Treatments for Adult ADHD [5 Options]
Once you’ve overcome the hurdle of getting a diagnosis for your ADHD, finding the best treatment options can feel like an overwhelming task. There is no one-size-fits-all solution with ADHD treatments due to factors such as the range of symptoms, high rates of co-occurring conditions, and individual characteristics like temperament and environment.
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It’s also completely normal for ADHD treatment protocols to change over time. Life changes such as having kids or starting a cubicle job can really put a magnifying glass on some ADHD symptoms that previously lived in the background.
The one perk of being an adult with ADHD is that you do have quite a bit of agency over the types of treatments you use, and there are plenty of options. Choosing the most effective path will depend on your unique needs, resources, and any recommendations given by your healthcare provider.
How is ADHD treated in adults?
Two-thirds of kids diagnosed with ADHD will carry it into adulthood. Unless you’ve had a steady stream of interventions, that also means that your ADHD has molded quite a bit about how you operate in this world. Medication is commonly prescribed in adulthood ADHD, but most evidence suggests that adults who respond well to ADHD medications will deteriorate without lifestyle changes. As such, it’s always best to have a treatment plan that uses several different techniques.
In addition to medications, adults with ADHD may also receive help in the form of therapy, ADHD coach, neurofeedback, lifestyle changes, and supplements.
Let’s take a deeper look at each form of treatment and how they can help you more effectively navigate your world.
Medication for ADHD
Medications for ADHD include stimulant and non-stimulant options. In certain cases, you may also be prescribed antidepressants to help with your ADHD. The common factor with all ADHD medications is that they help adjust chemical messengers in your brain in order to help you focus better.
Stimulants for ADHD
Stimulants are the most widely recognized types of ADHD meds. These meds come in either amphetamine-based or methylphenidate-based compounds, such as:
methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Ritalin)
Stimulants increase the levels of chemical messengers called norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain, which improves focus. Contrary to the name, many people with ADHD find that stimulants actually calm them down by allowing them to filter out distractions and focus on one thing.
Stimulants are often a first line of treatment but should always be approached with caution and under the doctor’s supervision as they have many potential negative side effects, high risk for addiction and interactions with other drugs.
Non-stimulants for ADHD
In the long quest for effective ADHD medication alternatives, a few non-stimulant drugs are now approved for ADHD.
Atomoxetine (Strattera) is the first non-stimulant drug approved for ADHD. It helps through its action on your brain’s norepinephrine levels, boosting attention and focus. It’s not as effective as stimulant medications but is an excellent option for many due to fewer side effects and a low risk of addiction.
The other non-stimulant options include blood pressure medications known as clonidine (Kapvay) and guanfacine (Intuniv). These medications are a class known as alpha agonists, and they help reduce symptoms such as impulsivity, over-reaction, hyperactivity, and even insomnia. They work their magic by tricking your nerves that use adrenaline into being less active.
Antidepressant medications for ADHD
Although antidepressant medications aren’t officially approved for ADHD, many doctors will prescribe them due to their effectiveness. It’s also pretty common to have ADHD and depression, so using a medication that helps with both makes sense.
The most common antidepressant/ADHD crossover drug is bupropion (Wellbutrin). Bupropion increases dopamine levels and slightly increases norepinephrine levels, reducing symptoms of ADHD along with antidepressant effects. In some cases, a person may get a prescription for both bupropion and stimulant medication for ADHD.
Can you increase your dopamine levels naturally?
Yes! People with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine, which can lead to many of the dysfunctions associated with ADHD. Research has shown that exercise can help control these symptoms.
Regular physical activity can even spur growth of new receptors in certain brain areas. These new receptors help your brain better use dopamine, therefore increasing your natural levels.
Therapy for ADHD
Given that the control panel of your brain is afflicted with ADHD, it’s no surprise that your ability to drive smoothly through life gets impacted. As such, it’s common to land in adulthood with a host of coping mechanisms and habits that could benefit from professional guidance.
There are several effective therapy options for ADHD that can help you with improving emotional regulation, coping skills, follow-through, and self-esteem. You can opt for in-person or online sessions–the important thing is to find what works for you. The most common forms of therapy for ADHD are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based interventions, and brief motivational interviewing. Although, your therapist may take an eclectic approach, using various types of techniques.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of therapy that aims to reformat your relationship with your emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. In essence, CBT is a form of brain training, kind of like bicep curls for your brain.
In sessions, your therapist will help you with unhealthy or unhelpful thought and behavior patterns you’ve developed due to ADHD. You may work on things such as learning moderation, reassessing all-or-nothing thinking, and reducing comparative thinking that negatively impacts your self-esteem.
There are also other types of CBT, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which may be used for ADHD. DBT focuses more on emotional and social aspects, so it’s great for people who are struggling with emotional regulation and interpersonal conflict.
You’ve likely heard of mindfulness already. Mindfulness-based interventions are structured therapeutic approaches grounded in mindfulness practices. Sessions focus on stress reduction techniques like breathwork and meditation, along with learning how to spend more time in the present.
These interventions are especially helpful in adult ADHD as it’s common to have high stress and a propensity to race through life at warp speed. Working on mindfulness techniques develops important skills such as pausing to think before acting, logically processing events before reacting, and remaining calmer in stressful situations. You’ll also learn to identify and accept bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts without becoming judgemental (sounds nice, right?).
Brief motivational interviewing
Motivational interviewing uses a goal-oriented type of therapy that aims to help you find the motivation to make positive changes. Sessions are a collaborative experience where you work with your therapist to uncover your roadblocks, clarify your goals, and learn how to better sprint toward them.
This style of therapy can be especially helpful for adults with ADHD who have difficulty with getting motivated, following things through to completion, or are feeling stuck in their progress.
An ADHD coach is a person specially trained to help you organize and take charge of your life. Coaches assist with practical life skills such as managing finances, creating schedules, effective learning strategies, and good social skills.
The real-life applications of ADHD coaching make it an appealing option to people with ADHD who want help with the functional day-to-day adult stuff and future planning. The presence of a coach also helps with motivation and accountability as change can be pretty difficult to implement for anyone.
Neurofeedback for ADHD
Neurofeedback aims to help you change your behavior by mildly altering your brain (don’t worry, nobody actually touches your brain). During its constant activity, your brain creates measurable electrical signals called brain waves. These brain waves can be measured using electrodes placed on your scalp. During neurofeedback sessions, you are asked to perform tasks while these waves get measured and displayed. The purpose is to better understand what concentration “feels like” and create more control over your brain’s impulses.
The jury is still out on whether this type of therapy makes long-lasting changes but many enthusiasts swear by it. At the end of the day, it’s a non-invasive way to see your brain in action and may help reduce impulsivity and promote better focus.
Lifestyle changes for ADHD
Certain lifestyle changes can make a massive difference in the severity of your daily ADHD symptoms. The most important changes you can make are improving your sleep, regular exercise, and a lower sugar protein-rich diet. You can take a self-guided journey into lifestyle changes or hire coaches such as personal trainers, sleep coaches, or nutritionists to help you out.
Sleep and ADHD
It’s fairly typical for people with ADHD to have erratic sleep schedules, frequent awakenings, and difficulty waking up. Sleep issues are generally a combination of habits and symptoms of ADHD. Focusing on improving your sleep is important since sleep is when your brain clears out toxic waste and your neurotransmitters rest and reset for the next day.
You can boost your sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene–in particular, maintaining a consistent wake-time, reducing electronic use before bed, and staying away from stimulants close to bedtime. Small changes like a pink noise machine and a sleep eye mask can also help boost your sleep stability and quality.
Diet and exercise
When it comes to activity, something is better than nothing. Exercise helps get out excess energy and has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 40%. Over time, regular exercise also improves how your body reacts to stress.
Aerobic exercise tends to have the most immediate benefits for ADHD but weightlifting (or strength training) is another great option. The most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing and stick with it. Even a daily walk can result in noticeable improvements.
While we’re talking about health plans, let’s not forget the importance of diet with ADHD. To reduce the severity of your symptoms you should aim to minimize processed and sugary foods and focus on a protein-rich diet. Protein contains amino acids that are used to make neurotransmitters like dopamine. Since people with ADHD have problems with these neurotransmitters and low blood and urine levels of amino acids, extra protein ensures your body has the nutrients it needs.
Supplements for ADHD
Nutritional supplements can be used by people who have ADHD to help promote optimal brain health and function. They aren’t going to cure symptoms alone but work well in conjunction with other therapies.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The most widely researched supplement for ADHD is omega-3 fatty acids. These powerhouse supplements, usually given in the form of fish oil, help reduce the core symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, attention, and impulsivity.
Adults with ADHD should also get checked for low iron, as it can exacerbate symptoms. Regular supplementation with a multivitamin, vitamin D, and magnesium are also recommended. Around 50% of people don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, which can lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Many people with ADHD find taking their magnesium before bed is beneficial due to its relaxation-inducing qualities.
This medicinal mushroom helps promote more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in your brain, which is needed to build new neurons. Since this neuron-building (a.k.a. neurogenesis) mainly occurs in the forebrain (that’s where most ADHD dysfunction lives), many people find it helpful for reducing symptoms of ADHD.
Certain B vitamins, such as B6, are important for dopamine production. A study using B6 supplementation in ADHD found that symptoms of hyperactivity, aggression, and inattention improved significantly after two months of daily use.
As mentioned, people with ADHD seem to have lower levels of amino acids in their blood and urine. You can offset this through a high protein diet, or you can choose to supplement with essential amino acids (EAAs). EAAs are easy to find in nutrition stores in drinkable form or tablets. Try to pick clean choices without too many dyes or additives, and if EAAs aren’t available, you can try their slightly inferior cousin–branch chain amino acids (BCAAS).
Beginning a treatment plan for ADHD is a rewarding and sometimes difficult journey that will help you unlock your gifts and overcome many of your challenges. Finding an effective treatment plan for your ADHD may feel overwhelming, so give yourself permission to start small.
There is now a multitude of excellent treatment options that work well when combined and can vastly improve your wellbeing and quality of life. You also now have plenty of virtual options for treatments, making ADHD treatment more affordable and accessible than ever.
Finding a professional to help guide you on the most effective plan is essential, as your needs are unique and ever-changing. You can get the help and guidance you need today by using online services such as Frida, which allows you to get an accurate diagnosis and customized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.