Medication and Therapy for ADHD: An Overview

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Medication and Therapy for ADHD: An Overview

Similar to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that has entered the lexicon almost as slang, disconnected from its reality as a serious condition people face. For people who actually have ADHD, the reality is that it can make daily life – work, errands, or household management – a real challenge.

Medications exist for ADHD, and they are often very effective, particularly when paired with therapy. Today we’d like to discuss how these medications work and address some misconceptions about them.

The Mechanics of ADHD

ADHD presents itself as a lack of focus, restlessness, or both of these things. The exact chemistry of why this happens is a bit beyond our scope, but both are caused by neurons in the brain acting incorrectly.

Neurons – or brain cells – form a complex network that route signals in the brain, signals like “pay attention” or “look at this.” These signals are carried by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter has to make a small journey from neuron to neuron across a gap called a synapse.

Typically, more neurotransmitters are released than necessary, and the extra are reclaimed in a process called reuptake by the sending neuron. If the sending neuron gobbles up too many of the neurotransmitters, does so too early, or something else goes wrong, the communication process fails.

This is an oversimplified explanation, but this is generally how ADHD works. Reuptake malfunctioning is sometimes responsible for depression, too, hence why antidepressants are sometimes called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Stimulants vs. Non-Stimulants

ADHD medications come in two classes: stimulants and non-stimulants.

  • Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are popular because they work quickly and directly by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, improving focus. This is also why they are very popular for abuse, meaning prescriptions are heavily regulated.
  • Non-stimulants work in a myriad of different ways, and often work slower or promote general mood stabilization rather than the direct action of stimulants. Strattera and Wellbutrin are two popular examples; Wellbutrin, along with some other options, can also help treat depression or other disorders.

How Can Therapy Help?

Medication is extremely effective in treating ADHD, but because ADHD is a behavioral disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy can significantly enhance the benefits. Therapy not only helps you recognize patterns in your behavior, but also helps overcome the shame and frustration many ADHD people experience when coping with their disorder.

If you have ADHD, consider scheduling an appointment with Azevedo Family Psychology! We promise that you’ll be thrilled with what you learn about yourself. Contact us today!