I Beat Adderall. So Can You!
Welcome to Adderall Alternatives. Need help with focus and attention, but without the side effects of Adderall? You have come to the right place!
I have personally used Adderall for extended periods of time during my early 20’s. Adderall helped my ADHD, but came at the cost of dependence. I have finally broken this cycle, and am happy to share Adderall alternatives that can increase your focus and attention. Keep reading and you will learn about Adderall alternatives that actually work.
What are the adderall alternatives?
But first, lets understand the basics…
How does Adderall increase alertness and productivity? The active ingredient in Adderall is amphetamine. Amphetamines work by increasing the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain (see illustration). While the exact mechanism is unknown, amphetamines are thought to work by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters that regulate focus and attention. In a nutshell, Adderall keeps the neurotransmitters in your synapses longer by blocking their re-uptake, thus improving focus and attention.
Adderall Use Affects the Brain
Adderall contains amphetamines, and amphetamines are classified as stimulants because they stimulate our central nervous system (CNS). Generally speaking, stimulants work to increase concentration and energy levels, and decrease appetite and our need for sleep. While these benefits sound great, they come with both a short and long-term cost.
Adderall works to increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. These are messengers in the brain’s reward and motivation pathways, and they are responsible for the regulation of emotions, and feelings of pleasure. Under to the influence of Adderall, the brain senses that there are enough neurotransmitters present and stops producing them, thereby altering the brain’s natural reward circuitry. The more often Adderall is taken, the more ingrained these changes become. A tolerance to the drug forms, and more Adderall is needed in order to feel the same initial effects.
Someone who is dependent on Adderall may have trouble sleeping, concentrating, notice a lack of motivation, feel depressed, irritable, lethargic, or fatigued when the effects of Adderall wear off. Aggression and suicidal thoughts or behaviors may also be more prevalent in those abusing an amphetamine drug such as Adderall.
A break after extended Adderall use can result in severe withdrawal symptoms which is usually emotionally taxing. Long term Adderall use decreases the brain’s ability to naturally produce neurotransmitters, and while the brain tries to regain homeostasis, feelings of low mood and depression can be experienced. Logically, the more extensively Adderall is used, the more pronounced the mood swings may be when it is removed from the body. Fortunately, most of these changes in the brain will likely be repaired over time with sustained abstinence and proper care and support.
From personal experience, I can tell you that stopping Adderall use is not easy. But, the truth is that humans have been surviving and thriving long before Adderall, and you too can continue to thrive after stopping Adderall use. After experiencing negative effects with my personal relationships and my health, and a realization that building willpower the hard way is more satisfying and sustainable, I made the conscious choice to find Adderall alternatives. While the transition has been full of struggles, my life now feels more meaningful than ever before.
Images Courtesy of www.addictionblog.org
Modafinil: Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting agent that is slowly earning a reputation for its off-label use an an alternative to adderall. Out of everything I have tried as pharmaceutical adderall alternatives, Modafinil is the best overall. Even the scientific community has some unusually strong support for it. For example, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Oxford University (Battleday and Brem, 2015) wrote that “modafinil may well deserve the title of the first well-validated pharmaceutical ‘nootropic’ agent”. For more information read this article on Modafinil Benefits.
Amphetamines: Amphetamines are a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used in the treatment of ADD/ADHD, narcolepsy, obesity, and are prescribed for other uses at the discretion of a medical professional. Amphetamines exist in two major forms: dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Different drugs in this class contain different ratios of dextroamphtamine and levoamphetamine. Adderall, for example, contains 25% levoamphetamine salts and 75% dextroamphetamine salts.
Methylphenidate: Methylphenidate, like amphetamines, are a central nervous system stimulant and are used in the treatment of ADD/ADHD, and narcolepsy. Although methylphenidate exists in 4 forms, only d-threo-methylphenidate is pharmacologically useful. Different drugs in this class contain different concentrations of methylphenidate, binders, and delivery mechanisms (tablet, gelcap, liquid, etc).
|Common Name||Family||Type||Prescribed For|
|Modafinil||Afinil||Eugeroic||Narcolepsy, Shift Work Sleep Disorder, Sleep Apnea, ADHD|
|Vyvanse||Amphetamine||Stimulant||ADHD, Binge Eating Disorder|
|Clonidine||Hypotensive agent||Non-stimulant||ADHD, Cancer Pain|
|Guanfacine||Antihypertensive||Non-stimulant||Blood Pressure, ADHD|
|Metadate ER/CD||Methylphenidate||Stimulant||ADHD, Narcolepsy|
Nootropics: BRAIN ENHANCERS
Nootropics or ‘cognitive enhancers’ are compounds, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function. Nootropics can help improve executive function, memory, creativity, and motivation. In simple words, they are brain boosters and are great potential Adderall alternatives. At first, I thought that these substances were all hype and new-age gibberish without much merit. I was wrong. Yes, nootropics are popular these days, but in reality the merits of these compounds have been known for a long time. For example, l-theanine, is a natural ingredient in tea which promotes relaxation. The Chinese have been drinking tea since ancient times. And, the Koreans have been growing ginseng for its stress reducing and immunity-boosting medicinal value for centuries.
Similarly, I found extensive scientific evidence that the Indian herb, bacopa monnieri, is beneficial for memory. Bacopa is at least as old as Ayurveda. I have been a coffee drinker for most of my adult life. The caffeine in coffee certainly helps me with focus and attention. But, the combination of l-theanine and caffeine gives me a relaxed alertness which is many times more effective than either compound alone (thank you reddit nootropics group!). Lastly, I use creatine to boost my strength training regime. Turns out creatine is also one of the most underrated nootropics and can increase brain energy capacity. I am pretty certain that one or more of these compounds can help you, and here are the products that I personally use and recommend.
Caffeine + L-theanine
Korean Red Ginseng
by BulkSupplements [Dealfisher]
Food For Thought
Diet is a tremendous part of the battle against ADHD. Eating clean, wholesome foods goes a long way in today’s culture of processed fast foods and frozen entrees. Have you ever noticed how your emotions change drastically after certain meals and not after others? Do you ever wonder why that is? Sometimes it is difficult for us to pinpoint why we feel a certain way when we do, but one thing is certain – what you eat has a huge impact on how you feel. Not only that, but diet has a tremendous impact on how you think and how well you are able to focus. Wholesome, nutritious diets coupled with nootropics make for great adderall alternatives. Remember the old adage “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”
Foods to Eat
Wholesome, nutritious diets coupled with nootropics make for great adderall alternatives. Unlike simple sugars which cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to change quickly and lead to destabilizing emotional states, complex carbohydrates can provide clean, even energy levels throughout the day. Read more about the benefits of incorporating complex carbohydrates in your diet from Dr. Sandy Newmark, M.D.
Protein provides us with amino acids, the building blocks of our DNA. According to ADHD specialist and integrative dietician Elizabeth Strickland, “protein is extremely critical… Protein provides amino acids used to make neurotransmitters for the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. These chemical messengers control mood and concentration.”
Caffeine, like Adderall, is a stimulant. However, caffeine is less potent and has minimal side effects in comparison. Studies have shown that small amounts of caffeine can improve concentration and attention. From personal experience, I can vouch for caffeine’s effectiveness as a healthy substitute for those who are trying to wean off Adderall. It certainly helped me through my journey. My favorite is a combination of caffeine and l-theanine.
Leaves and Roots
Did you know that leaves from the Ginkgo Biloba tree and Korean Red Ginseng root have been shown to be effective adderall alternatives with minimal side effects? Check out research on how ginkgo biloba may be a good alternative. Korean red ginseng has been shown to reduce reduce inattentiveness in children with ADHD. If you are an Amazon shopper, check out this post on the Top 5 authentic Korean Red Ginseng supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart, and also your brain since the protective layer around the nerves of the brain and spinal cord are primarily made of fatty acids. So why is this relevant to ADD/ADHD? Research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids are effective at treating ADHD in children and help reduce ADHD symptoms.
Foods to Avoid
Topping the list of foods that have been connected to worsening ADD/ADHD symptoms is sugar. Eating sugar spikes insulin in our bloodstream, leading to a release of adrenaline and a large flucatuation in blood sugar levels which can destabilize your mood and cause aggression and cravings. Things like high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and raw sugar act in similar ways on your body and brain, and should be avoided.
It is no secret that various food additives and chemical preservatives have been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children. According to Strickland, “Manmade artificial chemicals such as food coloring, flavors, and preservatives are toxins that your body has to remove,” and contribute to worsening ADD/ADHD symtoms. Try to avoid foods with a laundry list of ingredients on the back of the package.
Did you know that aerobic exercises can help boost neurotransmitter production? It can also help with neurogenesis (brain cell growth) and can help improve executive function. Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School advises us to “think of exercise as a medication.” Dr. Ratey says that for a small handful of people with attention deficit disorder, exercise may be able to replace medication entirely. For the vast majority he strongly recommends incorporating exercise in addition to taking meds to help improve mood and increase attention.
In his recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. Ratey highlights that “Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention”. He further writes that “On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.” Animal studies have also shown that that exercise reduces learned helplessness and if we are aerobically fit, we are less likely to learn helplessness.
So how does physical exercise work? When you do physical exercise such as walking, running and bodyweight exercises, your brain releases several important chemicals including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – the same chemicals that adderall increases in the brain. As previously mentioned in our section on ‘How Adderall works’ – these chemicals help stabilize and regulate mood, pleasure, pain, focus, and attention. Dr. Ratey states “When you increase dopamine levels, you increase the attention system’s ability to be regular and consistent, which has many good effects,” including reducing the craving for stimuli and increasing alertness. Surprisingly, Dr. Ratey says that walking for 30 minutes, four times a week is enough to do the trick.
Some schools in Colorado even use aerobic exercise as a form of time-out in the classroom. One school gives students who act up in class, 10 minutes of activity on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer as a ‘time-in.’ Students eventually realize that they can regulate their own mood and attention through exercise. For more information on these helpful suggestions by Dr. Ratey, please visit http://www.johnratey.com/
As someone who has personally battled ADHD for over a decade, I can vouch for how effective physical exercise has been for me in my battle against attention deficit disorder. I regularly swim and do basic weight-training, and the consistency has led to massive gains in my ability to focus.
One of the top suggestions for non-medication Adderall alternatives is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps people increase awareness of their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and has been shown to be an effective way to increase focus and attention in people suffering from ADD/ADHD. One of the foremost experts in the field, and a founding member of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Dr. Lidia Zylowsky M.D. and her colleagues have extensively
researched the effectiveness of mindfulness training on normal people as well as those suffering from ADD/ADHD. Their results show remarkable improvements in focus, attention, and mental health. Mindfulness meditation is remarkably simple and at its core involves only two main steps:
1) Focusing on the present moment, and
2) Having an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance (non-judgement)
Meditation has become a big part of my life. Not only does it decrease the noise in my head, but also instills an overall sense of well-being and inner confidence. I highly recommend listening to this audio session and trying it for yourself!
So far we have covered other medications, supplements, diet, exercise, and meditation as effective adderall alternatives. Now it is time to discuss cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Although traditionally used to fight anxiety and depression, CBT has recently been studied for its potential to help change irrational thought patterns associated with ADD/ADHD. Most people who suffer from ADD have issues with organization skills, planning and time management. CBT offers strategies and techniques to help people address these issues. Learn more about the potential of CBT to treat ADD/ADHD.
FURTHER RESOURCES ON ADHD
National Institutes of Health
New York Times- A Natural Fix for ADHD
Alternative treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Results from the largest treatment study of ADHD ever conducted (Rabiner, PhD)
Center for Disease Control: ADHD
Behavioral Treatments for Kids With ADHD
Treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: overview of the evidence.