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5 Signs It's Time to Find a New Adult ADHD Treatment

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    Treating Adult ADHD: A Trial-and-Error Process
    Before treatment, my patients with adult ADHD are really suffering. They can’t focus on their work, they’re distracted, and they have trouble staying on top of everyday responsibilties. They become easily frustrated, stressed, and anxious, and often lose confidence in their ability to get tasks done. This can lead to a very reduced quality of life. Fortunately, there are great treatments available to help control these symptoms, including medications, talk therapy, and executive function coaching, which helps patients learn better organizational and planning skills. The most effective medications for adult ADHD are called stimulants, and while they can truly change a patient’s life, finding the right one can sometimes be a challenge. I make sure my patients monitor their symptoms closely and look out for certain signs that they need to try a different drug.

  • anxious woman looking out window
    1. Symptoms of another mental health condition get worse.
    It’s common for my patients with adult ADHD to also struggle with other mental health problems, like anxiety. Living with ADHD can bring on anxious symptoms, or the patient may be genetically predisposed to the condition already. No matter what the cause, it’s important that we address all problems with a treatment plan. However, some side effects of stimulants used to treat ADHD can actually worsen anxiety symptoms. Stimulants can cause nervousness, jitters, shaking, and tics, and people with anxiety already struggle to control these symptoms. If the stimulant you’re taking is increasing symptoms of another mental health problem, talk to your doctor about trying a new medication.

  • Young woman sleeping
    2. You can’t tolerate the side effects.
    Stimulants have many benefits: they help you focus on what’s important, increase your ability to self-motivate, and improve organizational skills, among other things. However, they also come with several potential side effects. Common side effects include insomnia, and decreased appetite, which can lead to weight loss. In many cases, these side effects don’t have a big impact on patients, but sometimes, they become a real problem. If you can’t sleep or have completely lost your appetite as a result of your stimulant, it may be time to try a new one to see if the side effects will be less problematic.

  • Pensive businesswoman looking out office window
    3. The medication just isn’t controlling your symptoms.
    Each stimulant medication affects everyone differently. Sometimes, they work great, and sometimes, patients see no difference at all, even after we increase the dose. Obviously, we don’t want you to be taking something that’s not working, so if your adult ADHD symptoms are the same even though you’re on medication, talk to your doctor about trying something else.

  • Woman taking pill
    4. Your ADHD symptoms are returning.
    In many cases, a medication will control symptoms well for a long time, but then eventually, the effectiveness starts to fade. Over time, the body can develop a tolerance to stimulants, which means you require higher doses to get the same effects. To prevent this, I recommend that patients skip their medication on the weekend, or at least one day a week, to make sure their bodies don’t get too used to it. But if you’ve started to notice your ADHD symptoms aren’t as well-controlled as they once were, talk to your doctor; don’t just increase your dose on your own. With stimulants, it’s essential to prevent dependency or a cycle of addiction, so work with your doctor to find a solution. You may need a higher dose, but at a certain point, it might just be that you need to try a new medication altogether.

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    5. You want your medication to last for a longer or shorter period of time.
    ADHD medication can be released into the body in two ways: it can be absorbed immediately, giving you 4 to 6 hours of symptom relief, or it can be released into the body over time, providing 8 to 10 hours of benefit. Short-acting medications benefit people who want more control over when they treat their ADHD—they typically need to take another dose in the middle of the day, but want the option of deciding if they really need it. Long-acting or extended-release stimulants use different methods to release medication into the body evenly throughout the day. These drugs benefit patients who want full-day control of symptoms without needing to take another dose. If you have a short work day or unpredictable work schedule, short-acting medications may help you, but if you need all-day coverage, you may benefit from an extended-release option.

5 Signs It's Time to Find a New Adult ADHD Treatment

About The Author

Dr. David Brendel, Ph.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist and certified executive coach in the Boston area. View his Healthgrades profile >
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
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