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Treating ADHD Without Ritalin and Adderall

Stimulants are drugs that undeniably help many people with ADHD. If you are avoiding common treatment options like Adderall or Ritalin, ask your doctor about alternative non-stimulant medications.

Side Effects of Adderall and Ritalin

Ritalin can have the following side effects:

  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep issues, including insomnia
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headache
  • Vision problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Skin rash
  • Psychosis
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or cold feeling in the hands or feet

The following are potential side effects of Adderall:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Excitability
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Less interest in sex
  • Impotence
  • Difficulty achieving an orgasm
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations

These lists of symptoms are not all-encompassing. While they can present with any use of these medications, they are much more likely with abuse.

Reasons to Avoid Adderall and Ritalin

Adderall is an amphetamine, a type of drug that is especially prone to abuse. If someone is at risk of addiction, they should likely avoid Adderall. 

That being said, all stimulants can be addictive, so those with a history of substance abuse must be very careful with their prescriptions. It’s important to tell your doctor if you have such a history. 

You should not simply look at a long list of potential side effects and immediately reject a drug since very few people will experience all these side effects. Discuss any side effects you experience with your doctor. 

Both drugs are quite dangerous for those who are abusing other drugs, especially alcohol. Stimulants are sometimes referred to as “uppers,” while alcohol is an antidepressant, often referred to as “downers.”

As discussed in a 2016 guide released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), this combination can be very dangerous. It puts the heart at risk and can mask the symptoms of both drugs, leading a user to drink more alcohol since they don’t feel drunk. This can have deadly consequences. Even recreational drinking is very dangerous when on stimulants.

Sometimes, a prescribed drug does not have the desired outcome. If you are prescribed Ritalin or Adderall and your ADHD symptoms don’t seem to be improving significantly, discuss this with your doctor.

Alternatives to Adderall and Ritalin

adhd and medication

If you are avoiding Adderall or Ritalin as a treatment for ADHD, talk to your doctor about other similar drugs.

For many people with ADHD, stimulants are the most helpful drugs in managing their symptoms. Researchers are unsure why stimulants seem to almost paradoxically help those with attention and hyperactivity problems. One theory is that they increase dopamine levels in the brain, a key chemical for thinking and attention.

As both Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants, and most stimulants have a similar list of side effects (particularly stomach, heart, and sleep problems), it’s not uncommon to want an alternative to stimulants overall.

There are several non-stimulant medications that can be prescribed for ADHD, including atomoxetine, guanfacine, clonidine, and bupropion. While not without side effects, these drugs are frequently used in tandem with stimulants to help many people manage ADHD symptoms. It usually takes several weeks of taking them as prescribed before any change will be noticed in ADHD symptoms.

On their own, non-stimulants are less effective at managing symptoms for ADHD patients. Atomoxetine, the only first-line medication for treating ADHD that is a non-stimulant, is only about two-thirds as effective for most people as a stimulant would be. However, non-stimulants, and atomoxetine especially, can still provide much-needed help for people who are having problems with stimulants.

Always Begin With Behavioral Therapy

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends putting young children (ages 4 to 5) diagnosed with ADHD into a behavioral therapy program to help them manage their symptoms. A guardian should also enter a parent training program for similar reasons before the child is prescribed medication.

The CDC’s reasons for this are important to understand. 

  • These programs are effective and should have no adverse effects.
  • The effects of ADHD medications are stronger in young children than in adolescents or teens.
  • The long-term effects of ADHD medication on young children have not been fully studied.

For children 6 and older, the CDC recommends a combination of drugs and therapy.

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Psychotherapy for Adults With ADHD

Researchers Julie P. Gentile and Rafay Atiq note in a study that psychotherapy is not an effective treatment for ADHD symptoms on its own. Therapy without medication can teach someone certain coping strategies, but it may not be enough to manage the presenting symptoms completely.

This does not mean therapy for adults with ADHD is ineffective. It should be used in conjunction with medications. If one is avoiding stimulants, therapy can be a good idea in combination with non-stimulants. Many adults with ADHD can struggle with problems with depression or anxiety, which may also lead them to abuse substances like alcohol.

If a person struggles with co-occurring addiction and ADHD, therapy can improve the overall quality of life and provide the tools needed to start recovering from addiction and drug abuse. This is especially noteworthy, as drug abuse can be one reason a person with ADHD needs to avoid stimulants.

adderall alternatives

Can ADHD Be Cured or Managed Without Medication?

ADHD is a lifelong mental illness. There is presently no cure for the disorder, and any method claiming to provide one should be absolutely avoided. There are many ways to effectively manage ADHD, however.

Most people with ADHD can learn to live fulfilling lives. Medication will always be a part of symptom management. The nature of the mental illness means there are biological reasons why one cannot simply “learn away” their symptoms or similarly overcome them purely with non-medication-based methods. 

This does not mean therapies and healthy coping strategies are not of value to people with ADHD. These things can work in tandem with medications to improve quality of life, quality of relationships, and success in school and business. Anything that can improve life for the person with ADHD is worth considering. 

Proper diet and exercise, healthy social relationships, and maintaining overall happiness and mental health are always of value.

Misconceptions About Medicine

There are legitimate reasons to avoid particular medications or types of medication. They may react negatively to other drugs one is taking, prove ineffective, or cause side effects that are intolerable and dramatically reduce quality of life.

However, it is important to note that there are some who simply avoid medication purely because it is a commercially produced drug or because they believe drugs are simply unhealthy or ineffective. Make sure your medical decisions are based on logic and evidence-based science.

Advocate for your health, but refer to your supervising physician regarding medication decisions. Always consult a licensed doctor before switching or stopping any medication, including Adderall or Ritalin.Modern medicine can have drawbacks, and it has been mistaken in conclusions in the past. However, medications tend to be fairly regulated and evidence-based, evolving as new evidence comes up to provide patients with the best care.

Sources

(February 2019). Guanfacine (Oral Route). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/guanfacine-oral-route/description/drg-20064131

(November 2017). Antidepressants: Selecting One That's Right For You. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basic. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml

(January 2019). Ritalin. RxList. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/ritalin-side-effects-drug-center.htm#overview

(March 2017). Adderall. RxList. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/adderall-drug.htm#indications

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html

Psychotherapy for the Patient with Adult ADHD. Psychiatry (Edgmont). Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957279/

(September 2016). Drugs: Shatter the Myths. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/nida_shatterthemyths_508_final.pdf

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