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The Right ADHD Treatment for You

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 16, 2021

Treating adult ADHD isn't as simple as popping a daily pill. ADHD is different for everyone, so there’s no single treatment for all. Your care plan will depend on many things, including how the disorder affects your life, other health problems you have, and any medications you take for them.

Medicine can help get your symptoms under control by changing the way your brain works. And counseling can give you skills to manage your day-to-day life. It teaches you how to tackle problems the disorder may cause, like losing things, getting easily distracted, or being late.

It might take some time for you and your doctor to find the treatment or treatments that work best for you. Also, you may need to switch up your treatment as your symptoms, your lifestyle, and your needs change over time.

When coming up with an ADHD treatment plan, you and your doctor and/or counselor will consider your lifestyle and what's most important to you. Your goals might include things like better time management, improved work performance, or building stable relationships.

Stimulant Medications

Most people who get ADHD treatment take prescription amphetamines or methylphenidates. They might help you pay attention longer and help your brain send and receive signals so you can think more clearly. They can keep you from acting on impulse, too. These drugs include:

These medications come in both short- and long-acting forms. Short-acting drugs wear off after about 4 hours, while extended-release drugs can last 8-12 hours. If you take a long-acting medicine in the morning, you might need a short-acting dose in the afternoon. This could help you get through afternoon classes or the end of the workday. Talk with your doctor to decide which works best for your routine, and to figure out the best time of day to take your medication.

Your doctor can't know ahead of time which drug will work best for you. They'll probably start you out with a low dose and see if it helps ease your symptoms. If it doesn’t, you may need to increase the dose slowly or try something else.

You also may need to change your medication or dosage if you're bothered by side effects. Stimulants can cause side effects like dry mouth, loss of appetite, insomnia, and headaches. But never stop taking your medication suddenly without letting your doctor know.

Stimulants may not be right for you if you have health problems like heart disease, glaucoma, or a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Make sure your doctor knows about your medical and psychological history. If you take an antidepressant, talk to your doctor before you take a stimulant, too.

Don't expect any ADHD medication to take away all of your symptoms. Many experts recommend counseling plus medication. Lifestyle changes can help, too.

Nonstimulants

Your doctor might prescribe one of these meds, like atomoxetine (Strattera), if stimulants don't work for you or if they aren’t right for you. They raise levels of a chemical in the brain that helps control behavior.

Your doctor might also suggest the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin), but it’s not FDA-approved for adult ADHD.

Nonstimulants might take a few weeks to start working, and you might have side effects like heartburn, constipation, and low sex drive. These might go away over time.

If you can’t take other ADHD meds, your doctor might prescribe one of two blood pressure drugs: clonidine (Kapvay) or guanfacine (Intuniv, Tenex). These medications can help you manage symptoms like impulsivity and hyperactivity.

The side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, headache, and sleepiness.

As with stimulants, it might take some time to find the correct drug and dosage for you.

Counseling

You might get counseling along with ADHD medication. Or it might be the only type of treatment you need. Your doctor can refer you to a counselor or therapist who can help you tackle the everyday problems that the disorder can bring.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach you how to:

  • Manage your time
  • Make plans for both the near future and further down the road
  • Handle your emotions
  • Deal with stress
  • Change your self-image if you tend to think poorly of yourself
  • Think things through before you take action
  • Avoid taking unneeded risks

Counseling can also teach you ways to remember things better and show you how to use calendars and date books to give your days structure.

Along with counseling from a mental health professional, consider ADHD education or coaching. Education can help you and your loved ones set realistic expectations and treatment goals. An ADHD coach can help you come up with ways to solve problems and make sure you stick to them.

When You Have Other Conditions

Many adults with ADHD also have other disorders, like anxiety or depression. If you have more than one condition, your doctor will first try to figure out which is causing you the most problems. That will help you set treatment priorities together.

Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication along with an ADHD drug. They'll keep in mind which drugs could interact or conflict with each other. And they'll watch out for troublesome side effects. Keep in mind that it might take a few weeks to see results from antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds.

CBT and other types of counseling can treat ADHD and other emotional and mental health conditions. So therapy can be especially helpful if you have more than one issue.

What Else Can You Do?

Along with taking your meds and seeing a counselor, there are things you can do on your own that may help with some ADHD symptoms:

Supplements with omega-3s have shown some benefit, too. Some research shows that omega-3s could lessen hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some kids with ADHD. But they take some time to show effects, usually 3-8 weeks.

Also, think about joining a support group to connect with other adults who are living with ADHD.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

National Resource Center on ADHD: “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adults with ADHD,” “Symptoms and Diagnostic Criteria,” “Managing Medication for Adults with ADHD.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Stimulant Therapy.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “DrugFacts: Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines.”

FDA: “ADHD: Not Just for Kids.”

National Library of Medicine: “Atomoxetine.”

American Heart Association: “Types of Blood Pressure Medications.”

Harvard Health: "Recognizing and managing ADHD in adults," "Non-drug treatments for Adult ADHD."

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): "Medication Management."

The ADD Resource Center: "Setting Target Goals for managing ADHD symptoms."

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