Choosing the Best Treatment Option for Adult ADHD [Pros & Cons]

So you’ve been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now what?

Medically reviewed

Last update: August 17, 2022
Illustration of person checking their phone while drinking a hot drink

Navigating treatment options as an adult with ADHD can be a confusing process. There are so many different medications and non-drug treatments out there that deciding which route to take can quickly become overwhelming.

At the end of the day, the treatment you choose to manage your ADHD symptoms is a decision that should be between you and your healthcare provider. By equipping yourself with important information about your options, you can make a decision that’s right for you.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on all of the most common treatment options for adult ADHD, as well as their pros and cons. What works for one person may not work for another, and the only way to make a wise decision is by having unbiased information.

Things to Know About Adult ADHD Treatments

Before we get into the pros and cons of each treatment option, there are a few things you should know about ADHD treatment overall.

  1. First, there is no one ADHD treatment option that’s the “best” one.

    Again, different treatments work for different people. There are some treatment options that have more evidence behind them, which we’ll point out. You are the expert on your own life, and should talk to your healthcare provider about the options you’re interested in and why. 

  2. You may need more than one treatment.

    It’s very common that people with ADHD combine treatments. For example, you might take medication and go to therapy and make some lifestyle adjustments. You don’t have to choose only one. A combination often works best.

  3. You might have to try different treatments before finding the right fit.

    Especially when it comes to medications, some adults with ADHD find that the first one they try doesn’t work or causes too many side effects. If this happens to you, don’t give up. There are lots of different treatment options out there, and just because one of them wasn’t for you doesn’t mean that none of them will be.

  4. Pay attention to co-occurring disorders.

    Often, people with ADHD also have other mental health disorders. You might have depression or anxiety on top of your ADHD, for example. It’s important not to ignore those conditions. Sometimes, addressing ADHD symptoms can alleviate symptoms of other disorders 一 but not always. Talk to your healthcare provider about any other disorders or symptoms you’re facing.

The Different Adult ADHD Treatment Options

We’ll walk you through each of the most common and effective treatment options for adult ADHD, as well as the pros and cons for each. You can rest assured that we don’t favor any one treatment over another, and will give you unbiased, objective, and factual information on each option.

Option 1: Psychiatric medication

Many people take psychiatric medications to live well with ADHD.

Stimulants, or psychostimulant compounds, are the most common type of medication that’s used to treat ADHD for both children and adults. The two most common types of medication in this category are methylphenidate and amphetamines. The specific medications that are FDA-approved to treat adult ADHD include:

  • Focalin

  • Concerta

  • Daytrana

  • Metadate CD

  • Adderall XR

  • Vyvanse

Other types of medications are usually used as a second-line treatment for adult ADHD. They’re usually prescribed when psychostimulants don’t work. Some non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD include:

  • Strattera, or atomoxetine (this medication has been approved by the FDA to treat ADHD in adults, and may be prescribed as a first-line treatment)

  • Antidepressant medications

  • Antihypertensive medications

  • Provigil (a medication that’s used for narcolepsy)

Many of these medications are used “off-label” for ADHD, meaning that they aren’t intended for the treatment of ADHD (but work for some people).

Pros of medications:

  • Stimulant medications are evidence-based and effective 一 in other words, they work. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have proven this. Psychostimulant medication is beneficial for about 70% of adults. 

  • Side effects for these medications are usually not severe. Many people have used these medications for years with no adverse effects.

  • There are now longer-acting stimulants available, meaning that you can choose a medication you only need to take every 12 hours vs. every 6 to 8 hours.

Cons of medications:

  • They don’t always work for everyone. Although they’ve been proven to be effective most of the time, some people with ADHD find little to no relief with medication. There’s no way to know whether a certain medication will be effective for you before trying it.

  • Both methylphenidate and amphetamines are controlled substances with the potential for abuse. But there’s no evidence that suggests that people who take these medications are more likely to abuse stimulants. They might not be a good option for people who already struggle with or are at risk for stimulant addiction.

  • Although side effects are rare, they do exist. For example, some of the most common side effects of psychostimulants include:

    • Insomnia

    • Loss of appetite

    • Anxiety

    • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

Option 2: Behavioral management techniques

Medication can be a tool to help you manage your ADHD symptoms, but they aren’t a long-term cure. Although medications may make your symptoms less intense, it’s beneficial to also pick up some behavioral management techniques to learn how to live a successful life as an adult with ADHD.

Some of the most common behavioral management strategies used for adults with ADHD include:

  • Time management skills

  • Organizational skills

  • Mindfulness training

  • Decreasing environmental distractions

  • Finding healthy ways to release hyperactive energy

These strategies can be learned on your own or with the help of a professional.

Pros of behavioral management techniques:

  • Behavioral strategies can help you learn how to live with ADHD rather than simply controlling its symptoms.

  • It doesn’t come with any potential for side effects as medication does, so it’s often recommended as a first-line treatment for children with ADHD.

  • These strategies are effective and adult ADHD experts recommend learning them whether or not you decide to take medication.

Cons of behavioral management techniques:

  • Some people may find that these techniques aren’t enough on their own to manage their ADHD. These people might choose to take medication as well to help make their symptoms more manageable.

  • New habits can take some time to establish. Implementing these strategies successfully will require patience and persistence.

Option 3: Mental health therapy

Another treatment option for adult ADHD is psychotherapy, also called mental health counseling. Working with a licensed mental health therapist can help you learn new coping skills to help you live successfully with ADHD.

A therapist can also help you express and cope with difficult emotions that might come up for you as a result of your ADHD. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you challenge negative thinking patterns that might be making you feel anxious or sad.

Pros of mental health therapy:

  • Therapy can effectively treat a wide range of different mental health conditions, not only ADHD. This makes it especially helpful for you if you have depression, anxiety, or other mental health difficulties on top of ADHD.

  • Going to therapy can help with self-awareness and self-image, which are things that you may have struggled with due to your ADHD.

  • A therapist can teach you coping skills to help you manage negative thinking.

Cons of mental health therapy:

  • Not everyone has the financial resources to be able to pay for a therapist. Sessions can be expensive, but insurance often covers it.

  • Therapy can be time-consuming. You typically attend one 50-minute session per week, and you may be expected to do homework in between sessions.

  • Therapy will make you come face-to-face with yourself. If you’re not ready for some deep self-reflection, then therapy may not be for you right now.

Option 4: ADHD coaching

A relatively new complementary ADHD treatment that’s gained popularity is ADHD coaching. An ADHD coach is someone who helps you make lifestyle changes to better manage your ADHD symptoms. They can help you implement the behavioral techniques that we listed above, including things like time management and organization.

Coaches aren’t licensed therapists, so they don’t usually deal with emotional or psychological issues.

Pros of ADHD coaching:

  • A coach can make it easier to implement behavioral management techniques for ADHD (than trying to do it yourself).

  • ADHD coaches are a great option for when you’re looking to take action and make changes in your life.

  • An ADHD coach can help you meet other personal and professional goals in your life.

Cons of ADHD coaching:

  • There is currently no regulating body to license or certify ADHD coaches. That means that, legally, anyone can present themselves as an ADHD coach, and it can be tricky to figure out which coach can actually help you.

  • There is limited scientific research on the effectiveness of ADHD coaching.

  • ADHD coaches can cost up to $1500 a month 一 and are typically not covered by insurance.

  • Unless they’re also licensed therapists, coaches can’t help you heal from deeper emotional issues like depression or trauma.

Option 5: Physical exercise

Exercise isn’t technically considered a treatment option for adult ADHD. But we decided to include it because there is a wealth of evidence that suggests that getting physical activity is one of the most helpful things you can do to manage your ADHD symptoms.

Exercise increases the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, just like ADHD medication does. This can help to lessen your most severe symptoms. It can also give you a healthy way to burn off any extra energy you have because of ADHD.

Pros of physical exercise:

  • Studies have found that physical activity helps to relieve ADHD symptoms, at least to an extent.

  • Exercise has endless health benefits, like strengthening your heart and lifting your mood.

  • Physical activity is also proven to lessen symptoms of other mental health disorders you may be facing, including depression and anxiety.

  • Exercise reduces stress, which can in turn make ADHD more manageable.

Cons of physical exercise:

  • Many people find it difficult to start a regular exercise routine, especially if they’ve never exercised before.

  • This option may not be available to you if you’re not able-bodied.

Take an ADHD Screening with Frida

No matter what treatment option you choose, the journey always begins with an ADHD diagnosis. If you suspect that you might have adult ADHD, but haven’t yet received a diagnosis, you can use Frida’s screening tool to see if you might be eligible for one.

Lisa Batten, PhD, CPT, PN1

Lisa Batten is a clinical scientist, therapist, and writer specializing in neuroscience and clinical pharmacology. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.