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Alternatives to ADHD Medication

This entry was posted in ADHD Medication and tagged on by .
Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by Chris Weatherall

Alternatives to ADHD Medication
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

ADHD diagnoses have become alarmingly inflated as has the inappropriate over-prescribing of stimulant drugs in its treatment, according to the “father of ADHD”, Dr. Keith Conners.15 Currently ADHD is one of the most prevalent mental health diagnoses in children and many adults. 1,16 Currently, medication is the most common form of treatment for a person of any age who has been diagnosed with ADHD. The National Institute of Mental Health reported 10 years ago that of the millions of children and adults given a diagnosis of ADHD, 69.3% were medicated with ADHD drugs.17 However, many people diagnosed with ADHD are hesitant to jump to taking daily medication as their first method of treatment—and for good reason.

There are no long-term studies of the effects of methylphenidate on adults. However, rat studies showed after 3 weeks of treatment, neurodegeneration and inflammation of cerebellum tissue was discovered.18 You might find yourself wondering if there are alternative ways to treat your ADHD without medication. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD treatment and alternatives to medication that may work for you.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, is described as a set of symptoms in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. A positive diagnosis depends on a qualifying number of symptoms, which may or may not be assessed easily unless a very meticulous assessment protocol is used. Some of the symptoms include.2

What Causes ADHD?

To date, no one knows a direct “cause” of ADHD. However, researchers have theories that both attention and hyperactivity factors may be related to lower levels of activity in the area of the brain that controls attention.4 Since the diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD is subject to opinion and lack of proper clinical assessment, there may be multiple reasons for the symptoms that are listed in the DSM that describe the condition, including Environmental risk factors such as heavy metal and chemical exposures, substance abuse, lack of sleep and many others that a prescription drug would not resolve.19

Are There Other Ways to Treat ADHD Without Medication?

Other Ways to Treat ADHD Without Medication

As mentioned, the most common treatment for ADHD is amphetamine-based prescription medication, like Adderall or Ritalin.5 Amphetamine-based medications are highly addictive, can cause undesirable health outcomes, and are under-studied as to their long-term effects. Fortunately, there are other ways to treat ADHD symptoms without the use of medication.

If you are concerned about introducing stimulants to your child or yourself, you likely want to know what is an alternative to ADHD medicine? Below, we’ve listed some holistic ways to address ADHD.

1. Child/Parent Behavior Training

Behavior training for a child diagnosed with ADHD is a form of treatment that involves behavioral interventions. Behavioral interventions teach a child how to cope with their emotions while also identifying and trying to change any problematic behaviors. This training can occur with parents, teachers, and therapists, too.

Parents’ involvement in behavior training helps them learn crucial skills that can help their child do their best at home or school, as well as in life.6 When the child and parent combine the skills they learned throughout behavior training, they can work together to cope with the symptoms of ADHD and succeed.

In multiple randomized, controlled trials, psychoeducation for a child diagnosed with ADHD and their parents was found to improve symptoms in some children in just a few months.7 Depending on the child, behavioral training can look like teaching organization skills, attention skills, social skills, and more. All these skills help them to learn how to properly behave and deal with emotions at all levels.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a method of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing behaviors as well as exploring your thoughts, feelings, and the causes of all the above. CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy for a variety of psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression. It is now used increasingly to help treat symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults.

CBT is highly recommended by many professionals for children and adults that struggle with controlling their emotions or having angry outbursts.8 It has also been found that CBT in combination with other treatment methods, including behavior training, can help address problematic behavior.

Elimination Diets

An elimination diet works by eliminating a specific food or food group from your diet to see if there is any benefit to your overall health. Elimination diets are often used to identify food allergies. In this case, they may help you identify triggers for your ADHD symptoms. When symptoms like hyperactivity are enhanced by environmental or dietary factors, it is much harder for a person with ADHD to perform basic tasks.

Omega Supplements

Omega fatty acids can be found naturally in a variety of foods, including many fish and plants. Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two common fatty acids that aid in brain function. Researchers believe that having enough of these fatty acids is essential for optimal brain health.9

Biofeedback

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a technological method of examining psychological functions. A person is connected to an electrical feedback machine that can help them measure and even change their responses after exposure to certain stimuli. The ultimate goal of using biofeedback is for a person to be able to better control their body. Promising results for improving attention span were also found within one study covered by the analysis.10

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What’s the Safest ADHD Drug?

Of course, one reason many people try to avoid medication in the first place is because of the side effects that it may produce. While there are multiple forms of ADHD medication, there is no “best” or “safest” drug. Unfortunately, stimulants can also cause some concerning side effects.11 Stimulant side effects differ depending on the ADHD medication, but they can range from insomnia and heart racing to stomach bleeding.

What Is the Best Nonstimulant for ADHD?

Nonstimulant medications work by artificially manipulating the levels of a chemical in your brain known as norepinephrine.12 The newest non-stimulant for ADHD is Atomoxetine, which is prescribed for both children and adults. Atomoxetine extended release remains active for 16 hours, much longer than previous versions of ADHD medications. Unfortunately, non-stimulants are not free from side effects such as aggression, hostility, agitation, thoughts of suicide, delayed growth, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and many others. 13,20 These medications have side effects such as irritability, stomach pain, low appetite, and more.

How Can I Focus on ADHD without Medication?

If you are trying to learn how to cope with your symptoms without medication, professional intervention with CBT, behavior training, elimination diets, and more are the safest option. Thankfully here are strategies you can incorporate at home to make any of those options more effective:

Exercise Regularly

Exercise Regularly

Even though exercise is suggested for almost any health-related issue, it’s for good reason—the health benefits of getting regular exercise are nearly endless.. People struggling with an ADHD diagnosis who regularly exercise have found it helps to improve focus, concentration, stamina, memory, and more. Some report that exercise helps them improve impulse control.14

Create a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is another essential aspect for anyone that wants to live well, and it can help with brain function, too. As mentioned previously, people diagnosed with ADHD have been found to have lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Others have found that some foods are triggers for ADHD symptoms. Thus, creating a specialized diet that revolves around your specific needs and the nutrients you require can help to keep you focused.

Start Small

Focusing while battling a diagnosis of ADHD can be more than difficult—it can become overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to start out small. Make goals for yourself, like setting aside a certain time every day to read or focus on something you enjoy for a set period. Practice coping with how you feel while also increasing your attention span at the same time. Some people with a diagnosis of ADHD have found success with measures like hiding their phone or setting a deadline for work or homework to push them to focus and get things done. Everyone is different, which means your goals will be, as well.

Finding the Best Alternative to ADHD Medication for You

Ultimately, medication is not the only option to treat ADHD. Every person with a diagnosis of ADHD or suffering from ADHD-like symptoms may find a unique combination of diet, habits, professional therapy, and more that works for them. Just know that if you are seeking an alternative to medication, regardless of the reason, there are options out there for you.

If you are looking for alternative options to ADHD medications, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. We understand that medication isn’t always the best answer for everyone, and we’re here to help. A team of licensed physicians, nutritional psychiatrists, and holistic professionals can work together to help you find a safe alternative.

Sources:


  1. Visser SN, Danielson ML, Bitsko RH, Holbrook JR, Kogan MD, Ghandour RM, Perou R, Blumberg SJ. Trends in the parent-report of health care provider-diagnosed and medicated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: United States, 2003-2011. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Jan;53(1):34-46.e2. PMID: 24342384
  2. Chou C-C, et al. (2017). Effects of an 8-week yoga program on sustained attention and discrimination function in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5237364/
  3. Wilens, T. E., & Spencer, T. J. (2010). Understanding attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder from childhood to adulthood. Postgraduate medicine, 122(5), 97–109. https://doi.org/10.3810/pgm.2010.09.2206
  4. Arnsten A. F. (2009). The Emerging Neurobiology of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The Key Role of the Prefrontal Association Cortex. The Journal of pediatrics, 154(5), I–S43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.01.018
  5. Lakhan, S. E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and behavior, 2(5), 661–677. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.78
  6. El Nokali, N. E., Bachman, H. J., & Votruba-Drzal, E. (2010). Parent involvement and children’s academic and social development in elementary school. Child development, 81(3), 988–1005. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01447.x
  7. Bai, G. N., Wang, Y. F., Yang, L., & Niu, W. Y. (2015). Effectiveness of a focused, brief psychoeducation program for parents of ADHD children: improvement of medication adherence and symptoms. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 2721–2735. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S88625
  8. Sukhodolsky, D. G., Smith, S. D., McCauley, S. A., Ibrahim, K., & Piasecka, J. B. (2016). Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents. Journal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology, 26(1), 58–64. https://doi.org/10.1089/cap.2015.0120
  9. McGlory, C., Calder, P. C., & Nunes, E. A. (2019). The Influence of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Skeletal Muscle Protein Turnover in Health, Disuse, and Disease. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 144. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00144
  10. Ratajczak, E., Hajnowski, M., Stawicki, M., & Duch, W. (2021). Novel Methodological Tools for Behavioral Interventions: The Case of HRV-Biofeedback. Sham Control and Quantitative Physiology-Based Assessment of Training Quality and Fidelity. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 21(11), 3670. https://doi.org/10.3390/s21113670
  11. Lakhan, S. E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and behavior, 2(5), 661–677. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.78
  12. Sofuoglu, M., & Sewell, R. A. (2009). Norepinephrine and stimulant addiction. Addiction biology, 14(2), 119–129. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1369-1600.2008.00138.x
  13. Arria, A. M., & DuPont, R. L. (2010). Nonmedical prescription stimulant use among college students: why we need to do something and what we need to do. Journal of addictive diseases, 29(4), 417–426. https://doi.org/10.1080/10550887.2010.509273
  14. Berwid, O. G., & Halperin, J. M. (2012). Emerging support for a role of exercise in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder intervention planning. Current psychiatry reports, 14(5), 543–551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-012-0297-4
  15. Blackwell B, Keith Conners In His Own Words, International Network for the History of Neuropsychopharmacology [2017 Nov 30] [cited 2022 Feb 8]
  16. APA, What is ADHD? [internet] [cited 2022 Feb 8]
  17. NIMH, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Statistics c.2011 [internet] [cited 2022 Feb 8]
  18. Raoofi A, Aliaghaei A, Abdollahifar MA, Eskandarian Boroujeni M, Javadinia SS, Atabati H, Abouhamzeh B. Long-term administration of high-dose methylphenidate-induced cerebellar morphology and function damage in adult rats. J Chem Neuroanat. 2020 Jan;103:101712. doi: 10.1016/j.jchemneu.2019.101712. Epub 2019 Nov 15. PMID: 31740420.
  19. Froehlich TE, Anixt JS, Loe IM, Chirdkiatgumchai V, Kuan L, Gilman RC. Update on environmental risk factors for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2011;13(5):333-344. doi:10.1007/s11920-011-0221-3
  20. BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, Using Atomoxetine (Strattera) Information [internet]


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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