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).
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
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:
- Adderall (amphetamine)
- Concerta (methylphenidate)
- Daytrana (methylphenidate patch)
- Dexedrine or Dextrostat (dextroamphetamine)
- Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
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
Antidepressants prescribed for ADHD include:
Counseling and Therapies for ADHD
Children and adults with ADHD may benefit from counseling. Common forms of counseling include:
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.
This type of treatment involves consulting a psychologist or?psychiatrist?about ADHD-related issues to identify ways to cope with symptoms.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
Game-Based Digital Therapeutic Devices
Resources We Love
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.
Additional reporting by?Deborah Shapiro.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- 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.
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- 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.