ADHD Part 3 – Managing

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a complex condition that affects how you focus, behave, feel and interact with people. Realising that you have the condition allows you to begin making intelligent adjustments to your variant.

Part 1 – Defining ADHD [Link]

Part 2 – Experiencing ADHD [Link]

Managing ADHD

There are two primary methods to manage ADHD, and it recommended to use both where relevant and possible.

Therapy

CBT and DBT are the better methods to manage ADHD from a therapy and egocentric perspective. That is, with some suitable help, the person who meets the criteria for ADHD can learn to manage the symptoms that earn the label.

CBT

CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a method for identifying specific problems and countering them with specific solutions. This looks at identifying the problematic behaviour and or thought process and developing a specific skill to address this which changes the behaviour or thought process. The advantage of this method is that it address unique presentations and develops unique solutions to meet the variance of the client. That is, it doesn’t give you a one solutions fits all, but it may take advantage of known useful tools.

DBT

DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) was initially developed to treat BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) in a specific course like way. The course happens to also be very useful for learning to regulate mood dysregulation (a common experience for people diagnosed with ADHD) and social interpersonal skills (another common experience). While specific parts of the DBT modules can be used in isolation
(DBT informed therapy/therapist), most people gain the most use by doing the entire course in a group (may not be compatible for all people).

Advantage and Disadvantage of Therapy

Therapy is useful for addressing expected or identifiable skill deficits, giving power of control back to the individual who is often experiencing a chaotic life due to a lack of, or poor use of, life and self management skills. The problem often comes in with a basic aspect of the disorder itself – difficulties concentrating, difficulties sticking to a task and frequently learning disabilities. It is hard to learn any skill with this interference.

Medication

Medication is often used to help manage a major component of ADHD – task prioritisation. Given the hyperactive nature of ADHD, it seems odd to prescribe a stimulant. The brain is a wonderful and complex organism. While the specific parts that affect all people with ADHD are likely to be different, some common differences are found in the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. The insula is often attributed to mood regulation and the anterior cingulate cortex is often attributed to attention. Both of these are frequently found to be smaller in people diagnosed with ADHD (more research required). It has been found that certain stimulants boost the abilities of these parts of the brain, compensating for their underperformance. That is, the underperformance of these two parts of the brain means the patient is likely to find their mood and attention span poorly self controlled; stimulating these parts increases the patient’s ability to self regulate, decreasing the most problematic symptoms.

(Reduced insular volume in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [Link] and Anterior insula hyperactivation in ADHD when faced with distracting negative stimuli [Link])

If all brain scans had shown an equal problem with all people fitting the diagnostic criteria, this would be known as a neurological condition and the question would only be “how much of this one medication to prescribe?” Each brain scanned is a bit different, and not all people that fit the diagnostic criteria that were scanned have the same regions undersized. This means that medication is not going to work for all people who fit the diagnostic criteria, nor will the one type of stimulant match all peoples needs.

As such, a range of different medications have been found to be differently effective depending on the specifics of the individual person.

A very common co-occurrence of ADHD is drug addiction. Stimulants such as caffeine (coffee/tea/energy drinks), amphetamines (dexies, speed, meth amphetamines, ice) and nicotine are often used to help increase focus, while sedatives such as alcohol and diazepine are used to calm down from being hyper, and psychoactive drugs such as THC and LSD are often used to create an alternative state of mind that is easier to manage. Each of these are often used in conjunction to just self manage an undiagnosed condition.

Someone with undiagnosed adult ADHD who has a co-occuring Substance Use Disorder (SUD) will frequently struggle to be given a prescription for ADHD medication as it is either easy to dismiss the person as drug seeking (which ignores how easy it is to get illicit drugs compared to prescription), or difficult to manage due to the patient often continuing to take illicit substances. In Australia, psychiatrists are the health professionals who must diagnose and prescribe ADHD and ADHD medication. It is not uncommon for the patient to have to “go clean” prior to receiving necessary medication to manage their symptoms, which is incredibly hard; or to get frequent drug tests to ensure compliance with medication in the absence of illicit drugs.

(Treatment Strategies for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorders [Link])

Advantage and Disadvantage of Medication

Medication doesn’t work for all people diagnosed with ADHD, and when it does, it doesn’t always work equally. Going through various medication trials can seem daunting and frustrating as your body adjusts and adapts to the medication. Some people find medication as a gateway to illicit substances, however most people with undiagnosed ADHD have already attempted to moderate their experience via illicit substances, so this is a bit of a chicken and the egg fable – for those who are compliant with their prescription, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Using medication to feel better and function better can have an existential query of “Who am I really? The person on medication, or the person off it?” or stigma questions such as “why does society only treat me alright when I am on the medication, but then blame me for taking medication to be ok?”

An advantage of medication is that when it works, even partially, it makes a profound different to your experience. It can be the launching pad for effective therapy, it can quiet the more destructive impulsiveness and it can allow you to focus enough to earn a degree, get a job and have good relationships with people.

BOTH Medication and Therapy

The best results often come when a person uses both approaches – medication and therapy. A person experiencing ADHD is likely to struggled to be able to focus and retain the information and drive to take in the therapy that upskills ADHD management without medication, while someone who takes medication now has that capacity to upskill, but doesn’t have a good mentor and guide to learn what skills are actually useful.

A good combination of both medication and therapy addresses these issues and gets the best results.