Things To Try If You're an Adult With ADHD

Behavioral interventions, lifestyle changes, and daily strategies may help you feel more in control of your Adult ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be incredibly disruptive in everyday adult life. You may find yourself having trouble focusing, sitting still, maintaining relationships, and completing tasks. This may leave you feeling anxious, depressed, isolated, or just bad about yourself. Luckily, there are strategies that can help you day to day as you navigate life with adult ADHD.

Most people with ADHD respond well to medication, although there are other, nondrug options that may help too. While medicine won't entirely eliminate symptoms, it can alleviate challenges.

You will likely have to combine medication with lifestyle strategies and changes. "Start with treatments we know are effective," said Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a psychologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD. "Then, if you're interested, try some of the alternatives to see if it has any additional benefit."

Consider Medication

Choosing and finding the right ADHD medication may seem daunting. You have several options, which can be overwhelming but also may serve as good news: You can work with a healthcare provider to find what works best for you.

If you discuss medication with your healthcare provider, they will walk you through possible outcomes and likely put you on a trial so you can notice what helps and what doesn't. Factors to consider include how often you will need to take each type of medication, what each drug costs, and of course, if you feel improvement.

So, What Are Your Options?

Psychostimulant drugs approved by the FDA are commonly used to treat adults with ADHD, according to the NIH. Psychostimulants increase your brain's production of dopamine and reduce how much dopamine and norepinephrine are reabsorbed into your neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling pleasure and motivation and allows you to better emotionally respond to your surroundings. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter responsible for helping you stay alert and maintain attention.

Commonly prescribed psychostimulants include:

  • Adderall XR (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine)
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
  • Concerta (methylphenidate)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)

A review published in May 2016 in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics found the most common adverse side effects of these drugs include decreased appetite, stomach pain, insomnia, and headaches.

A non-stimulant drug like Strattera may be a better fit for people who have ADHD and do not respond to psychostimulant drugs. A review published in January 2014 in CNS Drugs noted that 20-35% of people with ADHD in clinical trials had an inadequate response to initial stimulant treatment. In some cases the cause of aversion is unknown; in others, patients are allergic to the psychostimulant or experienced uncomfortable side effects.

Think About Therapy

While medication can improve your ADHD symptoms, you may want to consider pairing it with cognitive behavioral therapy.

This type of therapy aims to help patients change their behavior by focusing on self-image and thought patterns, as well as overcoming obstacles and negative thinking in daily life. This can be particularly helpful to adults with ADHD who are navigating relationships, day-to-day responsibilities, careers, and school. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you understand everyday ways to alleviate your symptoms and improve your inner and outer life.

In fact, an analysis of 53 peer-reviewed articles on psychological interventions for adults with ADHD, published in March 2020 in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, determined that cognitive behavioral therapy provided the "strongest empirical support" for adults with ADHD.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is not a replacement for medication, but it can help you modify your behavior, and may be more effective than using medication alone.

Get Educated

The more you learn about ADHD, the more aware you will be of your symptoms. This can help you learn how to better manage them. It might make you feel less alone and less like there's something "wrong" with you.

"Learning about ADHD helps you know a little better what strategies tend to work," said Tuckman. It can also reduce feelings of shame or blame, Tuckman added, as patients begin to realize that treating ADHD is not as simple as trying harder to pay attention or caring more about school or work.

Finding someone whose life is similar to your own may help you find strategies and recommendations that work well for you.

Nurture Relationships

Family members, close friends, and romantic partners should also educate themselves about ADHD, said Tuckman.

A study published in January 2019 in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that young adults with ADHD had higher levels of interpersonal problems than their peers without ADHD.

You may find yourself talking over people, blurting out your thoughts, talking excessively, being late, and feeling heightened emotions. Others may perceive these behaviors negatively or take them personally. Remember, you deserve love, friendship, and professional success, and resources exist to help you manage those relationships.

Therapy and counseling—for you and your loved ones—may also help everyone adapt to each other's needs. If you feel comfortable, explain as best you can how your brain works to those closest to you. For example, if your ADHD makes it hard for you to be on time, tell your friend. This way, they won't think you're just dismissing their time.

You may not always be capable (nor is it your responsibility) to disclose your diagnosis to your friends and colleagues. This is where finding what works for you—whether that be medication, therapy, support groups, or a combination of all three—becomes essential to you feeling your best self.

Get Organized

This, of course, sounds easier than it actually is. If you find yourself feeling forgetful, try writing daily reminders for appointments, meetings, or other responsibilities in a planner or organizer. And get specific about misplaced things, said Tuckman.

"It's not just simple advice, like, 'Find a place to put your keys, wallet, and cell phone when you come in the house,' but specifically, 'Where do you put them?'" Tuckman told Health. "And once you walk in the door, how many steps do you need to take before you get to [that] designated place?"

When it comes to organization, what works for one person may not work for another. This is true whether you have ADHD or not. Here is where both your mental health provider and other adults with ADHD can help you.

Getting organized may take a lot of trial and error. Don't be afraid to get creative—there's no judgment on what works for you. To get started, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), an organization that provides the National Resource Center on ADHD, recommends:

  • Asking a trusting friend to help you organize your workspace or home. (Friends won't feel as sentimental as you may when deciding what to keep or toss.)
  • Using a timer or music to help you stay on schedule. (For example, you can make a playlist you know is 30 minutes long.)
  • Break your tasks down into smaller steps. (Seriously, the smaller, the better!)

[A note from Health]: No one is perfect. As you adapt to new organizational tactics, you may get frustrated with yourself. Remember: You are not a failure if you don't complete a task.

Limit Distractions

This may sound like advice your teacher or parent would toss at you, but hey, for a lot of people with ADHD, limiting distractions is vital to paying attention and staying focused. This can be particularly challenging at work or school. The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) notes how people with ADHD can get sidetracked by "external or unimportant stimuli."

Your mental health provider may be able to help you identify your own distractions. You may already be aware of a few—for example, if you work at home, you probably can't have the TV on or the door open.

You can also try:

  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Leaving your phone in another room
  • Turning off social media
  • Keeping a to-do list

Take an Extra Beat Before You Act

Many adults with ADHD struggle with impulsive speech and actions, according to the DSM-5. It's worth noting people with ADHD are no less intelligent than their peers. Some adults with ADHD just tend to speak reactively and/or bluntly.

This is not easy, but try to teach yourself to take a minute to stop and think before you react. Work with a mental health provider to change this habit. It might help to write down your first reaction instead of sharing it.

Plan Ahead

Do you have a long meeting you know will make you feel on edge? Plan ahead for situations that might test your patience.

Keep yourself moving in ways that won't be too distracting to yourself or your colleagues. You can try taking notes instead of fidgeting. Or try fidgeting more covertly; many people find that spinning a pen in their hands under a table can help, said Tuckman. If you feel comfortable and safe, consider explaining your needs to those around you.

"Perhaps just tell people, 'I get antsy during these long meetings, so sometimes I need to move around a bit,'" Tuckman told Health. "Explain how this makes [you] a better employee or team member so it becomes appealing to the other persons involved."

In other situations, finding a planner that satisfies your brain may help. It may feel discouraging and frustrating to keep testing out what works, but you could also view it as fun.

Get Moving

"Who in the world would you not recommend exercise for?" said Tuckman. Cardiovascular-health benefits aside, exercise seems to be helpful for attention, concentration, and learning as well, Tuckman added.

While exercising regularly may seem daunting, finding a regimen that works for your lifestyle and abilities could give you time and space to focus on yourself while improving your ADHD symptoms. You can also explore virtual classes or apps if it's difficult to leave your home, or find time, or exercise facilities in your location are not fully accessible.

Train Your Brain

While research supporting the claim is sparse, there are theories that exercising the mind—with tools like crossword puzzles or Sudoku-type games—can improve ADHD symptoms such as poor concentration.

One brand of computer software that does stand the test of science is Cogmed's working memory training, said Tuckman, but little else shows much promise in improving concentration or attention.

These types of games may help you relax or have fun, but they are not replacements for ADHD treatment like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles