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Tips for Help Managing ADHD with Non-Medication Interventions

If you have ADHD, the most successful treatment for you is an individualized approach that takes your symptoms into account. For most people with ADHD, ongoing intervention is required to lead a fulfilling life and achieve their full potential. While medication is a good option for many people, successful interventions typically include a combination of non-medication approaches, as well. 

ADHD has three presentations, predominantly hyperactive, predominately inattentive, and combined presentation, and it often co-occurs with other disorders. ADHD presentations can change throughout your life, so your needs will likely change over time. Your needs are also unique, and finding the right combination of tools for any given period in your life may take a little trial and error by working with your treatment specialist. Don’t be afraid of making some changes if you are struggling. Frequent communication with your health care provider and other professionals will help design the best approach for you, and adapt it when necessary. 

Non-medication options 

There is no one “right” approach for everyone. The most effective approach for you depends on how ADHD is affecting your life and the severity of your symptoms. Here are a few interventions to consider when managing ADHD without medication:

  • Education. If you are new to ADHD, take the time to educate yourself. There are extensive peer-reviewed studies about ADHD, its variability, and how it manifests and changes over time. You can get started at About ADHD. Learning about it is helpful to reinforce that ADHD is a brain disorder, not a personal failing. 

    Use evidence-based resources, including CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD, and others such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Remember, our understanding of the disorder is continuously evolving based on new research, so don’t forget to periodically update your knowledge.

  • Counseling. Working with a mental health therapist is helpful in exploring feelings about coping with ADHD and understanding your strengths. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be helpful in learning new techniques and personal coping strategies to manage living with ADHD. For more information about CBT, visit our resources on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

  • Social skills training. Inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can lead to social difficulties or rejection, and interpersonal problems. Because ADHD is an “invisible disability,” socially inappropriate behavior due to ADHD is frequently attributed to other causes. Educating your significant other and friends helps to clarify the situation and alleviate blame. Learning new social skills can help you develop strategies for more effectively managing social situations. You can learn more at Social Skills in Adults with ADHD.

  • Exercise. Recent studies demonstrate aerobic physical activity can be helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms and improving executive function and motor activity. Exercise can be an important adjunct treatment for individuals with ADHD, improving cognitive functions, boosting sleep quality and duration, and enhancing self-esteem. For ideas about starting, and staying with, an exercise plan, read Attention magazine’s Fitness and Your Brain.  

  • Behavior modification training. While cognitive-behavioral therapy targets unhelpful patterns in thoughts, feelings and attitudes, behavioral modification training focuses on using positive reinforcement, structure, and consistent discipline to change children’s behavior. It teaches parents and teachers skills to help them guide children affected by ADHD, and supports children’s functioning in relationships and at school. For more information, visit Psychosocial Treatment for Children and Adolescents, which discusses behavioral management for children. 

  • Meal planning. A healthy diet is important for people with ADHD as a tool for optimizing one’s ability to effectively manage symptoms. Think of food and drink as your brain’s fuel:  the more nutritious the food, the better the fuel for your brain’s function. Understanding and choosing what is more nutritious can be confusing. Are you looking for more information on making good food choices? Visit our new information on Nutrition and ADHD for guidance. 

  • Complementary or alternative treatments. Both terms are used for treatment approaches that are considered outside of mainstream medical treatments. A good way of looking at these terms is defining complementary treatment as “in conjunction with” mainstream treatments, and alternative treatment as using something “instead of” a mainstream treatment. The latter approach is not supported by evidence-based research as providing effective treatment for ADHD.

    There are many options to consider as a complement to your treatment plan. Biofeedback, chiropractic, sensory integration training, and vision therapy are just a few that are discussed. For more information and helpful guidance about how to consider complementary treatments, visit Complementary and Other Interventions.
The most effective treatment plans include multiple tools working together to manage your ADHD symptoms.  Which options provide the best support for your needs depends on your symptoms and circumstances. Work with your health care provider to determine the best approach and interventions for you. And finally, don’t be too hasty to try the latest fad you may have seen online. Scrutinize such ideas against the science-based Levels Of Evidence model developed by CHADD’s Professional Advisory Board.

Are you addressing your ADHD symptoms without medication management? What have you found to be helpful for you?

This article appeared in ADHD Weekly on March 30, 2017.

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