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Alternative Treatments for ADHD


Alternative Treatments for ADHD

November 14, 2022

Over 1.6 million U.S. adults have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Characterized by symptoms such as a short attention span, distractibility, forgetfulness, and impulsivity, the condition can pose a significant challenge to maintaining a successful job, managing relationships, and accomplishing personal goals.

Stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are the standard treatments for ADHD. These medications work by increasing chemical messengers called dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain’s central nervous system. While highly effective, these medications aren’t the best choice for everyone. Some individuals have other conditions that stimulants can exacerbate, such as:

  • Heart problems
  • Glaucoma
  • An anxiety disorder
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • A history of psychosis

Even when there are no conflicts with other conditions or difficult side effects, stimulants may not be fully effective. Studies have found that 10 to 30 percent of patients do not respond adequately to stimulants

As a result, it’s important for individuals with ADHD to be aware of the alternatives that can either replace or supplement stimulants.

Non-Stimulant Medications

While stimulants are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD, they aren’t the only option. Some examples of non-stimulant ADHD medications include:

  • Straterra
  • Clonidine
  • Intuniv
  • Qelbree

As Heading Health Psychiatrist Dr. Arif Noorbaksh notes, while these medications may be less effective, they are “generally safer and better tolerated than stimulants.”

Talk with your physicians to determine whether these non-stimulant alternatives are right for you.

Talk Therapy

Medications aren’t the only way to treat the symptoms of ADHD. For example, research has found that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help with procrastination, time management, and planning.

Aside from addressing the symptoms of ADHD, therapists can also help with some of the stressors it can cause, such as job losses or relationship problems. They can also treat other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, which can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. 

Coaching

Therapists are not the only types of professionals who can help individuals with ADHD overcome their symptoms. ADHD coaches work closely with clients to help them carry out their daily activities in a focused and organized fashion. They provide feedback and suggestions to help them out with tangible goals. They can also help with accountability by checking in on clients to see their progress.

Behavioral Strategies

Even without a professional to guide you, you can make a range of simple changes to your environment and routine that can help you stay focused. Here are a few suggestions

  • Create a checklist: Having a clear list of what needs to get done can help keep you on track and ensure you don’t forget essential tasks.
  • Decrease distractions: Make a point to limit easy distractions. Make a list of common distractions and avoid them while working on important tasks. Some common anti-distraction strategies may include setting your phone and computer to do-not-disturb mode and avoiding working around your TV. 
  • Try out a fidget device: ADHD can result in excessive fidgeting. Devices designed to channel that fidgeting (e.g., a fidget spinner) can channel it in a healthy way and prevent it from interfering with your ability to concentrate.
  • Set time limits: Though ADHD is associated with distractibility, it can also cause hyper-focused states where individuals zero in on one task for prolonged periods of time. While this can be useful, it can pose a problem if it happens at the expense of other goals. Setting a timer is a quick way to avoid this problem.
  • Create your personal reward system: Positive reinforcement is a well-established technique promoting desired behaviors. Try to give yourself simple rewards, such as a walking break, gold star on a tracking system, or a tasty snack like a piece of chocolate, when you’ve completed a task.  

Support Groups

As with any mental health condition, talking with others who have ADHD can be helpful. Learning that other people experience similar difficulties can mitigate the sense of shame and guilt that individuals with ADHD can experience. Success stories can be a powerful motivator and provide unique strategies for coping with their symptoms and improving overall functioning. Like coaching, support groups can also be helpful for accountability purposes. Knowing that you’ll meet with a group to discuss how you’ve been managing your ADHD may provide additional motivation to stick with your tools and strategies.

Nutrition and Lifestyle Changes

While nutrition and lifestyle habits may not cause ADHD, specific diets and behaviors can help mitigate the symptoms. Sally Twellman, nutritional therapist at Heading Health, recommends:

  • A high-fiber plant-rich diet
  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants
  • Avoiding processed foods, especially those high in preservatives and artificial dyes
  • Checking for food sensitivities (e.g., gluten allergies).

Aside from diet, exercise has been investigated as a potential tool for alleviating the symptoms of ADHD. For example, a recent meta-analysis found that exercise improves executive function (i.e., mental abilities associated with memory, organization, planning, attention, etc.). Importantly, they found that exercise intensity did not impact the therapeutic effects of exercise, meaning even moderate exercise can help with ADHD.


A good night’s sleep can also have a significant on ADHD symptoms. Though ADHD can make it difficult to get a good night’s rest, a few simple techniques can make sleeping well easier. 


Here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid napping within four hours of your bedtime.
  • Don’t consume caffeine within 12 hours of your bedtime.
  • Go to bed around the same time every time.
  • Develop a calming bedtime routine.
  • Use a blue light filter when looking at screens close to bedtime.

If you feel you need to see a mental health professional or could use help deciding which service is right for you, please give us a call at 805-204-2502 or fill out an appointment request here. We have a wide variety of providers, including therapists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and nutritional therapists, who can see you in as little as one day via teletherapy. 

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The Surprising Connections Between Caffeine and Mental Health


The Surprising Connections Between Caffeine and Mental Health

October 13, 2022

Between coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed psychoactive drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 80 percent of U.S. adults consume caffeine daily. 

 

Despite its widespread popularity or perhaps because of it, caffeine often goes under the radar as something with no significant effects other than a short boost in attention and alertness. However, caffeine can have important effects on one’s mood and overall mental health that are worth considering when deciding whether to include it in your diet.



Depression

It’s well known that caffeine can provide a short-term elevation in one’s mood. However, it may also have a beneficial effect on depression. A recent meta-analysis of seven studies found that the risk of depression decreased by eight percent per cup of coffee when consumed in moderate amounts.

 

The data only shows that caffeine use is correlated with lower rates of depression, not that it causes it. However, we know that caffeine promotes the release of dopamine and that dopamine deficiencies may contribute to depression. This is why some antidepressants, such as bupropion and phenelzine, modulate dopamine signaling. Additionally, when consumed from natural sources like coffee, caffeine also comes with other ingredients which can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain (more on this below).

 

Anxiety

Caffeine stimulates the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are associated with feelings of stress and anxiety. This is likely why some feel anxious and jittery after a cup of coffee. Some individuals may even experience anxiety that is severe enough to warrant the diagnosis of a caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, according to the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

 

Several factors may explain why some are more prone to experience anxiety from caffeine. One obvious factor is how anxious they are in general. Studies have found that patients with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder tend to experience stronger anxiety-promoting effects from caffeine. 

 

The source of one’s anxious tendencies may play an important role in determining whether coffee makes them feel more or less nervous. For example, individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sometimes experience anxiety that stems from difficulties in concentration and executive control. Because caffeine can enhance attention and concentration, it can alleviate stress in individuals with ADHD. 

 

Aside from baseline anxiety symptoms, there may also be a genetic component that explains why some individuals are more likely to experience anxiety from caffeine. Studies have found that specific gene variants for the receptor that caffeine binds to can make one more susceptible to its anxiety-inducing effects. 



Interactions With Antidepressants

Caffeine can alter how our bodies process and respond to certain drugs, including some antidepressants. One way it can do this is by slowing down or speeding up the rate at which our livers break down antidepressants, impacting how much of the drugs build up in our systems. 

 

Some antidepressants can have an activating or energizing effect. When combined with caffeine, some patients might find that the compounds work together to produce feelings of tension and anxiety. Patients should be mindful of how their body reacts to caffeine while on antidepressants and discuss any adverse reactions with their physician. 



Sleep

Caffeine looks similar to a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which is partially responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycles. When adenosine binds to its receptor, it tells the brain it’s time to sleep. Because of its resemblance to adenosine, caffeine can bind to the same receptor and block adenosine in the process. This prevents adenosine from triggering sleepiness. 

 

Caffeine can interfere with sleep for much longer than one might initially think. This is because several of caffeine’s metabolites (i.e., the chemicals produced as the body breaks down caffeine) can also cause wakefulness. While individual factors affect how long this process takes, caffeine and its metabolites can negatively impact sleep for up to 12 hours.  

 

A poor night’s sleep can lower one’s mood and exacerbate a range of symptoms associated with mental health conditions, so it’s important to be mindful of how caffeine affects your ability to sleep and to avoid consuming it within 12 hours of your bedtime. 



Naturally Occurring Sources of Caffeine Are Better

It’s best to get caffeine from natural sources like coffee and tea instead of synthetic sources like caffeine pills or energy drinks. The reason is that natural sources of caffeine come with other healthy ingredients. For example, tea contains antioxidants that can decrease oxidative stress in the brain, a change associated with improvements in depression. Similarly, caffeine contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Naturally occurring sources of caffeine may also include a class of compounds known as phenols, which studies have found can work synergistically with caffeine to heal our bodies and minds. 





If you feel you need to see a mental health professional or could use help deciding which service is right for you, please give us a call at 805-204-2502 or fill out an appointment request here. We have a wide variety of providers, including therapists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and nutritional therapists, who can see you in as little as one day via teletherapy. 

 

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Want to find out if Heading is right for you? 

Complete our consultation form and an intake specialist will get in touch.


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