Treatment Options for ADHD
7 Mar 2023
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by traits of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People experience ADHD differently and may experience a different mix of the common traits associated with ADHD.
First thing to be clear on, ADHD doesn’t need a ‘cure’ as it isn’t an illness, rather it’s just a difference in how someone’s brain works. Some people may choose to seek treatment, while others won’t, but there is a range of options available. By treatment, we mean anything that helps someone manage the symptoms they experience. Amongst other things, treatment could include therapy, coaching or medication. There is also lots of other 📄support available for people with ADHD.
Seeking treatment for ADHD is a personal choice and whether or not you do, each option is completely valid. Often, people with ADHD who receive a treatment plan including medication, therapy and/or coaching can manage symptoms better, have higher self-esteem and feel a greater sense of control.
Treatment options for ADHD 🧠
➡️When you get diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor or specialist who carried out your assessment will provide you with treatment and support options.
➡️It is your choice if you want to seek treatment. Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional to understand more about the options and what would work best for you.
➡️Common treatment options include medication, therapy and coaching. There are also other potential options, such as changes to your diet or taking supplements. It’s important you discuss any treatment you want to pursue with your doctor so you can decide the best option based on your specific needs.
➡️Often, if people choose to seek treatment, different treatments are used alongside each other. For example, someone might take medication and also have ADHD coaching.
ADHD medication can reduce some symptoms of ADHD and help with attention, motivation and impulsivity. You can discuss medication options with your doctor once you have been diagnosed with ADHD.
When getting prescribed ADHD medication, your prescriber will take into account any existing health conditions you may have. It’s likely you’ll be given a low dose at first which will be gradually increased over time with regular check-ins with your doctor. This process is called “titration” and will help you and your doctor work out the right dose for you and identify any unwanted side effects.
Depending on the medication prescribed, you might need to take it at different intervals, such as every day or just on days you work or study. This is because some ADHD medications are released immediately into the body, whereas others work gradually over a prolonged period of time. Listen to what your doctor says about how often you should take it, and talk to them if you have any questions or concerns.
There are two types of ADHD medication, stimulants and non-stimulants.
1️⃣ Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed type of ADHD medication. They increase brain activity by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters are dopamine and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline). Increasing these neurotransmitters can help with attention, motivation and reduce impulsivity.
Methylphenidate, dexamfetamine and lisdexamfetamine are all stimulant medications.
2️⃣ Non-stimulants are often prescribed if stimulants aren’t effective or if there are significant side effects. They work in a slightly different way to stimulants. Some non-stimulant medications prevent the reuptake of norepinephrine into our neurones (brain cells), meaning that there is an increased concentration around the neurone. Others activate specific receptors on our neurones to enhance brain activity. However, this means non-stimulants take longer to have an effect typically up to 3-4 weeks.
Atomoxetine and guanfacine are both non-stimulant medications.
Taking ADHD medication can also have side effects, like taking any other medication. Side effects will differ for everyone, and some people might not experience any. Side effects are also often different depending on the specific medication you are prescribed because they all work slightly differently.
Some common side effects of ADHD medication include nausea, headaches, trouble sleeping, mood changes, and a small increase in heart rate or blood pressure. As always, if you are worried about side effects, or have been prescribed and are experiencing side effects, speak with your doctor for more information.
Therapy can come in the form of talking therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Many people with ADHD find therapy useful as a way to develop better coping skills around negative self-talk, rebuild self-esteem and process any trauma relating to living with ADHD. It also helps to reduce self-critical thoughts and feelings of anxiety that people with ADHD often experience.
If you think therapy would be beneficial for you, there are several different ways to seek it out. Talking therapies are available on the NHS. You can self refer or ask your GP for a referral if you prefer. To access therapy on the NHS you must be registered with a GP. For information on how to register for a GP, have a look here.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are often long waiting times for therapy within the NHS, so some people chose to seek out therapy by other routes. There are some charities that offer low-cost therapy or there are many private therapists. You can look for a private therapist here. The cost of private therapy can vary depending on the provider and where you live, but usually costs £10-£70.
Some employers offer a limited number of counselling sessions. You can normally access these without disclosing anything to your manager if you don’t want to. Universities often also have free counselling and well-being services for students. Check with your employer or university to understand what they offer.
An ADHD coach can help people recognise how ADHD impacts their life. They’ll help with discovering strengths and building on them through goal setting and action planning. They might also help someone implement strategies to overcome any struggles they experience due to ADHD.
ADHD coaching is different from therapy in that the coaching is more outcome orientated. The focus of the coaching is to help clients achieve their goals through developing strategies vs therapy which the primary goal is healing.
It’s best to decide what you want to gain from coaching, the type of coach you want to work with, and what your budget is for the sessions. Prices can vary but often fall in the range of £50-150. Once you have decided what you are looking for, you can search online to find a coach. Many coaches do free initial consultation sessions so you can ensure your coach fits in with your aims.
If you're employed and seeking coaching, you may be able to get up to 6 months of ADHD coaching paid for via the government Access to Work scheme (see more here). If you are studying, your university might also have coaching available for free or at a reduced cost.
What treatment is right for me?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer for everyone! If you decide that you do want to seek treatment, have a think about what things you want support with, how quickly you want to access the treatment, and what an ideal plan would look like for you. You can discuss your plan with your doctor, or with other people you trust.
Remember that everyone’s needs are different, so what works for one person might not work for others. Treatment and support can also change over time as our needs and wants change too.