Can ADHD Be Effectively Treated Without Medication?

Written by Jeremy Farnum on

ADHD medications produce side effects and come with risks like any other medical treatment. Behavior therapy is a proven, effective treatment for ADHD and is ideal for those with this condition who want to avoid taking medications.

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ADHD medications produce side effects and come with risks like any other medical treatment. Behavior therapy is a proven, effective treatment for ADHD and is ideal for those with this condition who want to avoid taking medications.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common mental disorder among children and teens, according to findings published in a 2015 issue of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. It is usually treated using medications. However, many of the medications used to treat ADHD may cause serious side effects, including addiction and heart problems.

Many parents of kids who have ADHD are curious about whether it is possible to treat this condition using other methods. Here’s more about whether ADHD can be effectively treated without drugs and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you or your child needs help managing ADHD.

What Causes ADHD?

The causes of ADHD are unknown, says the CDC. However, it adds that researchers think it may be caused by genetics. Scientists are currently researching other possible causes and risk factors for ADHD. Potential ADHD risk factors include:

  • Injury to the brain.
  • Exposure to harmful chemicals and metals, such as lead, during pregnancy.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy.
  • Preterm delivery.
  • Low baby birth weight.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that dopamine and norepinephrine may also play a role in ADHD. Dopamine and norepinephrine are brain chemicals. They are partly responsible for brain functions, including focus, attention, and reward. Imbalances in these brain chemicals may lead to the development of ADHD.

What Are the Most Common Treatments For ADHD?

Medications and behavior therapy are the most common treatments for ADHD, reports the CDC. It adds that for children with ADHD under the age of six, behavior therapy is the first line of treatment before medication. After kids with ADHD turn six, they can start to receive both behavior therapy and medications.

According to the CDC, stimulants are the most widely used medications for ADHD. It says between 70% and 80% of kids with ADHD who take these drugs have fewer symptoms of ADHD. Non-stimulants for ADHD are also available, but they do not work as quickly as stimulants. However, their effects can last up to 24 hours.

Stimulants for ADHD contain various forms of methylphenidate and amphetamine. The FDA says these drugs work by increasing the brain’s levels of dopamine. Dopamine is associated specifically with motivation, attention, and movement. Stimulants are shown to have a calming effect on kids with ADHD.

Non-stimulants for ADHD include clonidine, atomoxetine, and guanfacine. These drugs work by increasing the brain’s level of norepinephrine. They can reduce impulsive and hyperactive behavior. They can also improve attention and focus.

What Are the Risks Of Using ADHD Medications?

All medications used to treat ADHD come with potential risks and side effects. However, this is no different from any other medication used to treat any health condition.

Many times, the benefits of using medications to treat ADHD outweigh the potential risks. In any case, it can help you to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can discuss any and all risks that could occur if your child takes ADHD medications.

Common side effects of ADHD stimulants, according to Child Mind Institute, include:

  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Delayed growth, particularly in boys.
  • Nausea.
  • Headache.
  • Rebound symptoms. ADHD symptoms may come back and be more severe after the effects of the medication wear off.
  • Tics.
  • Changes in mood, such as irritability or being tearful.
  • Sudden cardiac death.
  • Dependence and/or addiction.

Non-stimulants for ADHD also produce side effects. These include:

  • Upset stomach or stomach pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mood changes.
  • Headache.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Changes in heart rate.
  • Liver problems.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Your doctor can talk to you in greater detail about the risks associated with an ADHD medication. Risks and side effects are also listed on the package insert that comes with the medication.

Is It Possible To Treat ADHD Without Medication?

Medication may be the most common treatment for ADHD aside from behavior therapy. However, there are plenty of other treatment options available for those who do not want their child to use ADHD drugs.

Therapy on its own is shown to be highly effective at treating ADHD. Types of therapy used for ADHD include behavior therapy, talk therapy, and family therapy. Kids may also receive training on how to behave appropriately in social settings. This is known as social skills training. As a parent, you may receive education on living with a child with ADHD.

The goal of behavior therapy for ADHD is to teach parents how to handle difficult situations and reward children for demonstrating positive behaviors. For older children, talk therapy can help them learn about new, helpful ways to deal with their ADHD symptoms.

Other non-medication treatments that may work for ADHD include:

  • Yoga.
  • Meditation.
  • Nutrition.
  • Nutritional supplementation.
  • Biofeedback.
  • Exposure to the outdoors.

Can ADHD Be Treated Naturally?

All of the above non-drug treatments for ADHD can also be referred to as natural treatments. Natural treatments are always non-invasive and do not involve drugs.

Though ADHD can be treated naturally without drugs, very little research has been performed on these treatments. Natural treatments for ADHD aren’t usually recommended because doctors do not know whether they work or how effective they are.

Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of natural treatments for ADHD. Your doctor can advise you on the right steps to take based on your child’s ADHD symptoms.

What Are Some Ways To Improve ADHD Without Drugs?

Try behavior therapy for ADHD first before resorting to other natural treatments. Behavior therapy for ADHD is a proven, effective treatment. It can teach you, your child, and other household members how to live productive, healthy, and happy lives with ADHD.

Some therapists specialize in ADHD. They are highly trained to help you and your kids learn how to manage this condition. Ask your doctor to refer you to an ADHD therapist. Over time, you and your kids can learn unique skills that may reduce ADHD symptoms.

Here are other steps you can take to improve ADHD symptoms without drugs:

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise allows your kid to redirect their energy and improve sleep. Exercise also helps regulate brain chemistry to reduce ADHD symptoms.
  • Eat healthier foods. High amounts of sugar can lead to irritability and higher energy for a short period. It can also cause imbalances in brain chemicals associated with ADHD. Provide your child with healthy foods loaded with vitamins and minerals. Nutrients may improve brain function.
  • Limit screen time. Reduce the amount of time your kid spends in front of screens like TVs and computers. Certain cartoons and video games may worsen ADHD symptoms. Screens can also interfere with sleep.
  • Go outside. Several studies show that kids with ADHD who spend lots of time outside have fewer symptoms than those who don’t. Take your kid outside to play, or do activities like hiking and biking.
  • Enroll your kid in special school programs. ADHD can often make school and classwork challenging. Ask your kid’s school about special classes or programs for children with ADHD. The school may also have teachers trained to work with kids with ADHD.
  • Attend a support group. Support groups may be available for parents or kids with ADHD in your area. These groups can introduce you to new coping methods you haven’t tried and to other parents who understand the challenges you may be facing.

How Can I Tell My Doctor I Do Not Want ADHD Medications?

If you do not want you or your child to take ADHD medications, have an open, honest discussion about this with your doctor. Your doctor can discuss all your other treatment options and work with you to create the best possible treatment plan for your child. Your doctor can also discuss the pros and cons of other ADHD treatments.

In many instances, your doctor may suggest resorting to using ADHD drugs only if symptoms haven’t improved after some time. Sometimes, it can take several weeks or months to find an ADHD treatment that works. This is completely normal. Even people who take medications for ADHD have to try several drugs before finding one that works.

While on your journey to finding an ADHD treatment that works, keep in mind that symptoms may not improve right away. You may need a list of coping methods to try before finding the right treatment. Your doctor may suggest seeing a therapist during this time or joining support groups for people with ADHD and their family members.

Here are some tips for coping with ADHD while searching for a treatment:

  • Stay calm, and know that a solution is on the horizon. It may take time, but eventually, you may find a treatment that works.
  • Reward your child often for positive behavior. Small rewards can boost your kid’s motivation, confidence, and self-esteem.
  • Establish a routine. A routine can help your children stay on track, as they will always know what to expect.
  • Prioritize playtime. Play with your child every day. This can help you discover your child’s unique strengths and talents.

Managing ADHD With Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified doctors who can diagnose and treat any behavioral health problem, including ADHD. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.

Jeremy Farnum
Written by
Jeremy Farnum