This is the fourth installment of the Adulting With ADHD series. If you’re just joining us now, the first three posts are ADHD 101, But I’m an Adult! ADHD Myths, Stereotypes, and Truths, and So I Think I Might Have ADHD: A Guide to Self-Discovery and Diagnosis.
Have you recently been diagnosed with ADHD or recently self-diagnosed with ADHD? Are you wondering what to do next? Well, then, this is the post for you! Even if you’ve been diagnosed for a while, you may find something useful in the post to follow. Either way, welcome! Now, let’s dive in!
The First Step is a Journey
The first step, and probably one of the most difficult steps, is acceptance of yourself and the newfound knowledge of self you now have.
For some of us, diagnosis is like a breath of fresh air after emerging from being trapped underwater. Diagnosis can be the answer to the questions we’ve been asking for far too long and there can be a huge sense of relief.
For others, diagnosis is like a punch to the gut. It’s painful and messy and difficult to process.
There are a myriad of other ways one might react to being diagnosed with ADHD and however you feel about your own diagnosis is perfectly ok.
However, in order to live the best ADHD lives that we can, it’s important that we accept ourselves and our diagnosis.
This likely won’t happen overnight. It may take a long time to truly reach self-acceptance. However, it’s important to set forth on this journey and start taking steps, however small, towards accepting ourselves.
This leads us to our next step…
Knowledge is Power
But I’ve already learned so much! you may be thinking to yourself, especially if you self-diagnosed.
Yet, there is always more to learn!
The more you learn about ADHD and the ways it affects you, the better armed you are to deal with the myriad of challenges that can arise with ADHD.
Read things online. Talk to other people with ADHD. Read the most recent science. Follow the blogs and pages of people who talk about ADHD. Learn as much as you can and find ways to apply what you learn to your own life.
This step ties into the first two. Finding a place in the ADHD community, whether in person or online, can really help with self-acceptance and continuing education on ADHD.
Finding others who have similar experiences can be incredibly validating. It’s a wonderful experience to hear someone talk about something you thought was just a weird quirk you had and discover that there are others who experience the same thing. Finding community can provide you with these experiences and many more.
So, Do I Take Meds Now, Or What? Treatment Options for ADHD
Now we get to what I’m sure you’re all here for: how do we treat ADHD?
There are many options for how you can treat ADHD and there isn’t a right answer. Some people do really with medication, some people don’t. Some people find therapy to be really helpful, others don’t. For every treatment option that exists, some people will find it helps and others won’t as we are all unique people.
So, let’s start with what is likely the most talked about option: medication.
Medications for ADHD
To start, I am not a doctor! All advice given in this article is based upon personal experience and research I have done. It is not a substitute for talking to your doctor. Further, in order to access the medications we are about to discuss, you must go through a doctor.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s take a look at what your options are for medications.
Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are some of the most common ADHD drugs. These meds work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine available in your brain which helps with concentration and focus (as well as other aspects of ADHD including emotional dysregulation).
Common stimulant options are:
- Amphetamine-based stimulants (Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat)
- Dextromethamphetamine (Desoxyn)
- Dextromethylphenidate (Focalin)
- Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Ritalin)
Some of the newest medications for ADHD are nonstimulant medications. These medications work in a variety of ways to help with the symptoms of ADHD.
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors limit the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain. This means there is more norepinephrine available in the brain which is thought to help with attention and memory. SNRIs include:
- Atomoxetine (Strattera)
- Antidepressants like nortiptyline (Pamelor)
There are other nonstimulant medications that can help with ADHD, but we’re not sure how these medications help. These medications include:
- Guanfacine (Intuniv)
- Clonidine (Kapvay)
Both stimulant and nonstimulant medications have similar side effects, though the side effects are generally stronger for stimulant medications. Some of the more common side effects for these medications include (but are not limited to):
- Trouble sleeping
- Stomach upset
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
There are more serious, though rare, side effects of these medications as well. These can include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Allergic reaction
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
It is important to weigh the risks vs benefits of any medications you are considering taking as well as talking with your doctor about whether these medications are safe for you to take. Stimulant medications, for instance, are generally not advised for people with heart conditions.
Medication can be an important tool for many in living the best ADHD lives they can, however, medications are not the best option for everyone. Further, while some people take medications daily, others use these medications as needed. Again, it is important to talk to your doctor about the best options for you and your health.
There is, unfortunately, a lot of stigma surrounding psychiatric medications in general, but particularly surrounding ADHD medications. However, there is nothing shameful or weak about using medication to help manage your symptoms.
One common argument I hear against taking medication for ADHD is that people don’t want to rely on a “crutch.” When talking to a friend about starting stimulants, she voiced this concern to me regarding herself. I asked her to define for me what a literal crutch is. She said it is a device to help people who have injured a leg. I asked her if she would ever judge someone who used a crutch because they had broken their leg and she emphatically answered “Of course not!” In turn, I asked her “So why would you judge yourself for taking a medication to help your body do something it can’t do on its own?”
We commonly deride various coping mechanisms and disability aids as being “crutches.” This is generally known to be a bad thing. But why? Why do we use a device meant to help people live fuller lives to judge and degrade others for the choices they make in managing their health? There is so much ableism surrounding mobility aids, disability tools, and psychiatric medications that we often don’t see the ableism for what it is. A crutch is a useful tool to help people get around who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Similarly, psychiatric medications can be useful tools to help people live better lives when their brains don’t make the right amount of the chemicals we need.
In my experience, stimulant medications for ADHD have been life changing. The first time I took Adderall, it was like I could think clearly for the first time in my life. Everything just felt so clear. I know that may not make sense to people who haven’t experienced it, but I haven’t yet found a better way to describe the way it felt. I have been more productive, more energized, and better able to manage my life since starting Adderall. Throughout my long history with psychiatric medications for a variety of purposes, Adderall has truly been the most useful for me.
I say all this not to try to force anyone to take medications, but rather to counter the stigma that surrounds these medications. You are not weak for using medications to manage ADHD symptoms. It is not shameful to use these medications to aid you. Choosing to take medication to help you manage your symptoms is a valid choice and yours alone (well, with the help of your doctor) to make.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the options available to you to help manage ADHD.
Non-Medication Options for Treating ADHD
Next, we are going to briefly discuss some of the other options available for managing ADHD symptoms. I’m going to keep these brief because most of these options will be covered in-depth in later installments in this series.
Not a fan of the pharmaceutical industry? More interested in natural supplements for managing your health? Well, good news! There are some supplements that can help with ADHD.
It’s important to note that no matter how natural a supplement is, it can still be dangerous. Supplements, like medications, can come with a variety of side effects, some of which can be very dangerous. It’s important to talk to your doctor about all medications and supplements you are taking as well as researching the supplements you plan to take.
Some supplements that can be useful in managing ADHD are as follows:
- Wild Oats (Avena)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
We will be diving more into supplements in one of the future installments of Adulting With ADHD. Until then, if you are interested in taking supplements to help manage ADHD, please do research on the risks of each supplement as well as the ways it may benefit you so that you can make an informed decision about your health. Again, all supplements and medications should be discussed with your doctor so that they can advise you on any potential interactions.
Food and Diet
The food we eat can have massive effects on how well our body and brain function. Altering the foods we eat has the potential to alleviate symptoms and help us live better lives.
Please note that when diet is used in this context, we are not talking about dieting in the sense of fad diets or diets that claim x, y, or z benefits by cutting out food groups or limiting intake. Rather, diet, in this sense, refers to the kinds of foods that you generally consume. For example, my diet generally consists of way too much sugar, lots of vegetables, not enough fruits, and a decent amount of protein and fats. Obviously, I have some work to do in this area myself. (I actually am looking forward to researching this topic more as I think I may find ways to help myself).
As this is such a large topic, I am reserving any detailed conversation on the matter for a later post. However, to get you started, a good ADHD diet involves a lot of protein, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and eggs or supplements), plenty of vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. We’ll talk about what all this means and how to eat better for your brain and body in a future installment.
Exercising regularly is super important for the health of your brain. Not only does exercise wake up your body, but it also keeps dopamine in your system which is very important for ADHD brains.
Again, we’ll be diving into this more in depth in a future installment.
Sleep is the time when our bodies heal and rejuvenate. However, it’s not just our bodies doing this, but our brains as well. As such, getting eight hours of sleep a night is important for keeping our brains working well.
Meditation can be a great tool for centering your mind and teaching your brain to concentrate or focus on what you want it to. However, many ADHD people struggle with meditation, so don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself really struggling with meditation. We’re going to get into some ADHD strategies for meditation in a later installment.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to what is going on in the present moment. Mindfulness is often tied into meditation, though it can be developed through other methods. We’ll be talking more about mindfulness when we dive into meditation.
ADHD coaches are people who specialize in the management of ADHD. They help you learn, develop, and implement strategies that work for you so that you can better manage your symptoms. We’ll be diving into ADHD coaching and various forms of therapy in a later installment.
Talk therapy is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You go to a therapist and talk about whatever’s going on in your life or things you need to work through. There are a lot of options out there for therapists and it can be hard to find the right one for you. We’ll be diving into some strategies for finding a therapist in a later installment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a specific type of therapy that has proven useful for a wide range of mental health concerns, including ADHD. The therapist you see will help you think through your behaviors and devise better ways to react to situations. This type of therapy can be great for helping with the emotional dysregulation that comes along with ADHD.
Support groups can be a really useful space for discussing your struggles and learning new strategies for better managing your symptoms. Talking with others who have similar struggles can also be very validating and reassuring. However, finding support groups for adults with ADHD can prove difficult as there is still a lack of services for adults with ADHD.
ADHD Life Hacks
Sometimes, we find strategies that seem so simple but can make huge changes in our lives. In a later installment, we’ll be covering some ADHD life hacks that can help improve your life.
That’s all for now! Stay tuned for our next installment in Adulting With ADHD: Living Better With ADHD: Supplements.