How Is ADHD Treated?

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young boy with adhd receiving treatment from therapist

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  • ADHD a condition that affects your thinking, behavior, and ability to function.
  • Symptoms commonly develop during childhood and adolescents, though adults can also experience symptoms.
  • There are two types of medications that you can use to treat ADHD symptoms: stimulants and non-stimulants.
  • Other treatment options include behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder—meaning, the condition can affect how the brain grows and develops. ADHD commonly occurs during childhood, but symptoms can linger into adulthood as well. The primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The symptoms you or your child experience will determine which treatment options are best for you.

If you or your child recently received a diagnosis of ADHD, you may be wondering about your treatment options. While there is no cure for ADHD, you can manage symptoms with the right treatment. The main goals of treatment are to reduce ADHD symptoms and improve yours or your child’s ability to better manage ADHD-related challenges. 

You or your child’s healthcare provider (e.g., primary care physician, pediatrician, or behavioral specialist) can work with you to recommend the appropriate treatment options. The most common types of treatment for ADHD are medication and different types of therapy. While you or your child can use these treatments alone, some people with ADHD elect to take medication and attend therapy together.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two classes (or types) of medications to treat ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants. These medications reduce ADHD symptoms and improve overall functioning.

Stimulant Medicines

Central nervous system stimulants (or simply, stimulants) are the first-line treatment for school-aged children with ADHD. Stimulants work to increase dopamine and norepinephrine—chemicals in the brain that play an important part in thinking and attention. As a result, ADHD stimulants improve concentration, attention, and self-control.

There are two commonly used stimulants used to treat ADHD symptoms. These medications are:

Generic Name  Brand Name Options 
Methylphenidate Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin, Metadate, and Focalin 
Amphetamines Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat, and Vyvans

Both types of medications are available as an oral tablet, capsule, liquid solution, or in patch form. Most people choose to take oral medications, but you and your provider can figure out the option that is best for you or your child. The dosage of these medications will depend on your symptoms, but generally long-term medications are taken once a day while short-acting medications are taken one to three times a day.

It might take some time to find the dosage that works best for you or your child, but your healthcare provider is there to help guide your treatment. When you do find the right medication, stimulants are very effective in treating ADHD.

As with any medication, you or your child may experience side effects when using stimulants or if the medication is not taken as prescribed. Side effects can be mild and tend to go away on their own. Regardless, it’s good to know what side effects are possible. These include: 

Stimulants have a long history of being safe. Although rare, some people may experience serious side effects like heart problems, suicidal thinking, hallucinations, or aggressive behavior. If you or your child experiences any serious complications, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately for the next steps and support. 

Non-Stimulant Medicines

Non-stimulant medications are a second-line treatment for ADHD. The FDA has approved two types of non-stimulant medications to treat ADHD: selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and alpha-2 agonists. Your healthcare provider may recommend non-stimulants if:

  • Stimulants didn’t help yours or your child’s ADHD symptoms
  • You or your child experienced intolerable side effects from stimulants
  • You have a family history of misusing prescription medications 
  • A non-stimulant medication should be paired with a stimulant to better treat ADHD symptoms

The most common SNRIs for ADHD are Strattera (atomoxetine) and Qelbree (viloxazine). Strattera and Qelbree work by increasing the amount of norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine is a natural chemical that your brain uses to help control behavior. Common side effects of these medications include but are not limited to:

Your provider may also prescribe an alpha-2 agonist to help you or your child manage symptoms. The most common medicines are Intuniv (guanfacine), and Kapvay (clonidine). It’s unclear exactly how these medications work to treat ADHD, but experts believe that Intuniv and Kapvay can help your brain control attention and impulsivity.

These medications may cause some side effects, which can include:


ADHD affects thinking, behaviors, performance at school or work, and relationships with others. Adding therapy to an ADHD treatment plan can help you cope with daily challenges and improve functioning. It’s recommended to start therapy as soon as you get an ADHD diagnosis.

Cost of Therapy

It’s important to note that therapy for ADHD can be expensive, costing hundreds of dollars per session. Additionally, therapy is not always covered by insurance companies. Before starting treatment, talk to yours or your child’s healthcare provider and your insurance company about the cost of treatment. For additional information about ADHD treatment, costs, and programs, visit the Resource Center created by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry here

The goals of therapy are to improve positive behaviors and eliminate unwanted or problematic behaviors. Therapy options include:

  • Parent training in behavior management: Parents receive training in behavioral therapy, which helps them learn skills and strategies to support their child manage symptoms 
  • Behavior therapy with children: Helps children manage ADHD symptoms to better function at home, school, or in their community
  • Behavioral classroom management: A teacher-lead approach that includes encouraging positive behaviors through a rewards system and a daily report card
  • Organizational skills training: Children and adolescents learn time management, planning skills, and ways to stay organized which can help improve learning and reduce distractions in their environment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: A therapist helps you or your child become aware of your thoughts and accept your feelings, which can help improve mindfulness during actions and behaviors and boost concentration

If your child is younger than six years old, your healthcare provider may recommend behavior therapy before medication. If your child is six years and older, a combination of medication treatment and behavior therapy can be most helpful.

Living With and Managing ADHD

ADHD is a long-term mental health disorder. Children and adolescents with ADHD don’t always grow out of these behaviors, as the condition can last into adulthood. When left untreated, ADHD affects performance at school or work, relationships with others, and daily functioning. Untreated ADHD can also increase the risk of accidents, failing classes or dropping out of school, and loss of employment.

With proper management, people with ADHD can get their symptoms under control and live productive lives. In addition to medication and therapy, your healthcare team may suggest the following tips to manage ADHD symptoms:

  • Exercise regularly, especially when feeling hyperactive or restless
  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean (non-fatty) proteins 
  • Limit screen time on devices such as televisions, computers, and phones
  • Create a routine and try to follow the same schedule to provide stability in your day
  • Work on time management and organization by prioritizing time-sensitive tasks and writing down important information like appointments and assignments 
  • Take medications as directed and be sure to attend therapy sessions on time
  • Avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs 
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  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment

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  9. MedlinePlus. Atomoxetine.

  10. MedlinePlus. Viloxazine.

  11. MedlinePlus. Guanfacine.

  12. MedlinePlus. Clonidine

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parent Training.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behavior Therapy

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School

  16. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults: What you need to know.

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