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ADHD Treatment Without Medication: Lifestyle Alternatives

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As a child or adult, struggling with ADHD can be challenging. For children, they might be viewed as a problem child who causes trouble, while adults may never fully understand what they’re experiencing. Fortunately, with the proper diagnosis, a person can seek treatment and work on what ails them. Doctors may be quick to suggest prescription stimulant medications like Adderall or Ritalin, but these potent stimulant drugs can have nasty side effects, including addiction. Fortunately, ADHD treatment without medication exists.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders that occur in childhood. Although it’s first diagnosed in childhood, it can persist to adulthood. Some adults may have a mild form of it as children or may have had an incorrect diagnosis. However, children with the condition will have trouble paying attention in class or at home, won’t be able to control impulsive behavior, or have unusually high energy levels.  

As a child, it’s not uncommon to have issues with behavior and trouble focusing. However, a child with this disorder will not grow out of the behaviors, and they’ll either continue as they’ve been or continue to worsen. Depending on the child, symptoms can range from mild to severe and cause significant challenges at home, school, or with friends.

A child with ADHD will:

  • Continually lose or forget things
  • Constantly daydream beyond what’s considered normal 
  • Talk too much
  • Constantly squirm or fidget – they can’t ever sit still and may cause problems in the classroom 
  • Continue making the same careless mistakes or take risks that might hurt them
  • Have trouble taking turns
  • Feel unable to resist temptation
  • Struggle to get along with others because of their hyperactivity

What Causes ADHD?

While scientists haven’t pinned one definitive cause for ADHD, they’ve been studying underlying causes and risk factors that contribute to the disorder to better reduce the odds of someone developing the condition. As of now, the risk factors are unknown, but researchers have found that genetics play an essential role. A study conducted on twins found the link genes play with ADHD. 

From what scientists have gathered to this point, they’ve determined the following causes and risk factors also play a role in the development of ADHD:

  • Exposure to specific environmental chemicals, such as lead, during pregnancy at a young age
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight
  • Alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use during pregnancy

However, with much unknown, research does not believe that ADHD is caused by watching too much television, overindulging in sugar, parenting, or environmental and social factors like family chaos or poverty. With that said, many things, including some of the factors we’ve mentioned, can make symptoms worse, especially in those who are more sensitive. The evidence still isn’t there to conclude that these are the primary causes. 

adhd-treatment-without-medication

Treating ADHD Without Medication

If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor could recommend using stimulant medication. If you start using the medicine and find that it produces undesirable side effects, you might opt for a more natural approach. Some people will not put that kind of medication in their bodies. For example, Adderall is a highly potent drug that shares characteristics with more potent illicit drugs like methamphetamine (meth for short), making it something people flat out refuse. Not to mention, it can be highly addictive when misused or abused. 

Unfortunately, more severe cases of the disorder may warrant the use of a stimulant drug like Ritalin or Adderall. Others with a moderate case may be able to manage their symptoms through natural remedies, including lifestyle and nutritional changes. Others may use newly developed technology that taps into the brain to promote more focus and less impulsivity. The best ADHD treatment plan includes all of the following approaches simultaneously. 

An estimated 80 to 85 percent of those with ADHD who use methylphenidate or amphetamine reported positive results. Medication in conjunction with behavioral therapy is considered the optimal treatment for the condition in school-age children. Still, natural treatments can also help achieve exceptional results. 

Behavioral Therapy to Treat ADHD

Behavioral therapy for ADHD is an excellent method to help a child with the disorder. It’s structured around discipline geared toward teaching children better ways of behaving and rewarding positive behavior. These include following directions and eliminating undesired actions. Before using medication in children under the age of five, the American Psychological Association states that behavior therapy must be the first line of treatment. It’s also effective for older children. 

Behavioral parent training (BPT) is a method of teaching parents new skills for productive and effective interactions with an ADHD child. It also reduces noncompliance and parental stress. The most common BPT programs span between 12 and 20 sessions, each of which teaches parents new techniques to address behavioral issues. The objective of the training is to strengthen the parent-child bond and teach strategies to improve the behavior in the long term. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for ADHD

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, and they’re considered essential in nerve and brain cell functioning. Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on our own, so we must get them through supplements, food, and vitamins. It’s especially vital for those with ADHD who could have lower levels of the nutrient. Fish oil contains two types of omega-3 fatty acids—DHA and EPA. The best supplements you can find will have two or three times more EPA than DHA. 

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are apparent, but how are they as an ADHD treatment? The evidence is inconclusive as an ADHD treatment, but a 2018 study that involved children with ADHD shined a light on the benefits of omega-3 as a natural ADHD treatment. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for ADHD

The primary objective of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to change negative or irrational thought patterns that cause problems with getting things done or staying on task—two significant obstacles that interfere with a person who has ADHD. CBT challenges negative thoughts by helping the individual to examine the evidence. 

Research has proven CBT can help adults address any ADHD challenges. However, some researchers need to see more studies in a stricter environment. Even for those who don’t have ADHD, cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven method of treating various issues, like addiction, anxiety, and depression. 

Exercise for ADHD

Exercise helps our brains function more efficiently and effectively, which can benefit all facets of our lives. Not only does exercise keep us physically healthy, but the benefits for our mental health extend beyond what we’d imagine. Exercise increases endorphins that boost mood elevates our brain’s serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, which increase attention and focus. 

Short-term, aerobic exercise like yoga will have positive effects on hyperactivity, attention, executive function, impulsivity, and other ADHD symptoms. A person who walks four days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes can also achieve the same effects. Skill-based exercises like ballet or karate are also effective for individuals with ADHD.

Neurofeedback for ADHD

Neurofeedback is an advanced and technological way to manage ADHD. During a session, the individual wears an electrode-lined cap and will perform complex cognitive functions. The goal is to teach the person to produce brainwave patterns. These patterns are associated with focus. The sessions are short and easy. However, they’re quite expensive. A course of treatments may range from $2,000 to $5,000. 

Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD

Mindfulness meditation for ADHD is attention/awareness training geared toward developing positive emotions, managing stress, and strengthening self-regulation skills. It requires silent meditation and becoming more in the present during daily activities. Simply put, you’ll be in the moment as much as possible. In a 2015 review of various studies, mindfulness provides promising support for its efficacy in treating ADHD. However, more research is necessary before scientists can make a definitive claim. 

Fortunately, many options exist for those reluctant to use potent and addicting stimulant medications. While they may not be for you, it’s essential to understand that alternatives are available to you. Before trying anything, you should speak with your primary care physician to better construct a plan to treat your ADHD. You don’t have to suffer another day, so make sure to seek out the help you need and get a diagnosis to start on the road to recovery. 

Sources

CDC (April 2021) What Is ADHD? from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html

NIDA (April 2021) What Are Prescription Stimulants? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants

JAMA Network (December 1999( A 14-Month Randomized Clinical Trial of Treatment Strategies for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/205525

NCCIH (April 2019) ADHD and Complementary Health Approaches. from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/adhd-and-complementary-health-approaches-science

NCBI (March 2013) Using Stimulants for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733520/

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