Medication, Therapy, or Both for ADHD?
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Medication or Therapy for ADHD?

Any mental health or physical health ailment deserves your full time and attention. If you give less of yourself, there is a risk that the situation does not improve, or worse, it could deteriorate further. Hard work on your part helps ensure success.

Hard work can only take you so far, though. To really make lasting improvements to your attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you have to work smart. After all, you have only so much time, effort and energy to put towards all that you want to accomplish. Your limited resources demand higher efficiency.

Many people wonder about what treatment options are best for them. Should you try medication or therapy for ADHD? Should you do both or neither?

Unfortunately, there is no way to know with certainty which option or options will make the biggest impact on your life. Because of this, consider these guidelines for ADHD treatment:

Try Medication If…

Many people find the perceived ease and simplicity of taking medication very appealing. In many cases, medication is the quickest method to decreasing the influence of ADHD in your life. Starting a medication for ADHD can begin to improve symptoms in less than an hour with no major lifestyle changes needed.

Medication for ADHD generally falls into two categories. The first is stimulant medication like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. These medications have a calming effect while increasing alertness and attention. They are also known to give energy levels a boost as well.

Nonstimulants, the second category, include medications like Strattera, Wellbutrin, Clonidine, and Guanfacine. These medications each have different methods of action with Strattera and Wellbutrin having anti-depressant effects while the others were originally used for managing blood pressure. The stimulants will act quickly, but the nonstimulants can take days or weeks to begin their effects.

Your primary care physician may be willing to provide a prescription for medications to manage your ADHD symptoms, but to receive the best possible benefit, consider scheduling a psychiatric evaluation at a mental health office. Psychiatrists and other prescribers that work exclusively in mental health will have more experience and information regarding side effects, dosing, and the newest drugs available to produce the best results.

Of course, any medication can result in unwanted effects. Some people report side effects of ADHD medications including:

  • Problems eating and maintaining weight
  • Problems sleeping at night
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased depression
  • Feeling more anxious

If you experience any medication side effects, be sure to consult your prescriber as soon as possible. Fortunately, many of these effects will resolve when the medication is stopped.

Finding the best medication for you might seem like a simple process but complications can arise. Remaining patient and willing to explore options with types and doses of medications will serve you well throughout the process.

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Try Therapy If…

No matter what, some people do not like the idea of taking a medication for ADHD. They have heard too many negative experiences about side effects to consider the medications. Other people cannot take ADHD medication because stimulants may adversely impact a heart condition. Others have poor experiences with nonstimulants that do not result with the desired levels of improvement.

For those people, there is therapy. Therapy will involve you meeting with a therapist to discuss the way ADHD is impacting your life while working together to find practical solutions. A therapist may help you address factors including:

  • Understanding situations that make your symptoms worse.
  • Modifying your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits to reduce symptoms.
  • Changing your environment to make it more conducive to attention and focus.
  • Teaching you self-management techniques to track and reduce your symptoms in the moment.
  • Finding ways to exploit your ADHD symptoms for good by drawing on the positive qualities.

Therapy might be the ideal starting point for a reason that extends beyond ADHD. You already know that therapy can help your ADHD by targeting its symptoms, but therapy can improve your overall wellbeing by aiding in the other facets of your life as well.

Your work, your relationships, your communication styles, your self-esteem, and your motivation all suffer due to the influence of ADHD. Therapy can reduce the role of ADHD in these situations to put your life on track to accomplish all that your hope for.

Medication might improve these aspects of life but only in very indirect ways. For an impactful change, therapy will be the best option.

Luckily, there are multiple therapy options depending on your age, your goals, and the intensity of your symptoms. Outpatient treatment is the commonly prescribed level since inpatient or intensive outpatient services are not needed in most situations. Outpatient treatment can consistent of group or individual sessions of different frequencies but weekly meetings are a good starting point.

Benefits of individual treatment include having a therapist to assess your needs and tailor feedback and treatment options especially for you. Group therapy options can help by permitting you to see how others are affected by ADHD while learning what systems and interventions have worked best for them.

Another fortunate aspect of therapy for ADHD is that multiple modalities can be used simultaneously. You can use individual and group sessions together with good results.

Try Both If…

Some people exploring ADHD treatment options find complete symptom remission from medication. Some find adequate benefit from therapy only. Everyone else should consider trying therapy and medication together.

Many studies have been done investigating improvements in ADHD symptoms from medication only, therapy only, and the combination. The majority of the time, combined treatment yields the best results, and the explanation may be obvious.

When people think about mental health, they often delve into the debate of nature versus nurture, which tries to pinpoint the influence of biology and the impact of the environment of development and mental health. ADHD seems to be a disorder that is heavily influenced by each.

With this being true, taking a medication can help improve the way your brain performs biologically, and therapy can help you change, eliminate, or avoid certain aspects of your environment that contribute negatively to your symptoms. Together, the combination of therapy and medication can do more than either alone.


Treatment options for ADHD should be explored in depth and taken seriously. During this process, understand the opinions of the professional you seek. Psychiatrists may be more likely to think your symptoms need medication. Therapists may be more likely to think your symptoms need therapy. For you, your goal should be finding the solution that seems to be the least restrictive with the highest benefit.

This way of thinking will point you towards the most efficient results. Remember, improvement starts with a phone call.