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Monday, September 1, 2014
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Non-medication Options ADHD and Bipolar Disorder
My son is was diagnosed as bipolar a year ago and was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 10 years old. He is now a freshman in college and has stopped taking medication. Even though he has been identified as highly gifted,he is having difficulty staying on top of his studies and managing his moods but does not wish to go back on medication as he says it makes him feel "numb" What are his options? Is regular exercise beneficial?
First, please realize that I cannot tell you much about your son's options, specifically, without knowing him. However, I can address a few various options for some people who have both ADHD and bipolar disorder.
As a general rule we try to get bipolar disorder mood disturbances under control before addressing the ADHD because medications that help ADHD often, otherwise, worsen the bipolar symptoms. I mention this because there are more than a dozen medications for bipolar disorder and I wonder if your son has really been tried on everything possible. Although certainly possible, it is rare to not find some medicine combination that does not make one feel numb. It can take quite a while sometimes to get the right one, or combination, and the trials can be quite frustrating. Thus, it is common for many people to not have tried more than a couple of medicines before becoming fed up.
Of course, that may not be your son's case. If he has tried them all and still can't tolerate any, then the most important things he can do for himself are those things that relieve stress and build health. Well rounded meals, a regular schedule, plenty of sleep, rare or no alcohol, no recreational drugs, regular exercise, some form of meditation or relaxation therapy, and good social support all become VERY key in such cases. A good therapist can often help point folks in the right direction. He also might want to consider a support group, and might be able to find one through the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (see the link below).
I wish him the best. Life with any chronic illness is not easy but I have had many, many patients with a variety of chronic mental health concerns, many with ADHD plus bipolar disorder, who are happy, thriving and contributing wonderfully to their families and communities.
Susan Louisa Montauk, MD
Formerly Professor of Family Medicine
University of Cincinnati