Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can come with a variety of symptoms that frequently impact daily life. However, many treatment options may be available, with the most common generally including therapy, medication, and behavioral modification. You may also wish to consider alternative treatments after discussing them with a licensed medical professional. These can include elimination diets, essential fatty acids, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, biofeedback, and lifestyle changes. For more insight, it can be helpful to speak to a therapist online or in person.
Whether you are an adult living with ADHD or have a child with ADHD, it can be crucial to consult a medical professional before trying any form of medication, supplement, or alternative treatment.
What Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?
According to mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, ADHD is generally a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually involves inattention and impulsivity, with or without a hyperactivity component. While the condition is often associated with childhood, symptoms typically persist into adulthood. Adults can be frequently diagnosed with ADHD as well.
There are three main types of ADHD:
- Predominantly inattentive: Symptoms usually center on inattention.
- Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive: Symptoms normally center on hyperactivity and impulsivity.
- Combined: Symptoms typically involve inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
How Common Is ADHD?
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control published statistics about ADHD prevalence in children and adults.
- In the United States, approximately 9.8% (6 million) of children ages 3 to 17 may be diagnosed with ADHD.
- Other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders may be seen in six of 10 children with ADHD.
- 62% of children with ADHD in the US usually take medication, 47% typically receive behavioral treatment, and 23% may receive no treatment.
- Approximately 4.4% of current adults are generally believed to have ADHD, with lifetime prevalence estimated as high as 8.1%.
Recognizing ADHD Signs And Symptoms
Mental health experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine say symptoms can vary from one person to another and by ADHD subtype. Researchers suggest that hyperactivity symptoms are almost always apparent by age seven and often much younger. Other ADHD symptoms may not become apparent until a child reaches elementary school. Symptoms can include the following:
- Trouble focusing and short attention span, especially at school
- Difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors and resisting temptation
- Frequently losing or forgetting items
- Trouble following through with commitments
- Frequent mistakes due to carelessness
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty taking turns with others
- Unnecessary risk-taking
- Fidgeting, squirming, or generally having trouble sitting still
Standard ADHD Treatments
According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, typical treatment plans for ADHD may involve psychotherapy, medication, and behavior modification. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, medication is usually not recommended for children under age six.
For many people with ADHD, medication can be an effective form of treatment. Please speak to your doctor or mental healthcare provider to learn more about ADHD medication and if it may be a good fit for you or your child.
Various talk therapy approaches can be used to treat ADHD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tends to be one of the most common treatments. CBT typically focuses on identifying harmful or negative behaviors and thought patterns and replacing them with healthier, more productive ones.
Therapy can teach children and adults with ADHD how to recognize and understand their emotions, build a repertoire of practical coping skills, and learn communication methods to express their feelings and needs effectively.
ADHD treatment often involves active, ongoing, and evolving behavior management to modify behaviors and teach appropriate reactions to various social situations. This strategy can be one of the most common ways to treat ADHD.
Behavior management training often teaches parents practical ways to connect with their children while explaining appropriate and acceptable behaviors. Children can receive support while they learn to self-correct behaviors for a given situation.
Alternative ADHD Treatments
Before trying any alternative treatments, please speak with your physician or mental healthcare provider.
This can be especially true regarding supplements, especially if you plan to give them to a child, because most supplements are not approved by the FDA. Working with a licensed medical professional to determine whether an alternative treatment may be appropriate can be helpful.
One theory about ADHD suggests that eliminating foods thought to increase hyperactivity may reduce symptoms. Foods like sugar, artificial food coloring, additives, and common allergens, like wheat, milk, and eggs, are believed by some to affect behavioral symptoms in people with ADHD.
Essential Fatty Acids
Your brain generally requires essential fatty acids to function correctly. Researchers are currently investigating whether fats like omega-3 oils can improve ADHD symptoms.
While some people use vitamin or mineral supplements like zinc, Vitamin D, and iron to treat ADHD, please keep in mind that exceeding recommended daily allowances can be harmful.
According to several recent clinical trials, various herbal medicines may show promise as treatments for ADHD. However, researchers noted that large-scale studies may be required to determine whether the natural remedies are effective and safe. Proper dosages and interactions likely also need to be studied, further emphasizing the need to discuss alternative ADHD treatments with your healthcare provider.
- Bacopa: This is generally a traditional Indian or Ayurvedic herbal treatment derived from the Brahmi or water hyssop plant. According to studies, this herbal medicine may reduce restlessness and improve self-control.
- French Maritime Pine Bark Extract: This may potentially increase visual-motor coordination and reduce symptoms related to hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
- Ningdong: Ningdong is typically considered to be a Chinese remedy believed to help with the reduction of ADHD symptoms.
- Ginseng: Ginseng is often recognized as a Chinese herb that may reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
An emerging treatment for ADHD may be neurofeedback training, which typically uses electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback to help a person focus on specific tasks while monitoring brain wave patterns.
How Therapy May Manage ADHD Symptoms
A comprehensive ADHD treatment plan often includes psychotherapy with a licensed therapist. While many people choose to attend therapy in person, some find that it’s more comfortable and convenient to connect with a therapist virtually. Whether you are an adult living with ADHD or have a child living with ADHD, therapy can prove to be beneficial.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
Thanks to online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, adults may connect with a licensed therapist online from the convenience of their own homes. With flexible appointment formats through phone, video call, or online chat, it can be simple to fit therapy into your busy schedule.
Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
According to recent studies, internet-based parenting interventions like parent-child interaction therapy and parent training can provide you with strategies to help your child manage their ADHD.
A 2022 study showed that online cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD could deliver similar results to treatments in the traditional in-office setting. Many participants said the convenience of internet-based therapy made it possible to attend more sessions, which generally increased the duration and effectiveness of treatment outcomes.
What is the best alternative treatment for ADHD?
Complementary health approaches and alternative treatments for ADHD, when used as supplemental treatments to medication, may provide benefits to people diagnosed with ADHD. Some examples of ADHD alternative treatments include:
- Mind-body practices: For kids with ADHD, certain mind-body practices, like meditation and yoga, may help improve self-control and the ability to concentrate and stay focused.
- Diet changes: For children with ADHD, diet changes may help improve symptoms. Studies show that a diet high in a diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat may increase the risk of developing ADHD, although more research is needed. Incorporating foods rich in certain nutrients in your child’s diet could also help improve symptoms of ADHD. For example, foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids like tuna, salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts may improve symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.
- Chiropractic medicine: Chiropractic care may improve focus in individuals with ADHD and improve symptoms.
Can I treat ADHD without medication?
Yes, behavior therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) is an effective treatment for both children and adults with ADHD, although more research is needed to determine whether cognitive behavioral therapy alone is equally effective as combining it with medication.
Researchers are also exploring brain training, more specifically a technique called neurofeedback, as a potential medication-free treatment for ADHD. Many people with ADHD have a common pattern in their brain waves characterized by abnormal frequency of theta and beta waves, compared to people who do not have ADHD. Neurofeedback is a type of activity that may help people with ADHD regulate brain activity, by regulating beta and theta brain waves, to improve focus and impulse control.
Does caffeine help ADHD?
Not necessarily. Research shows that caffeine may help improve certain symptoms, like difficulty focusing and paying attention, in adults, but it may also cause sleep disruption in adolescents. Further research is needed before caffeine can be considered a viable option for treating ADHD.
What are natural alternatives to Adderall?
Some natural alternatives to Adderall may help ease symptoms of ADHD. Always talk to your healthcare provider before adding any supplement to your treatment regimen. Some supplements can cause side effects and even interact with certain medications. Some natural alternatives to Adderall may include:
- Minerals (like iron, magnesium, and zinc)
- Vitamin B6
- Gamma aminobutyric acid (also referred to as GABA)
- Omega 3 fatty acids
What vitamins help ADHD?
Certain vitamins and supplements are proven to help augment the positive effects of ADHD medication and help ease ADHD symptoms. Some of these vitamins and supplements include:
While certain vitamins and supplements are proven to help treat ADHD symptoms, they should be considered as a complementary treatment and not as alternative medicine. Certain vitamins and herbal supplements may interact with other medications and can cause side effects. Always talk to a healthcare provider before adding a vitamin or supplement to your or your child’s treatment regimen, especially if you’re taking prescription medication.
What are the root causes of ADHD?
While ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in children, scientists have not identified the specific root causes of ADHD.
An analysis of multiple randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses shows that ADHD is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors,
with neither having a significant or clearly defined impact. Some of the possible environmental factors that researchers are exploring include babies born with a low birth weight, high blood pressure in the mother during pregnancy, alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, and traumatic brain injury early in life.
How can people with ADHD increase dopamine levels?
There are many complementary health approaches people with ADHD can implement in their routine to help elevate dopamine levels. While complementary health approaches may be proven to help ease symptoms of ADHD, they should not be used as a replacement to medication. Always talk to your doctor before making any changes to or stopping the use of your medication. Some examples of complementary health approaches that may increase dopamine levels include:
- Exercise: Research shows that exercise increases the release of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain, including dopamine, and may have a similar effect as stimulant ADHD medications in helping to improve cognitive and behavioral symptoms, like impulsivity.
- Listen to music or play an instrument: Music therapy, either by playing an instrument or listening to music, is shown to increase dopamine release and improve ADHD symptoms.
- Get enough sleep: Studies show that lack of sleep contributes to disruptions of the body’s mechanism for releasing dopamine, which may contribute to the severity of ADHD symptoms.
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