Living with ADHD can be a challenge. Sometimes, you might feel discouraged or hopeless. It can be hard to study, get work done, or make good decisions.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for ADHD. Many people benefit from some combination of therapy, medications, and/or lifestyle changes. ADHD doesn’t have to control your life.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common treatment options for ADHD.
The most common treatment for ADHD is stimulant medications, like Ritalin and Adderall. These medications have proven to be safe and effective for people with ADHD.  But they do have side effects, and they can also be abused. For people with mild ADHD, the side effects can sometimes outweigh the benefits. 
Unlike some other mental health medications, stimulants work very quickly. They usually take effect within an hour, and last anywhere from a few hours to most of a day. Many people notice a difference right away. If you take it daily for a week or so and don’t notice any improvements, talk to your doctor about it—you may need a higher dose, or a different medication.
There are also non-stimulant medications for ADHD. The most common is called Strattera (or atomoxetine). These medications still have side-effects, and they’re often less effective than stimulants—but they aren’t habit-forming.  Unlike stimulants, you won’t feel the full effect of these medications until you’ve been taking them daily for several weeks.
I literally remember taking a chem test, because that was my first test on medication. So I took it and cried after. It was a relief that it felt so much easier to do things.
I’m still pretty new to Adderall. I’m still figuring out dosage and such. But especially in that first week realizing the difference. That was shocking to me.
Therapy and coaching
Talking to a therapist can be helpful for many people with ADHD. A therapist can help you:
- Deal with negative emotions associated with ADHD, like frustration, discouragement, or a negative self-image.
- Identify the problems ADHD is causing in your life, and come up with solutions.
- Learn skills that will help you manage your symptoms long-term (unlike medications, which wear off after you stop taking them).
- Help you identify and deal with other mental health concerns that might be making things worse. People with ADHD often have other conditions as well, like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
Therapy takes time—your life probably won’t change overnight. But the benefits of therapy also last much longer than medication. People who are in therapy are often able to get by on lower doses of medication. 
If you can find a therapist who specializes in ADHD, that can be extra helpful. But even if you can’t, most therapists will be able to help you learn healthy life skills and deal with negative emotions.
ADHD coaching is another option. Compared to therapists, ADHD coaches are less focused on emotions and mostly focused on problem-solving. They’re often people who have ADHD themselves. ADHD coaching isn’t covered by health insurance, so it can be expensive.
Mindfulness and neurofeedback
Mindfulness means actively paying attention to the present moment. It’s a skill that you can learn, practice, and get better at over time.
Try it now: What can you see, hear, or smell right now? Are you slouching? Are you holding your breath?
Many of the problems associated with ADHD have to do with not being mentally present. We bump into things because we’re not noticing where our body is in relation to our surroundings. We zone out in the middle of a conversation. We get hyperfocused on a task and forget to step back and look at the big picture. These are all problems that practicing mindfulness can help with.
Some treatments for ADHD make it easier to practice mindfulness. Neurofeedback is a treatment where our brain signals are translated into something we can see or hear. We might see a line on a computer screen that goes up or down, or hear a sound that gets louder or quieter depending on what our brain is doing. Neurofeedback usually happens in a clinic, but there are now neurofeedback devices you can use at home, like the Muse meditation headband.
Aside from formal treatment, there are many things you can do to improve your symptoms:
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can actually cause ADHD symptoms. People with ADHD often stay up much later than the average person, making it hard to get enough sleep every night. If you have a sleep disorder, like insomnia or sleep apnea, treating it may also help with your ADHD symptoms. 
- Get some physical activity in every day. The most helpful kind is aerobic exercise, like jogging or riding a bike.  But even small things can help, like taking a walk around the block or just standing up and stretching for a few minutes every hour. This helps you “burn off” some of that hyperactivity, and it gives your brain the stimulation it needs to get things done.
- Eat nutritious foods. Foods high in protein and fiber will help you maintain a constant energy level. Instead of making a list of foods you “can’t” eat, focus on trying to increase the amount of healthy food you eat. You’ll naturally feel more full and start to crave sweets less.
- Limit your screen time. People with ADHD often spend a lot of time playing video games and scrolling endlessly on our phones. [5, 6, 7] Setting limits on screen time is a good idea for everyone, but it might be especially important for those of us with ADHD.
- Make it as easy as possible to live the life you want. Some ideas: Leave your healthy snacks out on the counter where you can see them, and keep the candy in the back of the cupboard where you would have to go out of your way to get it. Keep a calendar on the wall, so it’s easier to remember important events. Turn off app notifications that aren’t important.
Strategies that work for you don’t have to make sense to anybody else.
Putting it all together
Different treatments work better for some people than for others. Most people end up using a combination of treatments. For example, you might take medications but also see a therapist and maintain a steady sleep schedule.
It’s a good idea to track your symptoms over time. That way, you’ll notice if something changes. Then you can ask your doctor or therapist for help deciding what to try next.
Living with ADHD can be tough, but it doesn’t have to hold you back. With some practice, you can learn to manage it and live a full and happy life.
- Clavenna. (2017). Pediatric pharmacoepidemiology – safety and effectiveness of medicines for ADHD. Expert Opinion on Drug Safety 16(12), pp. 1335-1345. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/14740338.2017.1389894
- Kazda et al. (2021). Overdiagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Scoping Review. JAMA Network Open 4(4). Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/article-abstract/2778451
- Jaramillo et al. (2021). ADHD: Reviewing the Causes and Evaluating Solutions. Journal of Personalized Medicine 11(3), p. 166. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/jpm11030166
- Manos et al. (2017). ADHD: Overdiagnosed and overtreated, or misdiagnosed and mistreated? Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 84(11), pp. 873-880. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.84a.15051
- Lissak. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study. Environmental Research 164, pp. 149-157. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.015
- Tiraboschi et al. (2022). Associations Between Video Game Engagement and ADHD Symptoms in Early Adolescence. Journal of attention disorders, 26(10), 1369–1378. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/10870547211073473
- El Archi et al. (2022) Co-occurrence of Adult ADHD Symptoms and Problematic Internet Use and Its Links With Impulsivity, Emotion Regulation, Anxiety, and Depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry 13:792206. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyt.2022.792206