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Adult ADHD treatment: Medication, therapy options, lifestyle adjustments, and dietary changes

Adult ADHD treatment: Medication, therapy options, lifestyle adjustments, and dietary changes

People of all ages can have ADHD, but specific treatment options apply to each age group. For adults, the medications, therapies, and lifestyle adjustments will be different than for adolescents or children. Like other mental health conditions, treatment options will be adapted to fit the needs of the individual. 

Some adults may find their ADHD symptoms more easily treated with medication, while others might benefit more from a blended plan with therapy and medication used together. For those with mild or moderate ADHD, lifestyle adjustments along with therapy may be enough to help them control the unwanted effects of ADHD. 

Finding the right adult ADHD treatment options can take some time. But with the right provider and a little patience, people with ADHD can learn to harness their abilities, while minimizing the distractions and hyperactivity that might be holding them back.

What Does ADHD Look Like in Adults?

There are three major presentations of ADHD, which can affect adults in unique and personal ways:

  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: People with this type of ADHD may often struggle with fidgeting, interrupting people, remaining seated, or resisting impulsive decisions, such as large purchases. 
  • Predominantly inattentive: People with this type of ADHD have difficulty concentrating, are easily distracted, have a hard time finishing tasks or work responsibilities, and may struggle to follow instructions. 
  • Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive: People with this type of ADHD display both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors as listed above. They may be highly energetic, as well. This is the most common type of ADHD.

Because people with ADHD can have varying symptoms, they may need to try a few different prescription medications with assistance from their provider before finding one that works best for them.

What Is the Most Prescribed ADHD Medication for Adults?

Methylphenidate is the most commonly-prescribed ADHD medication for adults. It’s sold under the brand names Ritalin and Concerta. Methylphenidate is a stimulant, a subset of amphetamine-based ADHD medications. They help people with ADHD to improve their mood and ability to concentrate by stimulating dopamine production and increasing alertness. Other stimulants include: 

  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Dexmethylphenidate (long-acting)
  • Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (long- or short-acting)

Short-acting stimulants belong to an old category of medication in use since the early 20th century. In many cases, they might start working in less than an hour. However, they might need to be taken 2 to 3 times a day. As a result, there can be a significant rebound effect‚ which occurs when ADHD symptoms come back after a prescription starts to wear off.

Long-acting stimulants are often taken just once daily and do not usually have a rebound effect. Like short-acting stimulants, they start working in under an hour and can last all day. They might be labeled as “extended-release.” 

There are also non-stimulant ADHD medications, which aren’t amphetamine-based. Instead, they help to treat ADHD medications by working as SNRIs, or serotonin and norepinephrine inhibitors. They help ensure these chemicals in the brain are available in the right amounts, helping to improve focus, decrease mood swings, and more. 

Stimulant-based ADHD medications have been in use longer than non-stimulants—but they also come with a higher risk of dependence, misuse, or adverse side effects. That’s why Thriveworks only prescribes non-stimulant ADHD medications: to avoid the potential for negative client outcomes. 

What Is the Most Effective ADHD Medication?

There’s no single most effective ADHD medication—instead, it depends on how each individual responds to their prescription. Even then, the dosage, release method, and frequency of use may need to be adjusted several times.  

Types of non-stimulant medications for ADHD include:

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Clonidine ER (Kapvay)
  • Bupropion (Wellburtin)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Viloxazine (Qelbree)
  • Guanfacine

In terms of non-stimulant medications, some ADHD specialists may recommend using either atomoxetine or bupropion as a first choice.

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Does Adult ADHD Treatment Have to Include Medication?

Medication is the most successful treatment method for adults with ADHD; however, adult ADHD treatment does not have to include medication if the individual would prefer a different form of treatment. In addition, while medication is usually the foundation of a strong and effective treatment plan, it’s not always enough on its own.

Can Adults with ADHD Function Without Medication?

Yes—some people respond better to the therapeutic interventions and coping strategies offered by a therapist than they do to medication. That doesn’t mean you should stop taking the ADHD medication that has been prescribed to you, though. 

If your ADHD medication is giving you side effects that are distracting or unpleasant, your psychiatric provider can help you adjust the dosage, as well as the drug’s release method. They may even find a new medication that’s a better fit for the ADHD symptoms you’re suffering from.

How Can I Treat My ADHD Without Medication?

Even though most adults with ADHD benefit from a blended treatment plan that includes both medication and therapy, it’s entirely possible for many people with ADHD to treat their depression without a prescription. This is especially the case for adults who have mild to moderate symptoms. 

Non-prescription adult ADHD treatment can include: 

  • Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family therapy can assist in ways ranging from eliminating negative thought patterns to helping relatives and partners to understand the behaviors of their loved ones with ADHD. 
  • Lifestyle changes: Adults with ADHD are often highly-creative, talented individuals. But to harness their potential, certain habits and daily activities will likely need to be adjusted. This might include using a notepad, setting timers for finishing tasks, or taking steps to avoid overstimulating themselves. 
  • Dietary changes: Research suggests that certain food products can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. Milk products, grapes, oranges, chocolate, soy products, wheat products, eggs, beans, corn products, and tomatoes have all been shown to trigger ADHD symptoms in some people. 

Remaining active both physically and mentally can also make a huge difference. Exercise can help the brain to improve connections between neurons in the brain, leading to increased concentration and the ability to relax. 

Mindfulness practices, including yoga and forms of meditation, can strengthen your ability to control your attention. These activities can also help raise your brain’s level of dopamine, which is in short supply in ADHD brains.

What Is the Best Diet for ADHD?

At present, there’s no concrete scientific evidence that proves ADHD is caused by diet or nutritional problems. But, growing research does suggest that some foods can agitate some of the negative symptoms of ADHD. 

With this in mind, supplementing an adult ADHD treatment plan with a few dietary adjustments might make a big difference. The Feingold diet is one of the more popular diets used in adult ADHD treatment, as it requires you to avoid foods believed to contribute to hyperactivity. 

A 2015 study indicated that children with ADHD are more likely to have a sensitivity to foods and ingredients that the Feingold diet restricts. This includes several synthetic food colorings and flavorings. Additives that are restricted by the Feingold diet include: 

  • Artificial colorings like Red Dye 40 and yellow 5
  • Artificial flavorings like synthetic cherry flavoring, vanilla, and more
  • Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame 
  • Preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and tert-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ)

The Feingold diet also restricts the following foods, among others:

  • Stone fruits such as apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums
  • Nightshades like peppers, tomatoes, and some squash 
  • Almonds 
  • Mint
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Beef

Another popular dietary plan to supplement one’s adult ADHD treatment is the elimination diet. More well-known than the Feingold diet, this regimen is designed to assist people in identifying foods that are causing allergic reactions, but it’s not intended for long-term use. 

After someone learns which foods they should avoid, they can be placed on a diet tailored to their individual needs. 

An elimination diet does take a while to complete (sometimes several months)—as it involves removing most foods, and replacing them with foods that aren’t widely known to aggravate ADHD symptoms or cause allergic reactions. 

The diet often starts with an individual eating minimally flavored, simply prepared mild foods, such as: 

  • Lamb
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Tapioca
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Bananas
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice 

This list is typically modified to adjust for what foods are available in an individual’s area. Common items to avoid may include:

  • Cow and goat milk
  • Cheeses
  • Eggs
  • Chocolate
  • Wheat products
  • Nuts
  • Citrus 
  • Shellfish

These are two of the most popular dietary plans to help complement adult ADHD treatment. If you’re seeing a therapist, a psychiatric provider, or both, they may be qualified to help you find the best dietary plan to fit your needs. They may also refer you to a dietary specialist who can assist. 

What Vitamins and Supplements Help with Adult ADHD Treatment?

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common in Americans, and some nutrients (like vitamin D) are often low in people with ADHD. In cases where someone’s diet or lifestyle leaves them lacking certain nutrients, supplementation may be necessary to maintain optimal nutrient levels. 

Certain supplements have also been shown to improve ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and agitation. Supplements and minerals that may help reduce unwanted ADHD symptoms include:

While supplements can be a helpful addition to adult ADHD treatment, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional, who can help test you in order to find out what nutrients you might be deficient in; they’ll also help you find the proper dosage. Like other forms of treatment, only use supplements as advised. 

In some cases, individuals can end up taking too much of a certain vitamin or mineral, hoping to offset their symptoms. But this can make them sick— and overdosing, especially with mineral supplements, cause organ damage or other issues. 

What Medications and Treatment Options Can Thriveworks Prescribe for Adults with ADHD?

As mentioned earlier, Thriveworks has a no-stimulant policy for the benefit of our clients. Again, stimulants come with an unwanted risk of abuse and addiction—which is why we prescribe Strattera or Qelbree, which are non-stimulant prescription medications. 

A special word from Dr. Scott Gordon, Chief Medical Officer at Thriveworks: “At Thriveworks, we do not prescribe stimulant medications to adults for the treatment of ADHD. This is because of their significant risk of abuse and the medical consequences that are associated such as high blood pressure, seizures, and strokes when used not as prescribed. Stimulants are also currently the most widely abused prescription medications, even above opioids. As a result of these risks, non-stimulant medications are used at Thriveworks with great clinical success.” 

In addition to medication management from our psychiatric providers, many of our therapists specialize in treating the unwanted effects of ADHD—they can help clients create the best adult ADHD treatment plan with an emphasis on personalized care. 

Living with untreated ADHD symptoms can be frustrating, but for adults who are struggling to stay on track, finding the right medication, therapy options, lifestyle changes, and even dietary adjustments can all make a world of a difference.

  • Medical reviewer
  • Writer
Khadija Tuitt Headshot
Dr. Khadija Tuitt, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Khadija Tuitt is a Board-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) with over 15 years of nursing experience in both acute inpatient and community outpatient psychiatric nursing. Khadija specializes in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating individuals across the lifespan who suffer from a host of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar and mood disorders, psychotic disorders, and co-occurring substance use disorders.

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Jason CrosbyMental Health Writer

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

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