core ADHD symptoms, this doesn’t mean omega-3s are not important for people with neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like salmon and walnuts, are believed to benefit brain and heart health in general.

Yoga or Meditation

Regular?yoga?or meditation can be used to help children with ADHD relax, improve impulsivity, and develop self-discipline.


This treatment involves having a child focus on certain tasks while connected to a machine that tracks brain wave patterns. Thus far, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment has been mixed. Larger, higher-quality, and long-term studies are needed to determine whether this is an effective treatment option for ADHD, according to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

Game-Based Digital Therapeutic Devices

In June 2020, the FDA cleared the EndeavorRx device for marketing as the first game-based digital therapeutic device geared toward improving attention function among children ages 8 to 12 who have primarily inattentive or combined-type ADHD.

Although not yet widely used in the treatment of ADHD, the device is available by prescription and is intended to be used in conjunction with a treatment plan that includes therapy delivered by a mental health professional, medication, or educational interventions.

According to its manufacturer, the device is not intended to be used as a standalone treatment or in place of medication.

Resources We Love

Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)

This association is led by adults with ADHD and offers a free?ADHD Starter Kit, as well as virtual support groups, to help those with this condition understand and live successfully with their diagnosis.

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)

This organization participates in state and federal advocacy efforts for policies related to ADHD, and offers resources for?parents of children with ADHD and educators.

Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA)

With a mission to help people with ADHD lead successful lives, the LDA engages in ADHD-related advocacy on a local, state, and federal level, and offers?educational resources?about this condition. Check out its guides and booklets for ADHD, including an ADHD action guide.

Learn More About ADHD Resources and Commonly Used Terms Related to ADHD

Additional reporting by?Deborah Shapiro.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Treatment of ADHD.?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 23, 2021.
  • Lange KW, Reichl?S, Lange?KM, et al. The History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.?Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders. December 2010.
  • Common ADHD Medications & Treatments for Children.? September 27, 2019.
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.?National Institute of Mental Health. September 2021.
  • Friedman RA. Antidepressants’ Black-Box Warning — 10 Years Later.?The New England Journal of Medicine. October 30, 2014.
  • Jones TW, Borg WP, Boulware?SD, et al. Enhanced Adrenomedullary Response and Increased Susceptibility to Neuroglycopenia: Mechanisms Underlying the Adverse Effects of Sugar Ingestion in Healthy Children.?Journal of Pediatrics. February 1, 1995.
  • Bloch MH, Mulqueen J. Nutritional Supplements for the Treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.?Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. October 2014.
  • Cornu C, Mercier C, Ginhoux T, et al. A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Randomised Trial of Omega-3 Supplementation in Children With Moderate ADHD Symptoms. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. October 5, 2017.
  • Barragán E, Breuer D, D?pfner M. Efficacy and Safety of Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids, Methylphenidate, and a Combined Treatment in Children With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders. January 24, 2014.
  • Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback).?Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • FDA Permits Marketing of First Game-Based Digital Therapeutic to Improve Attention Function in Children with ADHD. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. June 15, 2020.
  • The Treatment. EndeavorRx.
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