Treatments for Attention Deficit Disorder Overview


Stimulants in the use of ADD treatment. For those with attention deficit disorder (ADD, ADHD). Expert information, ADD support groups, chat, journals, counseling and support lists.Medications such as stimulants have long been employed in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder. These medications are presumed to improve a chemical imbalance in the brain which is causing the symptoms. The PET scan studies do show that the brain functioning of Attention Deficit Disorder patients does improve and appears to be more like the normal group after they have taken their prescribed medication.

Medications usually used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder stimulate the production of two neurotransmitters known as dopamine and norephinephrine. Specific neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) are necessary to carry a nerve impulse (message) along a neuropathway (circuit). When a neurotransmitter is under supplied, a message may be stopped short of its intended destination. When this happens, the function regulated by that circuit may not work as well as it should.

Brain circuits, like those of a computer are either on or off. When some circuits are on they make something happen such as helping a child focus on a learning situation. When other circuits are on they prevent something from happening. For instance, some circuits prevent emotional reactions to situations. If the circuit is not on or only partially on, the child may react too quickly to a minor incident which may lead to a temper tantrum.

Medications that treat Attention Deficit Disorder are not tranquilizers or sedatives. They do not slow down the nervous system. They actually stimulate various areas of the brain to be more active so that the attention and concentration functions and the self-control functions work better. The use of stimulant medications helps to keep the circuits on when they should be turned on.

Most individuals who are treated with medication take Ritalin® (a psychostimulant). This drug appears to be very beneficial for many who take it. Though Ritalin® has received much bad press, it is actually a very effective form of treatment and is relatively safe. When Ritalin® does not work or there are contraindications for its use, other amphetamine drugs may be used. Also, antidepressants and beta blockers have proven to be effective with certain individuals. Medication is the most frequently employed treatment method for Attention Deficit Disorder. It is often employed along with psychological techniques such as behavior modification and patient/family education. Focus is a psychoeducational program that designed so that it can be used as either an adjunct or as an alternative to medication.

Diet and nutrition

Scientific research does not support the use of diet and nutrition in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder. At one time, the Feingold Diet was very popular and seen as an alternative to medication. The elimination of sweets may help some individuals to reduce the symptoms but is usually not sufficient to adequately control the symptoms. Common sense, however, would dictate that a good diet and nutrition are suggested for the well being of any individual.


One substance, L-Tyrosine, which is an amino acid (protein), has been demonstrated to be effective in some cases. This natural substance is used by the body to synthesize (produce) norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter) which is known to be elevated by the use of amphetamines. Many new "natural" products have been recently introduced into the market as "cures" for Attention Deficit Disorder.

Psychological treatment

Traditional child psychotherapy, such as play therapy or non-directive talking therapy, has not proven to be effective in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder nor has traditional family therapy. Providing individual psychotherapy for one or both of the parents also does not work. Research has demonstrated that modern psychological treatment methods, especially behavior modification, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation training can have a positive effect. In some studies, one or several of these techniques used in combination have proven to be as effective as medication in reducing Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms. Counseling alone is used not to provide treatment but to provide education for the child and the family to help them better understand the disorder and how to cope with it. Counseling may also be used to help build self-esteem that has been damaged as a result of having Attention Deficit Disorder.

Modern psychological treatment methods can result in actual changes in mental functioning When there are changes in mental functioning (how we think and process information) there are corresponding changes in brain function. Changes in brain function then results in changes in brain metabolism (how and where the brain is chemically active). Thus, mental functioning and brain chemistry can be altered without the use of medication. Even more important, some of the newer research indicates that changes in brain functioning with the resulting changes in brain chemistry, remain permanent over time. These studies emphasize the importance of using psychological methods in treating Attention Deficit Disorder either alone or in conjunction with medication. The ADD Focus Store has a number of items that can help ADD/ADHD children and teens improve their performance at school.


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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 30). Treatments for Attention Deficit Disorder Overview, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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