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Treatment for ADHD: What are the options?

A mother holds her young son as they both laugh happily.

Medicines, behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes are among the treatments for ADHD. Learn more about how these approaches may help with ADHD symptoms.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can interfere with school, work, relationships and other areas of everyday life. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments that can control the symptoms and help people with ADHD live their best lives.

Medications

Many people take medicines for ADHD. Not everyone gets the same results from ADHD medicines. It may take time to find the right medicine and dose.

Options can include:

Stimulants. These are the most common medicines for ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Stimulants help many people with ADHD focus and tune out distractions. They increase levels of brain chemicals, such as dopamine, that aid with concentration and attention.

Stimulants are usually safe for both children and adults, but they can cause side effects, including:

  • Decreased appetite.
  • Headaches.
  • Irritability and social withdrawal.
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure.
  • Movement or vocal tics.
  • Sleep problems.

Changing the medicine or dose can help with these problems, so let your provider know about any side effects.

Non-stimulants. There are several types of non-stimulant medications that may be prescribed to treat ADHD. These medicines can improve focus, attention and impulsivity, according to the NIMH. But they take longer to start working than stimulants. Non-stimulants may be prescribed when a stimulant doesn't work or is causing too many side effects, or they may be combined with a stimulant to boost effectiveness.

Counseling

Behavioral therapy can help people learn to manage ADHD behaviors. Therapy is often combined with medications or used alone. Among other things, according to the NIMH and other experts, therapy can help people:

  • Improve focus, concentration, social skills and impulsive behaviors.
  • Develop practical skills, such as organization and time management, to improve performance at school or work.
  • Talk through difficult emotions that often come with living with ADHD.
  • Work through problems in relationships as well as find positive ways to handle disruptive ADHD behaviors.
  • Learn parenting skills to encourage positive behaviors in children who have ADHD.

Lifestyle changes

Healthy habits and everyday strategies can also help manage ADHD symptoms. Try to:

Exercise regularly. Exercise is a good outlet for hyperactivity, and it may help improve focus, lower stress, and boost mood and memory, according to HelpGuide. Find an activity you enjoy, and stick with it. You might try walking, yoga or sports like basketball or tennis.

Get sufficient sleep. Because of racing thoughts, many people with ADHD have sleep problems that may make symptoms worse, HelpGuide reports. To help with sound sleep:

  • Avoid late-afternoon caffeine.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day—weekends too—to establish a routine.
  • Wind down in the evening by turning off smartphones, TVs and computer screens at least an hour before bed.

Get organized. Disorganization is often a challenge, particularly for adults with ADHD. To help counter it, use reminder notes, lists and schedules to stay on track. Put often-used items (like phones and keys) in the same place. Use electronic reminders to help you remember to pay bills.

Find what works for you

No two people are exactly alike when it comes to ADHD symptoms and treatments. Your or your child's provider can help you understand the risks and benefits of each option so you can find the right approach.

Don't go it alone

If ADHD symptoms are affecting your performance at work, let your provider know. They can offer advice and help you adjust your treatment plan.

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