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Managing ADHD Without Medication

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Although prescription stimulant medications, such as Concerta and Adderall, can effectively manage the symptoms of ADHD, some people may choose a more natural route. Behavioral therapy, family therapy, exercise, and meditation have all shown promise in reducing ADHD symptoms.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that manifests as a consistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity.1 These patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity significantly interfere with a person’s functioning or development. Both children and adults can have ADHD, with symptoms beginning during childhood.1

Symptoms of ADHD in children include:1

    ADHD spelled in children's blocks

  • Inattentiveness in the classroom and on the playground.
  • Inability to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Failure to complete homework and household chores.
  • Constant movement (fidgeting).
  • Loses items, such as pencils, school books, or homework.
  • Inability to sit still for a long period of time.
  • Excessive talking.
  • Difficulty waiting their turn.
  • Often interrupts others.
  • Uses other people’s personal items without prior consent.

Symptoms of ADHD in adults are similar to those in children, but may present differently in a variety of settings. These symptoms include:1

    Male student distracted in class, concept of adhd

  • Overlooks important details.
  • Exhibits inattentiveness, such as during lectures, conversations, or reading.
  • Struggles with organization.
  • Displays poor time management.
  • Fails to meet deadlines.
  • Loses items, such as a wallet, purse, keys, eyeglasses, and cell phone.
  • Exhibits restlessness and talkativeness.
  • Forgets to do daily tasks, such as paying bills, attending appointments, or returning calls.
  • Fails to remain still for extended periods of time, such as during meetings.
  • Struggles with waiting in lines.
  • Interrupts others.

Again, ADHD begins in childhood, but symptoms can change over time, increasing and decreasing in intensity. Also, the symptoms of ADHD may be mistaken for other emotional or behavioral problems. For example, restlessness and fidgeting may be confused with anxiety. Furthermore, forgetfulness and avoiding activities that require much mental effort could be confused with symptoms of depression. Once an individual has been thoroughly assessed and given an accurate diagnosis of ADHD, it is important that they receive treatment for their symptoms.2

How Is It Normally Treated?

While ADHD cannot be cured, it can be managed. Many children and adults with ADHD are prescribed medication to treat their symptoms. Common medications used for the treatment of ADHD are prescription stimulants, such as Concerta, Adderall, and Ritalin. While these medications can be very beneficial and effective for those who struggle with symptoms of ADHD, they may also cause serious side effects in those who take them. Adverse effects include:2

  • Reduced appetite.
  • Sleep issues.
  • Twitching or tics.
  • Personality changes.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Increased anxiety.
  • irritability.
  • Headaches.
  • Stomachaches.

Because of these side effects, many people do not want to take the medications that are typically prescribed for ADHD. Parents may be especially concerned about how these side effects will impact their children. Further, some people may take these medications during childhood and decide that they do not want to continue taking them into adulthood. For those who have other conditions, such as anxiety, high blood pressure, seizures, glaucoma, and liver or kidney disease, they might not be able to take stimulant medications due to the possibility that taking them will cause dangerous complications.2

Those who are concerned about taking medications for the treatment of ADHD should speak with their physician about their options. There may be other, non-pharmacologic ways to manage symptoms that may be less worrisome, and your treatment providers should be able to give more details.

Ways to Manage Symptoms Naturally

There is a wide variety of ways that ADHD symptoms can be managed, in addition to the standard regiment of prescription stimulants. Some options include:

  • Behavioral therapy: This type of therapy can help people monitor and change their behavior, while also teaching practical skills, such as how to organize tasks, finish schoolwork, or work through emotional triggers.2
  • Family & marital therapy: Family therapy can teach and assist family members of those with ADHD on how to support the person while providing rewards for positive behaviors and change and by working through problematic behaviors.2 Marital therapy can help partners support one another and work through any issues that arise, including disruptive behavior or struggling with focusing during conversations. Family therapy can also help improve listening skills between family members and foster more effective communication.
  • Parenting skills training: These training techniques can assist parents in learning how to use rewards and consequences to guide changes in their children’s behaviors.2
  • Stress management techniques: Stress management skills can benefit both children and adults. Parents may be able to handle their child’s behavior more calmly if they have a solid foundation of stress management and relaxation skills to use during stressful situations.2 Also, children and adults who have ADHD may benefit from such skills, as being able to manage stress in a healthy way may improve symptoms.
  • Exercise: Research has found that even a few minutes of physical activity per day can help improve focus and academic performance in children with ADHD.3
  • Healthy sleep hygiene: Research has also found that children who get even 30 extra minutes of sleep at night are less restless at school and better behaved. Furthermore, those children who cut back on sleep have been linked with having more tantrums and frustration.3
  • Meditation: Preliminary research suggests that meditation and mindfulness practices can improve ADHD symptoms in adults.4

If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you might have many concerns, one of the main ones being the stimulant medications that may be prescribed for the treatment of symptoms. However, it is important to remember that you have options. There are several ways to naturally treat the symptoms of ADHD with many of the options being practical, affordable, and backed by scientific research. Additionally, you can combine as many of these options as you see fit to create a comprehensive approach to managing this disorder. For example, you may attend therapy, exercise regularly, practice meditation, and make sure you get adequate sleep every night. If you are looking for a non-medicinal way to treat ADHD, it is worth your time to explore your many natural, safe, and reliable options.

Sources

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  3. Clay, R.A. (2013). Easing ADHD Without Meds: Psychologists Are Using Research-Backed Behavioral Interventions That Effectively Treat Children With ADHD. Monitor on Psychology, 44(2), 44.
  4. Mitchell, J. T., Zylowska, L., & Kollins, S. H. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation Training for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adulthood: Current Empirical Support, Treatment Overview, and Future Directions.Cognitive and Behavioral Practice22(2), 172–191.

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