How to Manage ADHD without Drugs

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common type of behavioral disorder, affecting approximately 3–10% of children and adolescents aged 18 and younger.1-3 Although prevalence usually declines with age, up to 65% of hyperactive children are still symptomatic as adults.

ADHD is a complex psychiatric disorder characterized by a limited attention span, impulsivity, and over-activity. There are actually three disease categories for ADHD:

  1. Predominantly inattentive.
  2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive.
  3. Equally expressed or combined.
We know that genetic and environmental factors can play a significant role in ADHD’s development.4,5 but the root causes are still unclear. Even though most studies on environmental factors have found an association with ADHD, no solid evidence that these influences actually cause the disorder has been found.

Medical Treatment Uses Dangerous Stimulants

Many questions remain regarding the best treatment practices for ADHD. Treatment usually includes parental education, appropriate school placement, and last but not least, drugs.

The class of drug used to treat ADHD is psychostimulants; however, antidepressants and alpha-receptor antagonists are also used. Regardless of the drug, side effects are a real concern for parents and adults who are taking these medications.

For example, here’s a list of reported common side effects associated with Ritalin® courtesy of Drugs.com6:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble sleeping
Non-stimulants have recently been introduced into the market to treat ADHD but mostly for adults. And although it’s true that they have fewer side effects, it’s also true that they typically don’t work as well.

There are other options for treating ADHD though. Below we’ll take a look at one of those options.

Optimize DHEA & Pregnenolone Blood Levels to Manage ADHD

Steroid hormones play a significant role in several cognitive disorders like ADHD. Two hormones in particular are DHEA and pregnenolone. Researchers have actually found that these two hormones are chronically low in children and young adults with ADHD especially when it comes to hyperactivity.7

Results of a study conducted on 29 young men suffering from ADHD found significant associations between clinical symptoms and low hormone blood levels. However, the differences were more prominent in the less severe cases of ADHD.7

In particular, DHEA blood levels correlate well to hyperactivity. The authors found that the lower the blood level of DHEA, the more hyperactive the symptoms. The good news here is that both pregnenolone and DHEA are available over-the-counter at reasonable prices.

ADHD: Low Hormones Could be the Problem

It makes sense that hormones like DHEA and pregnenolone are associated with ADHD. Hormones, in general, are the body’s messengers, and when they aren’t around, many systems suffer. Based on this premise, here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you have ADHD, get a hormone blood test that includes DHEA and pregnenolone.
  2. Speak with your doctor about appropriate reference ranges for both hormones.
  3. If your blood levels are low, start replacing each hormone with a daily supplement.
  4. Complete follow-up testing of all of your hormones and make adjustments to dosing as necessary with the help of your doctor).

Have you or a loved one struggled with ADHD? If so, what — if anything — has helped?


  1. JAMA. 1998 Apr 8;279(14):1100-7.
  2. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999 Jun;38(6):716-22.
  3. Med Ref Serv Q. 2001 Fall;20(3):31-44.
  4. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1998 Jan;39(1):65-99.
  5. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1995 Jun;52(6):464-70.
  7. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2001 Sep;4(3):259-64.


Press said...

For the record, this is not drug free, this is replacement therapy. While this article is helpful in highlighting the importance of these steroid hormones, there is nothing here on how to support the body's own ability to produce normal/optimal levels of DHEA and Pregnenolone. To simply replace your own DHEA/Pregnenolone does not solve the underlying imbalance in your body.

Life Extension said...

Thanks for your insight and you're absolutely right! Our goal was to highlight the association between low steroid hormones and ADHD. And replacing them , if low, could be very helpful. But are there other nutritional things to do? Yes.

Doc Pressman said...

Really great article. I was the lead on the study that discovered Faux ADHD(link to the abstract is We found the potential of misdiagnosis of several million US children.

The book Goodnights Now ( describes a method of treating the large majority of children who are demonstrating ADHD behavior and are either co-sleeping or having irregular bedtimes. We believe that the lack of self regulation in both cases, produces the temporary (FAUX) ADHD.

Daria Tarrant said...

I use coffee and other stimulants to replace the drugs for ADHD as I have the book ADHD Without Drugs on my Kobo Touch. I can't remember who wrote it but I know it is a qualified MD who specializes in ADHD its all natural and its for children but I've been using it since I was a teenager and they said that I no longer needed to be on my meds but I still found that I needed to concentrate in school.

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