The Mythological Cure for ADHD

I’ve been coming across a lot of posts recently claiming that ADHD can be cured. It can’t be. Not anymore than a withered limb can be cured.

If you see someone claiming to be able to cure ADHD (or autism, for that matter), run the other way. They’re a charlatan and they are willing to take your money based solely on false hopes.

I’ve seen claims that everything from essential oils to supplements to biofeedback can cure ADHD; none of which can. They may mitigate symptoms, but they’re no cure. The people selling them are just using the word cure to prey on the frustration and fear of those suffering with the disorder.

ADHD is a neurological disorder characterized by low levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, as well as poor development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, and executive function system. Curing it would require altering the brain and the way it produces chemicals. Despite the incredible things we’re learning about neuroplasticity, we can’t do that yet.

What we can do with ADHD is manage it. In some cases, can manage it so well that it may seem like the person is so minimally impacted by their symptoms that that may seem to have been cured. They aren’t. Much like a recovering alcoholic can go years without a drink and then some random life event can cause them to return to the bottle, a person with ADHD who is managing their symptoms like a pro can easily fall off that wagon should their situation change. Marriage, the birth of a child, a death in the family, a change in job status, all of these are common triggers for ADHD. Indeed, those who get diagnosed later in life often report that they were going along just fine until one of these events threw their life into a tailspin of uncontrolled emotions, unfocused disorganization, and unremitting procrastination.

So what, then, can we do to mitigate symptoms?

Medication is the most scientifically backed treatment for ADHD. That said, it’s difficult to get right, and medication is too often used in solitude when it should be paired with skills training. Training the organizational, planning, and time management skills necessary to compensate for the disorder, as well as developing an awareness of how it impacts one’s life is essential to living an effective life with ADHD.

I realize, however, that there are those of you who balk at the idea of medication and would prefer an alternate path. Improving diet and exercise are good ways to lessen the impact of ADHD. A diet rich in whole foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and water with minimal processed foods will help a great deal. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day is another effective treatment. Intense cardio is best, but just getting moving will help. Begin wherever your fitness allows you to and go from there.

One area I would caution against is supplements. The simple fact is that they are not a safe alternative to medication prescribed by a doctor. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and can their ingredients are often inconsistent both in terms of what is included and how much. This leads to inconsistent, and at times unsafe, results for the user.

An often-underestimated treatment for ADHD is simply learning more about what it is and how it works. The better you understand the disorder the easier it is to understand the sometimes-confusing behavior of those who have it, including yourself.   Also, along with a better understanding of behavior, comes an increased awareness of those behaviors and what may be triggering them. Which in turn leads to a better understanding of what treatments would work best.

There are many ways to learn more about ADHD. Speaking with your pediatrician, reading books, visiting websites (like this one!), listening to podcasts and even attending seminars on the subject are all good options. Most importantly, however, is the application of that learning. We’ve already covered the importance of diet and exercise to ADHD. It’s great to know that a diet rich in whole foods and exercising 30 minutes a day will help in managing symptoms, but if you don’t make those changes, it does little good.

In order to effectively manage the symptoms of ADHD, you have to be willing to not just learn, but to do. Start small. Skip over the cookies at the supermarket. Buy apples instead. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Park in the back of the lot instead of circling until you get a spot near the entrance. Little changes, compounded over time will add up to big differences in your symptoms.

Implement organization strategies slowly over time to help you become more focused and efficient. Set timers to help you wall off the time you will spend doing work, perhaps 20 minutes, before taking a short break. This will make the work more manageable because it put boundaries around it. Use a calendar to help keep you on track. (I recommend Google Calendar because it can send reminders to your phone, thereby helping with both working memory and time awareness – areas where people with ADHD tend to struggle.)

There is no cure for ADHD. But with effective coping strategies, there doesn’t need to be.