Options For Adult ADHD Treatment

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Information regarding attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treatments often focuses on how to reduce the impact of the disorder on children in school and at home. However, in 60% or more of cases, ADHD persists beyond childhood and into adulthood. In fact, up to 6% of adults currently live with some form of ADHD. 

It can be frustrating when you're searching for information about adult ADHD treatment and are only able to find tips regarding sticker charts and classroom seating intended for children. If you’re an adult experiencing symptoms of ADHD and want to know more about treatment options, such as ADHD medications or working with a mental health professional, see below.

Adult ADHD

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Experiencing ADHD symptoms as an adult?

Why finding specific information about ADHD symptoms can be difficult

First, depending on where you are, ADHD may be underdiagnosed. The Updated European Consensus Statement, for example, notes that ADHD in adults is not widely accepted in European countries and that European psychiatry may be neglecting adults with ADHD. That’s one reason it may be more difficult to find appropriate information about ADHD diagnosis and treatment options in certain places.

Second, significant stigma around ADHD still exists today. One academic review on ADHD notes that in interviews with the general public about ADHD, nearly all participants expressed the belief adult ADHD symptoms are “childish and socially inappropriate”. Seeing such behaviors on video “increased both tendencies of peer rejection and feelings of hostility”. Even prejudices and misconceptions about what causes ADHD can increase negative views of those who live with ADHD symptoms, such as the false belief that ADHD is caused by excessive sugar consumption or poor parenting. 

Why treatment can be important

Untreated ADHD can have a negative impact on one’s relationships, career, and ability to adequately handle daily responsibilities. It may lead to low self-esteem, mood swings, and other mental health conditions, including substance use disorders. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes that adult ADHD can cause those who have it to experience issues like trouble focusing, difficulties with time management, sleep difficulties (including sleep disorders), impulsive behaviors, inability to accomplish goals, inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. 

Difficulties managing ADHD symptoms and impulsive behavior without guidance or support can also result in increased stress levels and lower self-esteem. Finally, some research reports an association between ADHD and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. It’s yet another reason why having the appropriate information and treatment can represent life-saving care for many.

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Adult ADHD treatment options

Treatment for adult symptoms of ADHD is often approached from multiple angles and may include talk therapy, environmental changes, lifestyle adjustments, and/or ADHD medication, as detailed below. Another option to treat ADHD in adults is to connect with an ADHD coach, a professional who can assist ADHD adults with time management, organizational skills, goal setting, social skills, and more problematic areas for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It may be best to approach treatment by first recognizing how your ADHD affects your life, physical health, and mental health and then implementing solutions and/or seeking help to address those specific challenges.

Treatment with medication

Oftentimes, stimulant medication is prescribed for adult ADHD and can be effective in treating symptoms in around 70% of cases. Stimulants work by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for what is known as executive function. Executive function includes working memory, impulse control, and the ability to persist in working on a task. Stimulant medication as ADHD treatment may enable better awareness and control over one’s behavior, as well as fewer symptoms of attention deficit disorder. Substance misuse is possible, so it’s important that ADHD medication is carefully monitored by a mental health professional.

Non-stimulant medications may also be prescribed for those experiencing symptoms of ADHD. For example, selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are sometimes recommended for ADHD symptoms. Some non-stimulant medications may be less likely to cause significant side effects, but not everyone with ADHD responds to them. 

Medication for adult ADHD can be of enormous assistance for many adults, but not everyone finds a medication that works for them. Others learn that some adult ADHD stimulants cause unfavorable side effects for them, or may not be able to take some because of medications they’re already on for other conditions. Some may also choose to forgo medication in favor of therapy, behavioral treatments, and lifestyle modifications.

Finding support for mental disorders through therapy

Research suggests the most effective overall treatment for adult ADHD tends to be stimulant medication combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Without medication, CBT can still be an effective method of treatment. CBT can be effective because some adults with ADHD find it hard to manage their thoughts and emotions and may experience emotion dysregulation or a mood disorder. 

Getty/AnnaStills
Experiencing ADHD symptoms as an adult?

Daily lifestyle changes you can make

While not a replacement for medication and therapy in most cases, certain lifestyle adjustments and other behavioral treatments may help with ADHD symptom control to some degree. These include:

  • Exercising regularly. Cultivating an exercise routine may be the single most beneficial lifestyle change you can make to improve core symptoms of adult ADHD. Various studies indicate that exercise can increase a person's ability to maintain focus and attention. 
  • Adjusting your diet. Making certain changes to your diet may also help improve ADHD symptoms, though you should always speak to a doctor or nutritionist first. 
  • Getting enough sleep. As one study puts it, “relationships of ADHD with sleep problems, psychiatric comorbidities, and medications are complex and multidirectional”. It’s not uncommon for those with ADHD to experience sleep problems, which can then exacerbate symptoms. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene may help.
  • Cultivating a mindfulness practice. A regular mindfulness practice is commonly recommended for various mental disorders, and ADHD is no exception. Mindfulness may help with things like focus and emotional control. More research into its applications for ADHD in particular is needed, but one study suggests “promising preliminary support for its efficacy”.

Seeking adult ADHD symptom support

If you’re experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s typically recommended that you meet with a qualified healthcare professional. A medical doctor can conduct an exam and any necessary testing to determine whether there may be an underlying physical condition that’s causing symptoms. Next, a mental health care provider can conduct an evaluation to diagnose ADHD and/or another mental health condition may be at play and suggest a treatment plan accordingly.

Support through therapy

For those who are interested in meeting with a therapist to address potential ADHD symptoms, they can connect with one online or in person. If you’d prefer to attend traditional, in-office sessions, you can search for a provider in your local area. If you’d prefer to meet with someone virtually from the comfort of home, you might consider online therapy.

Online therapy

With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online and in-person therapy can offer similar benefits in most cases, so the format you choose is typically up to you.

Takeaway

ADHD is a developmental disorder that, left untreated, can be challenging to live with. People with ADHD may be more likely to experience other mental health conditions like substance abuse and depression, making treatment all the more important. Treatment for ADHD in adults can include medication, therapy, and/or lifestyle changes. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it may be worth meeting with a qualified healthcare professional for advice and guidance on the recommended treatment for your unique situation.

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