Can You Treat ADHD Without Medication?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is a neurodevelopmental brain disorder that affects attention, impulsivity, thoughts and emotional processes, and how a person responds to their external environment.

The neurodevelopmental disorder does not have a known cure, but many treatment options for the management of ADHD have been developed. Treatments range from
behavioural intervention to medical intervention. Some report that medication alone significantly reduces the impact ADHD has on their lives, however many experts report that medication is not enough. Extensive research supports that including psychotherapeutic and behavioural interventions alongside medical treatment is important and has the most significant impact on a person’s life.

In this blog, we will discuss the various options for medical, behavioural and psychotherapeutic interventions that can support both children and adults to manage their ADHD symptoms.

What You Should Know About ADHD Medications

It is possible to manage symptoms of ADHD without medication. However, there is a substantial body of evidence that suggests that a combination of natural remedies and medicines have the most significant impact on managing ADHD symptoms.

There are 5 types of medicines licensed for the treatment of ADHD. Medical recommendations can vary based on many factors, one of them being the age at which an individual is diagnosed.

  • Methylphenidate: This is the most commonly used medicine for the management of ADHD. This medicine is a stimulant medication, which means it increases activity in certain brain areas that are responsible for attention and behaviour.
  • Lisdexamfetamine: This medication is also a stimulant medication. By increasing brain activity in certain areas, it improves attention and impulsive behaviours.
  • Dexamfetamine: This medication works in the same way as lisdexamfetamine.
  • Atomoxetine: This medication works differently to those mentioned above. Instead of targeting brain activity, this medication increases the production of a chemical called noradrenaline in the brain which in turn helps improve concentration and impulsive behaviours.
  • Guanfacine: This medication also targets the brain and it reduces blood pressure, as well as improves concentration and control over impulsive behaviours.

These medicines can significantly relieve the symptoms of ADHD, meaning they have a largely reduced impact on a person’s day-to-day life. However, this form of treatment may not be everyone’s choice or may not be enough on its own. There are lots of ways to manage ADHD symptoms without medical treatment.

ADHD Treatment Without Medication

What options are available to those who are living with ADHD if they are not able to, or less inclined, to take medication?

Behaviour Therapy

Behaviour therapy addresses specific difficulties with behaviours that can cause problems for someone with ADHD. Behaviour therapy is largely used with children with ADHD and helps children to learn skills that will help them manage their symptoms of ADHD better. Behavioural skills can include learning to structure the child’s day, in all environments, establishing a routine, using a reward system to encourage positive behaviours.

Behaviour therapy usually involves the child’s family network; educating the whole family on how to support the child to manage their ADHD better. It is important to note that behaviour therapy won’t affect how a child or adult with ADHD’s brain works, but it can help empower them to take better control and manage their symptoms. The skills learned in behaviour therapy can make it easier for a child with ADHD to succeed in areas such as school and relationships.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most common type of psychotherapeutic treatment for adults with ADHD. Those who grow up with ADHD, particularly those who have not had it diagnosed until later in life, are likely to encounter more setbacks than their neuro-typical peers. Often, people with ADHD will report a negative comparison to others and may develop low self-esteem. CBT can help to improve self-esteem by bringing the client’s attention to how unhelpful thought patterns can trigger anxiety, exacerbate ADHD symptoms and engagement with unhelpful behaviours.

The behaviour aspect of CBT focuses on similar areas of the behaviour therapy mentioned above. This can involve learning skills to improve scheduling, task completion, problem solving and decision making. CBT for adults has a substantial body of research supporting its efficacy, particularly with those hoping to manage their symptoms of ADHD. Learning to regulate and manage difficult emotions can have a life-changing impact on reducing and managing unhelpful behaviours.

Diet & Exercise

Diet and exercise can both play a significant role in terms of how your body responds to ADHD symptoms. There are some particular food types, acids and vitamins that can have a positive impact on the function of ADHD brains of both adults and children:

  • Protein: Contrary to carbohydrates which can trigger drowsiness, protein signals alertness, and also helps to prevent blood sugar surges that can cause bouts of hyperactivity. Nutritionists recommend that children consume between 24-30 grams of protein a day, and adults between 45-70 grams.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These acids are found in fish oil, and are important in brain and nerve cell function. People with ADHD are often lacking in this nutrient, so it is recommended that supplements are taken to aid the functioning of the brain.
  • Fibre-rich Foods: Fruit, vegetables and wholegrains all play a part in stabilizing energy levels, which can be beneficial for people with ADHD, specifically children.
  • Vitamins & Minerals: It has been found that people with ADHD tend to be lacking in iron, zinc and vitamins C and B6. Making sure to take these supplements can help to regulate levels of dopamine and support the neurotransmitters in the brain.

When it comes to exercise, it’s no secret that this can benefit all of us. For those with ADHD however, increased endorphins is not the only positive effect. Exercise also elevates the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, which all work towards increasing focus and attention. Even short bouts of mild exercise can help people with ADHD to improve their attention spans.

Mindfulness & Brain Exercises

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that for those affected, the brain functions differently compared to those who have developed neurotypically.

Brain training exercises have become increasingly common with the growing accessibility of tablets and smartphones, and are proving to be highly effective. Specific brain functions that people with ADHD tend to struggle with such as problem solving, attention, reading comprehension and memory can each be explored and improved upon with simple games, tests and other exercises. Brain training programmes have been said to improve focus, help with memory and support other important cognitive functions in those with ADHD (and those without).

Mindfulness and meditation is another form of ‘brain training’ in that one teaches oneself to stay in the present and stop the mind from wandering. While it is mostly helpful in terms of reducing stress, mindfulness practice can also help people with ADHD to work on improving attention and allow them to adopt a more positive mindset that can help them get through each day.

In summary, the effectiveness of different ADHD treatments will vary depending on the patient and their specific needs, but it is believed that a combination of both natural remedies and lifestyle choices along with the right medication can have the best and most helpful impact.

If you would like to start treatment for child or adult ADHD at Psymplicity Healthcare, please do not hesitate to get in touch and find out more about our approach to the condition. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure whether or not you have ADHD, our teams will be more than happy to help guide you through our assessment, diagnosis and treatment processes.
Mavish S

Mavish S

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity. Since beginning undergraduate studies 13 years ago, Mavish has worked in various mental health settings within the charity, NHS and private sector. Mavish’s passion for learning and professional growth has led to a vastness of experience and accelerated growth in her career while delivering one-to-one therapy, group workshops, training and supervision for professionals and senior team management. Mavish is a keen writer and writes many of the articles on our website, as well of our self-help resources.

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