You’ve received your ADHD diagnosis. Now what? Evidence shows that treating ADHD can alleviate symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. However, figuring out the best option can take some research—and trial and error. Following is the lowdown on the most commonly prescribed medications and alternative therapies for ADHD.
Prescription drugs are the first-line treatment of ADHD. Experts estimate that ADHD drugs, when used properly, are 70 to 90 percent effective. Still, you may worry about side effects, especially in children, and the potential for addiction. How you respond to ADHD medication will depend on which drug you’re given, the dosage, and, of course, your individual chemistry. Here are the main types:
Stimulants: Despite their name, these drugs will not make you hyperactive. They stimulate the part of the brain that maintains focus and keeps impulses in check. Extended-release formulations work for longer periods of time. Prescribed more often than any other ADHD medication, stimulants are not addictive or habit-forming if taken as directed.
Non-stimulants: These drugs also alter brain chemistry but are considered less effective than stimulants. Atomoxetine is the first non-stimulant drug approved for ADHD and may produce fewer side effects than stimulants. Although deemed safe in clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cautioned that, in rare instances, it may cause suicidal thoughts in children and teens. Tricyclic antidepressants are another valid second-line therapy for ADHD that affect brain chemistry.
Off-label: This term refers to medications that are effective for ADHD but not approved by the FDA to treat it. For instance, amantadine is a drug used for Parkinson’s disease; however, researchers have found that it can work for ADHD too. Another example is the antidepressant bupropion. It is safe and legal to prescribe these and other drugs “off-label” for ADHD.
Bottom line: Find a doctor who is experienced with ADHD medications and discuss any concerns you may have. Also, ask your physician if he or she is aligned with a particular pharmaceutical company; some are, and the relationship may influence which medications they prescribe. If you’re uncomfortable about this, seek a second opinion. To learn more about potential side effects, complications, and interactions with other medication you may be taking, visit www.drugs.com.
Not everyone with ADHD takes medications. Studies show that several alternative therapies, most notably meditation and regular exercise, can improve focus. Behavioral therapy, such as working with an ADHD coach or psychotherapist (or both), can help you map out day-to-day coping strategies.
Next on the horizon? Acupuncture and biofeedback (a treatment in which you learn to control your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension) look promising, but more research is needed. In general, beware any “miracle cures.” Megavitamins, homeopathy, herbal supplements, and special diets have not been proven effective.
ADHD experts often recommend a multi-faceted approach that blends medication and alternative therapies. They also advise creating a support network around your treatment plan. Check in with your physician regularly. And consider connecting your ADHD coach or psychotherapist with your doctor. Communication—and, yes, a dose of patience—are the keys to fine-tuning your treatment.
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