Non-Drug Alternative Therapies to Help Manage Adult ADHD
Medication has long been the first line of treatment in the US for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). So much so, that it can be challenging to find non-drug alternative therapies for ADHD symptom mitigation. While ADHD is the most highly-treatable condition in psychology today, stimulants remain the US FDA-approved medical treatment of choice for patients with ADHD and are associated with an exceptional response rate. Stimulants like methylphenidate, amphetamine, and dextroamphetamine help reduce ADHD symptoms in about 70 percent of adults by increasing chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and norepinephrine – chemicals the ADHD brain is lacking.
But not everyone is sold on the pharmacological “solution”, for a variety of reasons. Some ADHD adults are concerned about the side effects, which can include loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, headache, abdominal pain, and increased agitation and anxiety. Males may experience sexual side effects such as impotence and a decreased libido, making them even more hesitant to seek out medication.
And some people worry that medication will impact their creativity, outgoing personality, and ability to hyperfocus on the hobbies they enjoy. For others, taking regular medication comes with a social stigma that they’d prefer to avoid. They worry it will change the way others perceive them and even the way they perceive themselves. You may wonder:
- Will medication change my personality and turn me into a zombie?
- What if the medication makes me too focused?
- How will my personality be affected if I take meds daily?
- Will I lose the ability to enjoy myself?
- Can I take a medication vacation?
- What are the side effects?
Finally, ADHD medication can be expensive, and regular monitoring is required, especially in the beginning stages. Those who are uninsured or underinsured may find the prescriptions and frequent doctor’s appointments cost prohibitive.
The Postivie Aspects of ADHD
For all its known drawbacks, ADHD does have certain, known benefits. Many people with ADHD are the most creative, out-of-the-box innovators you know. Recent research by Sedgwick, J. A., Merwood, A., & Asherson, P. (2018). (The positive aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A qualitative investigation of successful adults with ADHD.) Showed that many ADHD adults enjoy their specific positive aspects of ADHD such as cognitive dynamism and energy, divergent thinking, hyper-focus, nonconformist, adventurousness, self-acceptance and sublimation.
And some people just have generalized fear around taking prescription drugs even with the abundance of research available.
Whether or not to use ADHD medication is a personal choice. But for those who want to go a different direction, these non-drug alternative therapies can help manage adult ADHD.
Non-Drug ADHD Therapies to Manage Adult ADHD Symptoms
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (“talk” therapy) helps patients change behavior through shifting thinking patterns. Through discourse, patients learn their emotional triggers and regulating techniques. Over time, they develop problem-solving skills. Once you think differently, you can modify your behaviors and develop more effective coping skills.
Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addiction, bipolar disorder, and more are currently treated with CBT. Combining CBT with coaching has been very successful for ADHD adults.
In one clinical trial, one group received CBT and the stimulant dextroamphetamine while the other group received CBT and a placebo. Both groups showed considerable improvement; however, the group that received the stimulant didn’t improve significantly over the group that received the placebo, leading researchers to the conclusion that it was the CBT, not the medication, that made the difference.
2. Dietary Changes Can Be Very Effective Non-Drug ADHD Therapies
Dietary changes have been shown to significantly reduce ADHD symptoms for both children and adults. Increased protein intake helps the brain create neurotransmitters, and chemical messengers that deliver information from one brain cell to another. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids like fish, beans, eggs, poultry, lean beef, and dairy are all fantastic ways to get protein and boost neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which the ADHD brain doesn’t produce enough of on its own.
Consuming high sugar and high carbohydrate increases your insulin, a hormone your body creates to help you process excess sugar. “Insulin is a natural hormone… that regulates the amount of glucose, or sugar, in your bloodstream,” says Dr. Richard Seidman, chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan.
So, both curbing your high carbohydrate and high sugar intake is a crucial component of an ADHD-friendly diet. In addition to increased hyperactivity, blood sugar spikes cause the body to combat the effect with increased insulin production, which then leads to a “crash” that heightens irritability and stress, effectively worsening the symptoms of ADHD.
3. Dietary Supplements
In addition to increased protein and decreased sugar, there are many supplements that are thought to help people with ADHD, including omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin D, L-Tyrosene, and magnesium. Examine.com is an excellent resource to explore the many supplements and most current research available.
Restlessness is one of the most prominent symptoms of ADHD. Feeling as if run by a motor, many ADHD adults find it difficult to sit still, so it should come as no surprise that regular exercise is an effective non-drug therapy for those with ADHD. Aerobic exercise and stimulant medication both act on catecholamine pathways, helping to increase dopamine, endorphins, and neuromodulators.
This means that exercise can have the same effect on ADHD symptoms as Ritalin, albeit for a shorter period of time. Still, studies show that a single exercise session is capable of producing immediate results that last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours – making it a fantastic solution if you need instant focus.
Cross-body, complex exercises help establish and reinforce cross-body neural networks. However, anything that raises the heart rate is beneficial. So, whether you take a jog around the block, hit the treadmill for 20 minutes, or hop into a kickboxing class at the local gym to do it, you’ll benefit every time.
Hundreds and hundreds of studies have proven medication to be an effective option, but it’s not the only ADHD Therapy. So whether you choose to use regular ADHD medication, alternative therapies, or a combination of both, the important thing is finding what works for you – which might not necessarily be what works for your spouse, your child, or your neighbor. It’s a lot of trial and error, but the end result is worth it. You don’t have to be a prisoner to ADHD any longer!
Do you need help managing your ADHD symptoms, organizing your time and space, or figuring out what course of action will lead to your desired outcome? As a certified ADHD coach, I can help! Book your free Discovery Call today and let’s work together to improve your symptoms, your perspective, and your entire life!