Adult ADHD: 3 Treatment Options

Although Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a widely recognized mental health issue in children, for many individuals, ADHD persists into adulthood.

ADHD is characterized by an inability to regulate one's behavior, emotions, and attention. Adults with ADHD find it difficult to get organized. They often have trouble sticking to a job or remembering to keep appointments. Basic daily activities can be challenging. They are even more likely to have traffic accidents because they lose focus while driving.

The most likely ADHD sufferers are white, divorced males, those unemployed or unable to work, and individuals who struggle with substance abuse. ADHD often co-exists with other mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

While an estimated 4.4 percent of adults 18 to 44 experience symptoms or disability from ADHD, only about 11 percent actually receive treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many adults don't realize they have ADHD, so they don't seek treatment. Complicating the matter, adults tend to have different symptoms than children do, making ADHD more difficult to diagnose.


International guidelines for treating adult ADHD recommend a multi-pronged approach that includes psychoeducation, medication, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy.

1. Medications. In addition to ADHD medications, mental health professionals sometimes prescribe antidepressants, although the Food and Drug Administration has not approved antidepressants specifically for adult ADHD treatment.

2. Education. The education component of ADHD treatment teaches adults how to live with ADHD. For example, they learn how to organize their life using tools such as calendars and lists, and to break tasks into smaller steps, making them easier to accomplish. 

3. Psychotherapy. Many adults with ADHD struggle with loss of self esteem from living with untreated ADHD. CBT helps patients improve their self image and learn to adjust to changes that come with treatment.

Studies consistently show that medications and CBT are not as effective when used individually. Not all adults respond to medication only, or experience only a partial reduction in symptoms. However, psychological treatment in medicated adults is effective in treating ADHD and in fact, has an additive effect over medications alone.

In an interview in Medscape, Richard H. Weisler, MD, says during CBT it's useful to target specific symptoms that are important to patients, such as organization or listening skills. Using long-acting drugs that require less frequent doses and involving a significant other can help patients stick to treatment.


National Institute of Mental Health. "Harvard Study Suggests Significant Prevalence of ADHD Symptoms Among Adults." Web. 20 September 2012.

National Institute of Mental Health. "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." Web. 23 January 2009.

Smith, Brendan L. "Bringing Life Into Focus." Monitor 43 (3) (2012): 62. Web.

Emilsson, Brynjar, Gudjonsson, Gisli, Sigurdsson, Jon F., Baldursson, Gisli, Einarsson, Emil, Olafsdottir, Halldora, and Young, Susan. "Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in Medication-treated Adults With ADHD and Persistent Symptoms A Randomized Controlled Trial." BMC Psychiatry 11 (116) (2011). Medscape Medical News. Web. 7 October 2011.

White, Randall F., MD. "Managing Expectations and Individualizing Treatment for Adults With ADHD: An Expert Interview With Richard H. Weisler, MD." Medscape Medical News. Web. 9 May 2008.