Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) | NAMI

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

A treatment plan is most effective when tailored to an individual’s needs, and implemented early on. ADHD treatment plans should consider learning style and include medication prescribed by a professional. A doctor or mental health professional may also include behavioral therapy into treatment.


Medication improves the symptoms of ADHD so that people can focus more on the things they enjoy and improve quality of life. Finding the right medication is a process and not every medication will work for everyone.

Effective medications can improve attention span, your ability to deal with frustration. and lead to better relationships.


The most prescribed medications for ADHD are stimulants. These medications work by making it easier for nerve receptors in the brain to communicate with each other. The impact of stimulants can often noticed quickly, but they may reduce appetite and impact sleep. They can also shorten a growing child’s height a small amount if taken for many years, so be sure to track growth over time.

Stimulants affect how the brain controls impulses and help to regulate behavior and attention. They are usually the first choice of medication to use for the management of ADHD.

Medication Misuse

Because of the fast-acting nature and effects, stimulants have the potential for misuse. People have used these medications to improve academic or athletic performance or for the physical reaction. Possession of these medications without a prescription is illegal.


Non-stimulant medications are also commonly prescribed. It may take some time for these medications to become effective. Nonstimulants affect the nerve receptors more indirectly than stimulants. It is necessary to keep track of treatment results over time.

Nonstimulant drugs are used to increase and adjust the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This helps with concentration by increasing attention span and reducing impulsivity.


Antidepressants may also be something a doctor suggests. This is especially true if someone is living with ADHD and depression. For medications that are not first- or second-line treatments for ADHD, ask your doctor why they recommend this treatment. You should also ask about their knowledge and experience with treating ADHD with these kinds of medications. Always be sure to check the FDA approval status of any medicine.

Remember that dosage and scheduling of medication will impact treatment outcomes. Young children need to be monitored to ensure they are taking the correct dosage of the medication. Dosage may change as they get older. Some parents choose to only give their children medication when they are in school.

Note that any medication may cause side effects. Common side effects of ADHD medications include appetite, sleep problems, anxiety and irritability. You can manage side effects with a change in dosage and often lessen and even disappear over time.

Behavioral Treatment

A mental health professional can help a person come up with ways to improve behavior. For example, a doctor may provide guidance on how to organize and complete homework assignments. Mental health professionals may also help you learn how to work through frustrating events. Providing feedback as well as support is key in improving behavior. Having structure, routine and clear expectations of what is allowed and not allowed  can help a child learn and feel more in control of their own life. Talk about what behavior and outbursts are acceptable.

Behavior therapy can also help improve social skills, such as sharing and interacting with peers. Learning appropriate responses to everyday situations can help your child have healthier relationships. Better relationships with teachers, friends and family can improve the quality of life for your child.

Complementary Health Approaches

Outside of therapy and medications, there are many approaches to managing ADHD. These alternative methods, called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), can supplement a treatment plan and support day-to-day health.

  • Elimination diets are based on the theory that people are sensitive to sugar and artificially added colors, flavors and preservatives. Eliminating these substances from the diet could improve learning and behavioral problems.
  • Nutritional supplements, such as omega-3s, may help the deficiency of fatty acids that are sometimes associated with ADHD.
  • Interactive metronome training consists of a computerized metronome making a rhythmic beat that individuals try to match by tapping a hand or foot. It is suggested that improvement in matching the beat reflects gains in motor planning and timing skills.
  • Chiropractic medicine addresses muscle tone imbalance that can affect imbalances in brain activity.
  • Neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) teaches individuals how to increase activity in the frontal areas of the brain. This is because people living with ADHD show low levels of arousal in these areas, which results in an impaired ability to focus. Through training, people can learn how to increase arousal on their own.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).