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ADHD Treatment Options: Learn How to Manage Your Symptoms

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects millions of adults. According to epidemiologic studies, approximately 6.76% of adults worldwide have symptomatic ADHD. In the United States, that number is even higher, with an estimated 8.1% lifetime prevalence of adult ADHD. As the awareness of ADHD in adults grows, so does the need for more research to better understand the disorder and its effects on the lives of those affected.

ADHD can have a significant impact on a person’s life. It can make it difficult to succeed in studies, work, and relationships. Only with the right treatment and support, people with ADHD can lead full and successful lives. Unfortunately, research has shown that fewer than 20% of adults with ADHD receive appropriate diagnosis and/or treatment, meaning that the majority are not getting the help they need. However, the research suggests that when adults with ADHD receive an appropriate combination of medications and psychosocial treatments, they can significantly reduce the symptoms of their disorder. It results in improved functioning and better quality of life.

This article covers all the necessary information about the types of ADHD, its symptoms, and the most effective ADHD treatment options.

What is ADHD?

Scientists point out the neurodevelopmental nature of ADHD, meaning that it affects how people think, focus, and behave. It is most common to see ADHD symptoms in kids, but the disorder can persist into adulthood too.

People with ADHD often have difficulty focusing on tasks and paying attention. It can result in difficulties staying organized and trouble finishing tasks. ADHD can also cause people to be hyperactive and impulsive, and have difficulty controlling their behavior.

When it comes to the difference between ADD and ADHD, it is only in the term. Before changes in the DSM-3 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), people had been diagnosed with ADD (attention deficit disorder) with or without hyperactivity. Then, hyperactivity was added to the name, and now, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is an official diagnosis.

Causes of ADHD

Although the exact cause of ADHD is not known, many factors have been linked to the development of the disorder.

  1. Genetics. The research suggests that positive family history may carry a 74% risk of developing the disorder in younger generations. Certain genetic mutations may affect the way the brain processes and responds to different stimuli. For example, a mutation in the gene known as the D4 dopamine receptor gene (DRD4) has been linked to ADHD.
  2. Brain structure and function. Studies have shown that the brains of people with ADHD are different from those of people without the disorder, both structurally and functionally. Individuals with ADHD have a smaller prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning (planning, organization, and impulse control). Another research has found that individuals with ADHD often have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, which is believed to be linked to the symptoms of ADHD.
  3. Medical conditions. Certain medical conditions can lead to the development of ADHD. For example, children born prematurely or those with a low birth weight may be at increased risk for developing the disorder. In addition, children with certain neurological conditions, such as epilepsy or Tourette’s syndrome, may be more likely to develop ADHD.
  4. Environmental factors. Exposure to lead and other heavy metals has been linked to an increased risk of developing the disorder. Other environmental factors, such as poverty, family stress, or exposure to violence or trauma, have also been associated with an increased risk of ADHD.
  5. Lifestyle factors. Poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and lack of physical activity can also increase the risk of developing ADHD. Studies have found that a diet high in sugar and processed foods may increase the risk of developing the disorder. The same goes for a diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals. Moreover, using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy or early childhood can increase the risk of developing ADHD as well.

Types and Symptoms of ADHD

There are three main types of ADHD: hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and combined. According to the current diagnostic criteria of ADHD in the DSM-5, an adult needs to have at least 5 symptoms for 6 months or more to be diagnosed.

Type Symptoms
Predominantly Inattentive
  • Frequently overlooks important details or makes errors at work or in other activities.
  • Seldom pays attention when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not comply with instructions and fails to do their job duties or other obligations (e.g., loses focus, gets sidetracked).
  • Often has difficulty focusing on tasks.
  • Frequently has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
  • Frequently gets distracted by unrelated thoughts.
  • Often misplaces items necessary for activities and tasks (e.g., keys, tools, wallets, documents, glasses, mobile phones).
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reticent to do activities that require long-term mental effort (e.g., preparing reports, etc.)
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive
  • Often taps or moves hands or feet while fidgeting in their seat.
  • Frequently gets up from their seat when it is expected that they would remain seated.
  • Usually behave as though they are “driven by a motor” and are always “on the move.”
  • Frequently talks too much.
  • Frequently unable to participate in leisure activities.
  • Frequently answers a question before it is finished.
  • Often finds it difficult to wait their turn.
  • Often looks and remains restless.
  • Disrupts or intrudes on others often (e.g., may take over others’ work)
Combined It is a mix of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types; a person exhibits symptoms of both of them.

It is crucial to note that ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. Everyone experiences symptoms differently, and the severity level varies from person to person. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from ADHD, consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, people with ADHD can learn to cope with their symptoms.

Assessment and Diagnosis

For self-assessment, you can take an online ADHD test and check your symptoms. It can recommend you consult a doctor if your results show the necessity because only a medical professional can make a diagnosis. 

When it comes to diagnosing ADHD, the first step is for a mental health professional to evaluate the patient to determine whether or not they have the disorder. This assessment can include a physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history. The mental health professional will then ask a series of questions to gather information about the patient’s behavior, such as how often they become distracted or have difficulty focusing.

The DSM-5, a diagnostic manual for mental health specialists, outlines the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. It requires five or more symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity to persist for at least six months in adults. Symptoms must be present in two or more settings (such as at work and home) and must negatively affect functioning in daily life to be considered eligible for making a diagnosis. And finally, other mental health conditions that can possibly cause these symptoms should be ruled out. 

The mental health professional may also use certain standardized tests, such as the Conners Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS), the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS), and the Wender-Reimherr Adult ADHD Scale (WRAADDS) to help determine whether or not the patient meets the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. These tests can help to assess the severity of the symptoms and identify how the disorder is impacting the patient’s life.

Treatment Options

Once a diagnosis is made, the mental health professional can work with the patient to create a treatment plan tailored to their specific needs. The doctor may recommend medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

Medication

The most common medications used to treat ADHD in adults are stimulants. These medications increase the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which help improve focus, attention, and impulse control. Common stimulants used to treat adult ADHD include methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and lisdexamfetamine which can be prescribed under the brand names of Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse, respectively. These medications can be effective in improving focus and decreasing impulsive behaviors, but they can also have side effects such as insomnia, loss of appetite, and nervousness.

Non-stimulants are another type of medication used to treat adults with ADHD. These medications also work by targeting different neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which can help to improve focus and concentration. These medications are usually prescribed if the stimulants do not work or cause severe side effects. Common non-stimulants include atomoxetine, guanfacine, and clonidine sold as Strattera, Intuniv, and Kapvay, respectively. These medications are generally better tolerated than stimulants and have fewer side effects, although they can still cause insomnia, nausea, and headaches.

Medication treatment can be only prescribed by an MD as ADHD drugs are controlled substances due to their potential for abuse. So, talk to your doctor first and receive their professional recommendations. Your doctor will provide you with information on the available medications, their possible side effects, and any drug interactions. If the side effects become severe, make sure you speak to the prescriber to adjust your treatment plan accordingly.

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy can help adults with ADHD:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors. CBT helps adults with ADHD become more aware of how their thoughts and behaviors influence their feelings and actions. Therapists can help individuals learn how to better manage their time, use problem-solving techniques, increase self-control, and better manage their emotions. Some other types of CBT, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based therapy can also be helpful in ADHD treatment.
  2. Social skills training is also an important type of psychotherapy for adults. This type of therapy helps individuals to better understand and navigate social situations. Through social skills training, individuals can learn how to better communicate with others, better manage their emotions in social situations, and better interact in groups.
  3. Psychoeducation is a type of psychotherapy that can help adults with ADHD to better understand their disorder and the challenges they face. Psychoeducation lets individuals learn more about their disorder, the symptoms they experience, and the treatment options available to them.

Changes in Lifestyle

Other recommendations for adults with ADHD usually relate to lifestyle changes:

  1. Get plenty of exercise. Exercise can help reduce stress and improve concentration.
  2. Eat well. Include a wide variety of healthy foods and limit processed foods and added sugars. A balanced diet can help regulate mood, provide energy, and increase concentration.
  3. Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night. Sleep is essential for mental health, and it can help improve focus and concentration. Establishing a regular bedtime and sticking to it can help ensure your body gets enough rest.
  4. Establish a routine. This can help individuals with ADHD keep their focus on tasks and stay organized. This might include setting specific times for waking up and going to bed, having meals, working, socializing, and relaxing.
  5. Limit distractions. This can be done by turning off the TV, putting away phones and other electronics, and setting aside a quiet space to work.

How to Treat ADHD Symptoms in Adults?

Treating ADHD in adults can be challenging and complex, as the disorder can manifest differently in each individual. The research has found that stimulants are the most effective medications for ADHD, with a success rate of around 70–80%. However, to get the best results, an individualized approach must be taken to ensure that the treatment is tailored to the patient’s specific needs.

Final thoughts on Getting ADHD Treatment

Thank you for reading our resource on ADHD Treatment Options. If you’re struggling with ADHD, there is hope! Top mental health professionals at MEDvidi can provide you with online ADHD treatment by creating individualized treatment plans to help you manage your symptoms. Find additional mental health professionals that treat ADHD.

Dr. Taryn Fernandes, MD
Author: Dr. Taryn Fernandes, MD

Born and raised in Northern California, graduated from San Diego State University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Continued my education with a double Master’s degree in healthcare administration and management and biomedical sciences. Finished my education with an MD from Chicago medical school in 2016. Attended internal medicine residency program at Northwestern Medicine and began practicing in 2020. My primary practices have been mental health, medical weight loss, Geriatrics and Regenerative Medicine. My practice philosophy is providing evidence based, patient centered care. I believe mental wellness is the starting point in achieving overall health, happiness and success. With the correct tools and guidance, the possibilities are endless. I am honored to guide patients along their journey to reach their personal health goals.

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