ADHD Medication: Types & Other ADHD Treatment Approaches

The ADHD medications that are most prescribed are stimulants and non-stimulants. These medications combined with behavioral therapy can help to improve attention and reduce impulsivity. They should be taken as prescribed by your doctor.

ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a developmental disorder that causes symptoms, such as inattention and/or impulsivity that hinder the person in their daily tasks. Learn more about ADHD symptoms and check-out our online symptoms quiz to determine you or your child's risk for this condition.

If you suspect you or your child may have ADHD, you should speak to your family doctor, who will consider a referral to a neurologist (for adults) or neuropediatrician (for children). Oftentimes, an ADHD diagnosis is confirmed using a multidisciplinary approach with a team of health care professionals.

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Medications for ADHD

The most commonly prescribed ADHD medications are:

1. Stimulant medications

Stimulant medications are the first-line treatment for children and adults with ADHD. Although these medications suggest that they may stimulate the mind, they actually work to soothe the mind by promoting focus and deterring distractions. There are short-acting, medium-acting and long-acting stimulants available, which refers to how long they are effective in the body. 

The most commonly prescribed stimulant medications are methylphenidate and amphetamine. It is thought that they work by increasing dopamine availability in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter than is related to attention and motivation.

2. Non-stimulant medications

Non-stimulant medications have different mechanisms of action than stimulant medications, but also aim to improve symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and inability to focus. They are typically considered when stimulant medications are not effective or if stimulants are not well-tolerated. Non-stimulant medication may also be a great option for cases of ADHD that present with other conditions, like anxiety or Tourette's syndrome.

The most commonly prescribed non-stimulant medications are norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (like atomoxetine and viloxazine), and alpha agonists (like clonadine and guanfacine).

Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy

Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy are often indicated for the treatment of ADHD, particularly to complement treatment with medication. These modalities are especially recommended for children under 6 years of age, as medications are not approved for ADHD treatment in young children. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most recommended therapies for treating ADHD. It is oriented by a psychologist and focuses on supporting behavioral changes, creating better habits and developing strategies to cope with symptoms.

Natural options

Natural treatment for ADHD may involve measures such as:

  • Relaxation and meditation techniques, through yoga, acupuncture and shiatsu, which help to manage agitation and improve concentration
  • Create a calm environment with few distractions to carry out tasks that require concentration such as homework, studying, reading and/or working
  • Encourage exercise, which can reduce hyperactivity, as it helps to expend energy and relax
  • Avoid foods rich in artificial colors and preservatives, which can worsen ADHD symptoms in some people
  • Increase intake of omega-3 foods such as sardines and tuna, which are beneficial for optimal brain function.

These treatment options for ADHD do not replace treatment with medication and psychotherapy recommended by a doctor, and it is important to follow their instructions correctly so that symptoms are controlled.

Guidelines for the family

There are also some additional considerations that the household can also keep in mind when living with someone with ADHD. Some of them are:

  • Create a routine, by establishing regular wake times, sleep times and a schedule for daily tasks
  • Make sure the person is paying attention to what is being said, as they may need to stop what they are doing to pay attention
  • Organize the study or work space, removing objects that may distract;
  • Offer a quiet and peaceful space to carry out tasks, which is important to avoid distractions from the environment;
  • Help organize appointments and tasks with deadlines, by making to-do lists and/or appointment notes in visible places and reminding the person whenever necessary;
  • Be clear and objective when speaking, by separating information and using fewer words to explain something.

Furthermore, it is important to clarify all doubts about ADHD with the doctor, so that you can better understand what it is, its impact on the person's life and how treatment should be carried out.