5 Ways I’m Managing My ADHD Naturally In The Adderall Shortage
If you’re not medicated for ADHD, you might not have heard of one of the latest supply chain challenges. The FDA declared an Adderall shortage in October, and it’s only getting worse.
A little while back, I went to renew my Adderall prescription. It’s not something I take every day, so it usually takes me at least a month or two between refills, but the pharmacy runs have felt pretty routine for years now. Until recently.
“We’re actually out.”
“You’re out of Adderall?”
“Yeah, there’s a huge shortage.”
“Do you know when you’ll get more in? I can come back later this week.”
“Nope, it could be months.”
The pharmacy actually closed shortly thereafter, and I was officially out of a prescription I’d been taking for years.
The rise of telehealth and digital prescribers has contributed to a huge uptick in diagnoses of and prescriptions for ADHD. What used to require several medical and behavioral evaluations can now be “diagnosed” through a questionnaire for anyone with the cash to pay. Some people think the drugs will make them more productive, and others are part of a growing self-diagnosis trend fueled by TikTok accounts that present normal personality traits as diagnostic criteria for things like ADHD and autism.
The shortage highlights another issue with ADHD management, and it predates TikTok: The U.S. is so focused on prescription solutions that our medical system hasn’t taught people to manage their symptoms without medication. This is important, not just because access to these medications can be fleeting, but also because there will be times in your life, like during pregnancy, when you shouldn’t be taking stimulants. Doctors also recommend “drug holidays” away from certain prescriptions to avoid using them as a crutch or becoming overly tolerant to your dose. If you’re finding yourself rationing (or if your meds just aren’t working like they used to), here are five stimulant-free ways to manage your symptoms:
1. Let Your Eyes Replace Your Memory
If you’ve grown up with ADHD, you probably lose track of things. If you can always remember the location of a hair tie you always trip over but forget you even own a pair of jeans the second they’re in your closet, it might be because seeing objects helps keep them in your short-term memory.
A lot of pop psychology claims this has to do with something called “object permanence,” but that’s largely a misused term. Object permanence is when a very young child thinks his mother literally disappeared when playing peekaboo, not being forgetful about wardrobe items. Still, keeping things where you can see them helps take a load off your memory. This can mean things like putting your skincare in a clear organizer instead of a makeup bag, keeping your shoes on a rack instead of in a bin, or even just storing your t-shirts standing up in the drawer so you can see them all at a glance. This also applies to nonphysical things like times and dates. If you want to keep your task list and schedule top of mind, keep them visible, like with a desk calendar or a second monitor.
Keeping things where you can see them helps take a load off your memory.
2. Simplify Your Wardrobe (and Your Belongings)
Getting ready used to feel like a treasure hunt. Only instead of finding treasure, I’d finally find the shirt I wanted to wear, dirty, in the laundry hamper, as I was distracted by a high school yearbook and now running late. Before you come for me, I’m not saying you have to go full Mark Zuckerberg. Simplifying your wardrobe doesn’t mean wearing the exact same pants and shirt every day, it just means making sure your pieces are more versatile so that getting dressed doesn’t lead you down a path prone to distracted side quests.
For me, this meant buying a giant pack of identical socks so I could stop trying to find ones that matched. I also tend to have seasonal “capsules,” timeless pieces that are all pretty much interchangeable to help getting out the door use as little brain power as possible. And I pretty much wear the same (seasonally appropriate) shoes every day, outside of special occasions.
This doesn’t just apply to clothes, though. Channel a small amount of your inner Marie Kondo to be honest about what you own that’s doing nothing for you but getting in the way.
3. Be High Maintenance So You Can Be Low Maintenance
With ADHD, it’s tough to just discipline your way to success, so you have to make productivity accidental. At its core, ADHD is your brain looking for stimulation. While the stereotype is a person who appears hyper-excited, the reality is that your brain isn’t getting the dopamine it’s looking for, so it’s rifling through things in your environment in search of that boost. This means that things you really don’t want to do can be extra hard when they require prep, so divide and conquer the not fun parts.
Here’s what I mean: If you want to work out in the morning, sleep in your running clothes. If you want to eat more fruits and veggies, cut them up way before you’re hungry so that they’re the easiest thing to reach for. Always forget to replace your trash bag? Store the roll underneath the bag you’re taking out. Use a sticky wallet on the back of your phone so you're never frantically looking for your wallet (or your purse) on the way out the door. Buy an extra toothbrush and make a morning bin and a nighttime bin for each routine. Put your bottle of vitamins on the Keurig so you have to move it to get to your coffee. Invest in some Bluetooth outlets so you can be sure your straightener is off once you’re already on the metro. Clip anything small you tend to lose (lip balm, nail clippers, etc.) onto your keychain. And hang that keychain on your inside door knob the second you get in the house. Who cares if it feels a little strange? Sometimes strange works.
4. Don’t Sleep on the Basics
Some of the most underrated things you can do to help your ADHD are totally slept on. Like, well, sleep. Studies show that a lack of sleep makes all the major symptoms of ADHD worse for a pretty intuitive reason. Remember what I said about your brain hunting around for happy hormones? That battle only gets harder when you’re tired because your executive functioning is impaired. We’re all used to getting grouchy on low sleep, but ADHD makes the battle even tougher since it affects your attention, hyperactivity, and impulse control (helloooo, binge eating).
A lack of sleep makes all the major symptoms of ADHD worse.
Other basics to focus on that play well with sleep hygiene include limiting caffeine (especially if you are taking a stimulant), getting in your exercise, and limiting your screen time. Doom-scrolling might feel like what your brain wants, but it’s just desensitizing you to stimuli even further.
5. Embrace Your Inner Bowling Ball
Every bad bowler needs bumpers. Building in guardrails and external cues is a great way to design a life that requires less active discipline. At work, consider volunteering to be the note-taker in meetings. It’ll give you something to do, but it’ll also give you greater incentive to be paying extra close attention since your coworkers will be expecting the meeting notes later. Similarly, if you work remotely, consider turning your camera on or offering to be the one to screen share. It’s much harder to leave your computer when you’re situationally forced to be actively engaged.
Outside of work, consider habit stacking, something experts call an “ADHD power tool." For habits you need to do regularly, stick them together like Legos, one by one. Maybe you put your retainer case on your pillow to force yourself to make your bed before taking it out in the morning. Maybe you run your dishwasher every time you bring back groceries, and later expand that habit stack to include a kitchen deep clean. Some external cues can be more subtle, like the research showing that wearing shoes indoors can trigger ADHD brains to feel like they’re in an “active” mode. Other guardrails could be associated with your specific ADHD struggles, like adding impulse buys to a wish list instead of your cart if you struggle with spending sprees (spoiler alert: You’ll probably forget to go back and buy them later).
Medication can be necessary for some people with ADHD, but it really should only be a part of a larger treatment plan. If you struggle with ADHD, the Adderall shortage is no joke, and is probably affecting your daily life. Whether you’re intentionally trying to get off your medication or just in a supply chain-induced drug holiday, it’s a great time to test out some brain hacks. Treatment for ADHD is situational, psychological, and chemical. If you’re only relying on your meds, you’re neglecting the majority of the tools in your arsenal.
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