A child with her mom at the doctor's officeShare on Pinterest
Johner Images/Getty Images

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, processes emotions, and responds to the environment.

ADHD is sometimes diagnosed during childhood, typically in school settings where symptoms of the condition, such as problems with behavioral control, anger issues, distractibility, and inattention, are most evident.

Several treatment options can manage symptoms successfully.

Treatments range from behavioral intervention to prescription medication. In many cases, medication alone is an effective treatment for ADHD.

However, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that including other psychotherapeutic interventions are important.

Read on to learn about the options available today for treating ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a mental health condition that can cause unusual levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. Both adults and children can have ADHD. People with ADHD may have a hard time focusing on a single task or sitting still for a long period of time.

It can also disrupt executive functioning ability, which helps people evaluate and execute more complex situations.

There is a wide range of behaviors associated with ADHD. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • having trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks
  • being forgetful about certain tasks
  • being easily distracted
  • talking excessively
  • interrupting others when they’re carrying out a task
  • making frequent mistakes or missing details while they’re studying or working
  • losing items frequently
  • having trouble organizing daily tasks

Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive. People with this type of ADHD have extreme difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive. People with this type primarily have hyperactive-impulsive behavior, like fidgeting, interrupting people, and not being able to wait their turn.
  • Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. People with this type of ADHD have a combined display of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors. This may include an inability to pay attention, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and above-average levels of energy and activity. It’s the most common type of ADHD.

Talk with your doctor

Effective treatment for ADHD often includes several approaches. These can include medication and one or more types of therapy, as well as behavioral measures that you can put into practice as a parent.

Getting proper treatment can help you manage your ADHD symptoms and feel better.

To learn more about what treatment might work best for you, talk with your doctor. Some of your questions might include:

  • Would medication, therapy, or both help?
  • Would you recommend a stimulant or nonstimulant medication?
  • What side effects from the medication should I be aware of?

What are the best ADHD treatment options?

Medications for ADHD

Medication is often an important part of treatment for someone with ADHD. However, it can be a difficult decision to make.

To make the best decision, you and your doctor will work together to decide whether medication is a good option. If so, ask your doctor whether you need medication during school or work hours only, or on evenings and weekends as well.

You and your doctor will also determine what type of medication might be best. The two main types of ADHD medications are stimulants and nonstimulants.

Central nervous system stimulants

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are the most commonly prescribed class of ADHD drugs. These drugs work by increasing the amounts of brain chemicals called dopamine and norepinephrine.

In people with ADHD, these types of stimulants produce a paradoxical calming effect. This results in a reduction in hyperactivity and an improvement in attention span in many people. The effect improves your concentration and helps you focus better.

Common CNS stimulants used to treat ADHD include:

  • amphetamine-based stimulants (Adderall, Dexedrine, DextroStat)
  • dextromethamphetamine (Desoxyn)
  • dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
  • methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Ritalin)

Nonstimulant medications

Your doctor may consider nonstimulant medications when stimulants haven’t worked for your ADHD, or they cause side effects that are hard to manage.

Certain nonstimulant medications work by increasing levels of norepinephrine in your brain. Norepinephrine is thought to help with attention and memory.

These nonstimulant treatments include:

Other nonstimulant medications can also help with ADHD. It’s not fully known how these medications help with ADHD, but there’s some evidence they help certain chemicals work better in the part of the brain involved with attention and memory.

These other nonstimulants include:

  • guanfacine (Intuniv)
  • clonidine (Kapvay)

Potential side effects of stimulants and nonstimulants

Although medications for ADHD bear some side effects, your doctor can work with you to find the right dosage. The more common side effects of stimulants and nonstimulants are pretty similar, although they tend to be stronger for stimulants.

These side effects can include:

  • headache
  • trouble sleeping
  • stomach upset
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • weight loss
  • dry mouth

The more serious side effects of these drug types are rarer. For stimulants, the serious side effects can include:

  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • increased blood pressure
  • allergic reaction
  • suicidal thoughts or actions

For nonstimulants, the serious side effects can include:

  • seizures
  • suicidal thoughts or actions

Therapy for ADHD

Several therapy options can help with ADHD. Talk with your doctor about whether one or more of these options would be a good choice for you.

Online therapy options

Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you. Some of our top picks include:

  • Talkspace
  • BetterHelp
  • Amwell
  • Teen Counseling
  • Online-Therapy.com

Psychotherapy

There are different types of psychotherapy that can provide a way for you to better manage symptoms of your ADHD.

For example, psychotherapy can be useful in getting you to open up about your feelings of coping with ADHD. ADHD may also cause you to have problems with peers and authority figures. Psychotherapy can help you better handle these relationships.

In psychotherapy, you may also be able to explore your behavior patterns and learn how to make healthier choices in the future.

Behavior therapy

The goal of behavior therapy is to teach someone how to monitor their behaviors and then change those behaviors appropriately.

You’ll develop strategies for how you behave in response to certain situations. These strategies often involve some sort of direct feedback to help learn suitable behaviors. For instance, a token reward system could be devised to support positive behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-focused form of psychotherapy that aims to change negative patterns of thinking and replace them with a renewed framing of how you feel about yourself and your ADHD symptoms.

CBT can help people with ADHD with the “life impairments” they can experience, such as time management and procrastination. It can also help them manage irrational thought patterns that prevent them from staying on task, such as, “This has to be perfect, or else it’s no good.”

Additional treatment options

Social skills training

Social skills training can sometimes be useful if someone expresses difficulty in social environments. As with CBT, the goal of social skills training is to teach new and more appropriate behaviors. This helps a person with ADHD work and socialize better with others.

Parenting skills training

If your child has an ADHD diagnosis, parenting skills training can give you tools and techniques for understanding and managing their behaviors. Some techniques may include:

  • Immediate rewards. Try using a point system or other means of immediate rewards for good behavior or work.
  • Timeouts. Use a timeout when your child becomes too unruly or out of control. For some children, being pulled out of a stressful or overstimulating situation can help them learn how to react more appropriately the next time a similar situation comes up.
  • Togetherness. Find time together every week to share a pleasurable or relaxing activity. During this time together, you can look for opportunities to point out what your child does well and praise their strengths and abilities.
  • Striving for success. Structure situations in a way that allows your child to find success. For instance, you might allow them to have only one or two playmates at a time so they don’t get overstimulated.
  • Stress management. Use methods such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and exercise to help manage stress.

Support groups

Support groups can be great for helping people connect with others who may share similar experiences and concerns. Support groups typically meet regularly to allow relationships and support networks to be built. Knowing you’re not alone in dealing with ADHD can be a huge relief.

Support groups can also be a great resource for ideas and strategies for coping with your or a loved one’s ADHD, especially if you or someone you know was recently diagnosed. You can ask your doctor how to find support groups in your area.

The bottom line

ADHD may disrupt people’s lives, but there are many options that can help you manage your symptoms.

Types of treatments can range from behavioral intervention to prescription medication. Make sure to discuss these with your doctor to find out how to best approach your ADHD. Several approaches may work best, such as therapy and medication.