Treating ADHD in Adults Through Trial and Error
Successfully treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults involves a lot of trial and error. Though I wish that choosing the best ADHD treatments were a simple one-off, finding the right medication, therapy, and coping skills requires perseverance and adaptability. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Unfortunately, this process is often counterintuitive for those with ADHD, so I will provide a few tips for coming to terms with the day-to-day necessity of trial and error for successfully treating ADHD in adults.
Tips for Treating ADHD in Adults
Be Willing to Fail
Errors are an essential component of any scientific endeavor, including methodically finding the best treatment for you. You must be willing to make mistakes and face short-term difficulties to discover a good long-term solution. For example, you might have to test a variety of ADHD medication options before finding a decent match. This involves keeping track of when you take the medication, dosages, and any side effects.1 It is not always a pleasant process.
The “error” aspect of trial and error is particularly difficult when treating ADHD in adults. Rejection sensitive dysphoria and general emotionality make our perception of failure especially painful. On top of that, perhaps surprisingly, ADHD often coincides with perfectionism and anxiety. Our poor executive functions can lead to obsessiveness and cognitive inflexibility. Instead of seeing many options, we view the world through a black and white lens.
It is important to fight against these urges and take a step back if you're an adult being treated for ADHD. Give yourself space. Imperfection is a part of life, not the end of it. You probably have more resources than you realize. When people with ADHD get a notion in their head, they sometimes go on research binges. The good side of this obsessiveness is that you can track down unexpected tools and methods that work for you, whether it is exercises for remaining patient, distractions during a bad day, or medication tracking systems.
Take Small Steps and Be Consistent
Something else ADHDers struggle with is consistency, which is key to accurately evaluating what works for you. In my video about ADHD and sleep problems, I point out that consistency often takes place over a long period of time rather than a few days. It takes persistence. Strive for accuracy but expect imperfection. Do not be afraid when medications or treatment methods do not immediately work. You can almost always try different treatments later.
To counter black-and-white thinking, do not expect to change everything in one day. Instead, celebrate your small steps and take things one task at a time. Yes, this can all be tedious. But acknowledging the importance of trial and error can result in an increased confidence and sense of agency. It may seem hard and overwhelming, and it is completely acceptable to feel that way. It does not mean that treating ADHD in adults is impossible.
- ADDitude. Larry Silver. ADHD Medications Rarely Work Perfectly On the First Try.
- The A.D.D. Resource Center. David Rabiner. An Innovative Approach for Helping ‘Explosive & Inflexible Children’.
- Understood. ADHD and Perfectionism: What You Need to Know.
- Edge Foundation. 8 ways to combat ADHD Perfectionism.
Matteson, N. (2018, March 6). Treating ADHD in Adults Through Trial and Error, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/03/treating-adhd-through-trial-and-error
Author: Noelle Matteson
I agree that failure is necessary for finding solutions. You shouldn't be discourage if certain treatment isn't working for you. It can just allow you to find something else that will.
I agree, Gary. It's hard to stop yourself from getting discouraged, but I think it's important to not throw out all treatment because of that. You're right in that it's really part of the process to something better. Thanks for your comment!
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