What is the treatment for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

New Research for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Oct. 21, 2011

The following is a short summary of the research referenced. It is important to consult your child's physicians for more information.

The strength of evidence for parent behavior training as the first-line intervention for improved behavior among preschoolers at risk for ADHD was high, while the strength of evidence for the drug methylphenidate (Brand names are Concerta, Metadate ER, Ritalin SR) for improved behavior among preschoolers was low.

Evidence regarding long-term outcomes following interventions for ADHD was sparse among persons of all ages, and therefore inconclusive, with one exception. Primary school–age children, mostlyboys with ADHD combined type, showed improvements in symptomatic behavior maintained for 12 to 14 months using specific medications.



Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The usual course of treatment for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may include medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), a stimulant that decreases impulsivity and hyperactivity, and increases attention. Most experts agree that treatment for ADHD should address multiple aspects of the individual's functioning and should not be limited to the use of medications alone. Treatment should include structured classroom management, parent education (to address discipline and limit-setting), and tutoring and/or behavioral therapy for the child.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Dr. Kimberley Taylor, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

The most common treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in both children and adults is stimulant medication, such as Ritalin.

Taking this medication typically results in fast—but temporary—improvements in both performance and social interaction.

Most people with ADHD need extra help, however.

In addition to medication, they can benefit from parent education, family therapy and supportive interventions.

Irwin Isaacs
Psychology Specialist

It is important to understand that this condition (ADHD) is experienced in various degrees, and in slightly different ways, by different individuals. Some people are more hyper than others; while some are not hyperactive, but are easily distracted and are disorganized.

In this day and age when there seems to be a pill to cure just about anything, many people with this problem seek a prescription for a medication that might have seen advertised on TV. Although there is benefit from medication in many cases, there are also side effects to medications that might be unpleasant. Everyone is different, and each person must make an informed decision, in consultation with a trusted medical professional, before embarking on a plan of medical treatment.

However, in just about every instance of an adult with ADHD, there is a need for others in the immediate family to understand the particular "quirks" of their loved one, and to interact with him or her in ways that are helpful and supportive. For instance, it is recommended to get the attention of the ADHD individual before beginning to speak about anything. That will avoid the exasperation of feeling as if you are being ignored. Little adjustments like this can improve interpersonal relationships and bring a healthier and more peaceful atmosphere into the home.

Usually ADHD is managed with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. When properly managed, children may learn to use their excess energy to their advantage, while also learning how to minimize other less productive tendencies of the disorder. A well-rounded, healthy diet, high-quality sleep, and limited environmental distractions can help.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

Take the RealAge Test!

Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children

More About this Book

Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children

When kids start going on TV binges or devouring fistfuls of cookies, it's easy to say, "They'll grow out of it." More likely, they're acquiring bad habits that could lead to childhood obesity and...

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often treated with medication. Either a stimulant or a non-stimulant medication may be prescribed. Counseling provided by a trained professional is also part of an effective treatment. Parents and teachers of an affected child will benefit from education about the best ways to interact with the child.

Accepted medical treatment for ADHD is usually a combination as effective as Batman and Robin. While medication and behavioral therapy do work on their own, like Batman and Robin, they work better as a team.

Stimulants are most commonly prescribed, though some choose to control ADHD with antidepressants.

Non-drug ADHD treatment includes behavior modification, family or individual therapy, and social and educational support.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Before a doctor will treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he or she will make sure you or your child has the condition. A diagnosis of ADHD is lengthy, involved, and time-consuming. Only certain doctors and mental health practitioners can diagnose you with ADHD.

Once you are diagnosed with ADHD, ask about medication options. You may have to try several medications before finding the one that works best. Consider behavioral treatments, too. Many therapists and psychologists offer therapy treatment for ADHD. Children, teenagers, and adults can all benefit from these types of ADHD treatment.

Specific treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder will be determined by your child's (adolescent's) physician based on:

  • your child's (adolescent's) age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of your child's (adolescent's) symptoms
  • your child's (adolescent's) tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition your opinion or preference

Major components of treatment for children with ADHD include parental support and education in behavioral training, appropriate school placement, and medication (psychostimulants). Treatment with a psychostimulant is highly effective in most children with ADHD.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

ADHD can be treated by a strength-based approach with a therapist who helps you find and focus on your gifts.

Each day you have the choice to define yourself by strengths or weaknesses. By focusing on gifts you will gain motivation and confidence for overcoming ADHD. If you focus on deficits, you’ll get more deficits. If you focus on gifts, you’ll get more positive results. Imagine defining a person as creative, enthusiastic, imaginative, intense and insightful with unlimited potential to change his brain through effort. How will that person fare compared to one whose identity is defined by a deficit disorder? 

What  if you defined yourself by what you are good at rather than by what you are not good at? What if you asked “What went right?” What if you believed that those talents that came as easily to you as falling off a log were your greatest gifts? Can you imagine the momentum you would generate if you called yourself or your child “innovative problem solver” rather than “stinks at math.” It seems easy to believe that the motivation and confidence you gained by defining yourself or your child by his or her gifts would make it easy for your child to plow through weaknesses – lack of focus, difficulty paying attention to details, impulsiveness, lack of stick-to-it-iveness.

In my work with people, I combine a strength based approach with coaching, play therapy for kids, parent coaching, emotional facilitation to build emotional intelligence and overcome impulsivity and stress management.

If you decide that you or a loved one has attention deficit disorder (ADD), it does not mean that you are dooming yourself to taking medicine for the rest of your life. Indeed, there are a ton of great coping strategies to help, even alongside medicine.

Get Structured - Even if they may hate it, the vast majority of people with ADD will be way more productive if they are busy (but not too busy), and their days are broken into defined sections. Also, lists are vital for people with ADD. Again, they often hate them, but they will help immensely.

Research Stimulants - Everyone knows about the stimulants Ritalin and Adderall, but there are other medicines out there such as Strattera and buproprion that can often help, especially in cases of mild to moderate ADD, without the burdens of abuse potential or controlled substance regulations.

However, the most effective class of medicines for ADD by far is stimulants. Ironically, stimulants actually help people with ADD calm down, focus and complete tasks. While they are regulated by the FDA, stimulates have the potential to raise blood pressure and pulse.

Think you may need stimulants? One unofficial litmus test I use is, if a person feels the only time they can actually get anything done is after their third cup (or pot) of coffee, they might be a good candidate for stimulants.

Bottom line is, stimulants do have some baggage, but they can be a miracle drug in the right candidate. Your doctor can help you decide if a stimulant is right for you.

Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Treatment of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should include restructuring, including developing routines and habits to help get life organized. Working with a coach can help in this regard. You can find a coach via the Internet, as ADHD coaching has become a bona fide service.

Treatment should also include attention to sleep, diet, exercise, and meditation or prayer. All of these have been proven to impact the symptoms of ADHD. Sufficient sleep is an amount of sleep that allows you to wake up without an alarm clock. Proper nutrition is key to brain health. The closer to following a vegan diet you can come, the better. A daily supplement of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are also good for your brain. One can't stress the importance of physical exercise and its ability to confer both mental and emotional health benefits enough. Additionally, recent studies have shown that mindfulness training is an excellent treatment for ADHD in adults.

Finally, medication can help. Stimulant medications, like Ritalin or Adderall, when used properly, are safe and effective. We use the same medications for adults that we use for children. When the medications work, they work like a pair of eyeglasses, enhancing mental focus and clarity. Speak with your doctor to get all the information you need.

Continue Learning about ADD/ADHD Treatment

Can psychotherapy treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Sharecare Ad Target UserSharecare Ad Target User
Different types of psychotherapy are used for ADHD. Behavioral therapy aims to help a child change h...
More Answers
What social skills interventions help teenagers?
Douglas E. Severance, MDDouglas E. Severance, MD
Teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and poor social skills often benefit from...
More Answers
What Alternative Treatments Are Available for Adults Who Have ADHD?
What Alternative Treatments Are Available for Adults Who Have ADHD?
How Do I Know If I Need Treatment for Adult ADHD?
How Do I Know If I Need Treatment for Adult ADHD?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.