11 Things NOT To Do If You Have ADHD


If you or your child are among the many millions of Americans with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), you know firsthand how challenging this neurodevelopmental disorder can be. ADD/ADHD brains can easily get overwhelmed with too much information. Your every day habits can either improve your focus and attention or make ADD/ADHD symptoms worse. One simple way to start managing the condition is to focus on what to stop doing. Here’s our list of behaviors to avoid, backed by research.


If you have ADD/ADHD, DON’T take someone else’s Adderall or Ritalin. Medication may be helpful for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone and can make some people worse. Click To Tweet


1. DON’T be a couch potato.

Based on the world’s largest database of brain SPECT imaging scans at Amen Clinics, ADD/ADHD is associated with low blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area involved in focus, impulse control, and forethought. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, which improves function in the PFC. Conversely, research shows that high levels of inactivity are associated with more inattention and hyperactivity problems. Amen Clinics has identified 7 types of ADHD/ADD, and exercise helps to improve symptoms for all types of this common condition. A 2020 study detailed the benefits of exercise for those with ADD/ADHD. It highlighted improvements in neurobehavioral functions such as impulsivity and hyperactivity, as well as improved attention and enhanced executive function on tasks. If you have ADD/ADHD, there’s no reason to be a couch potato and every reason to be active with physical exercise.

2. DON’T stay on your phone.

ADD/ADHD may be a significant risk factor for developing smartphone addiction, according to a 2019 study in the Annals of General Psychiatry, because those with the condition typically have low levels of dopamine and are wired for novelty seeking. Social media platforms, readily available on digital devices, offer an endless supply of new information and affirmation in the form of likes, comments, and engagement notifications. They are designed to activate the brain’s pleasure centers and release hits of dopamine, making them inherently addictive and particularly hard for those with ADD/ADHD to resist.

Problematic digital media use is associated with increased symptoms of ADD/ADHD. One 2020 study found that children with the condition who had problematic digital media use suffered from more severe core ADD/ADHD symptoms. For both children and adults with the condition, smartphone time should be limited.

3. DON’T eat a lot of refined carbs.

Consuming large amounts of sugary foods or refined carbohydrates spikes blood sugar levels, leading to a high and then a crash, which is associated with low moods. Consuming a western diet full of sugary sodas, candy, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, white bread, crackers, and pasta will exacerbate ADD/ADHD symptoms.

Maintaining healthy and stable blood sugar levels is key for managing symptoms. This can be achieved with balanced meals comprised of low-sugar whole fruits, vegetables, protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and fiber.

One study on diet and ADD/ADHD found that higher-protein, low-carbohydrate diets help to reduce symptoms. Quality protein such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts, are essential. Protein is especially good in the morning to make brain-awakening neurotransmitters, which help with focus and attention.

4. DON’T take someone else’s Adderall or Ritalin.

As mentioned earlier, ADD/ADHD is not a single or simple disorder; there are 7 different types. Medication may be helpful for some people with some types, but it doesn’t work for everyone and can make some people worse. In fact, taking someone else’s medication can have adverse effects, including making you feel anxious or irritable.

Unfortunately, one study in Brain and Behavior found that misuse of ADD/ADHD medications among those with the condition as well as nonaffected individuals is increasing and has been associated with serious dangers including psychosis, heart health issues, and even death.

5. DON’T skip your medication.

If you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and are taking medication successfully, don’t skip it or stop taking it. There’s a tendency to stop or take less if you start feeling better. Experts believe this may be due to the stigma around taking stimulant medication. Evidence in Current Psychiatry suggests that consistent medication treatment helps to ensure the best treatment outcomes for individuals with ADD/ADHD. If you are concerned about side effects from medication, consider also the emotional and financial side effects of not being effectively treated.

6. DON’T drink alcohol or smoke marijuana.

Alcohol and marijuana use is common among adolescents and adults with ADD/ADHD, according to many studies. One longitudinal Harvard study found that among participants with the condition, 32% developed some type of substance abuse problem.

Alcohol and pot-smoking lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is already low in people who struggle with this disorder. When you have ADD/ADHD and self-medicate with these substances, perhaps to calm your internal restlessness, it actually backfires by making symptoms worse over time.

The sobering truth is that alcohol consumption and marijuana use are not benign for neurotypical brains, and it’s even more of a liability to those with ADD/ADHD. If you have an alcohol or marijuana use problem, it must be dealt with in order to successfully treat your ADD/ADHD.

7. DON’T drink energy drinks.

Energy drinks are massively spiked with caffeine. In the short run, they may help you feel more focused. (Caffeine works on similar neurotransmitters in the brain as Ritalin and Adderall do.) But the effects are short-lived. When the caffeine wears off, it causes people to be irritable and sometimes more unfocused. Indeed, one research study found that heavy caffeine consumption is associated with increased ADD/ADHD symptoms and a lower sense of well-being.

Additionally, caffeine decreases cerebral blood flow, making ADD/ADHD symptoms worse over the long haul. Some experts believe caffeine decreases the effectiveness of nutraceuticals and medication (and sometimes increases the side effects of medication) used to treat ADD/ADHD.

8. DON’T let stresses stack up.

While some stress in life is good and necessary, repeated stressors piling up can lead to trouble. Chronic stress has been shown to cause hormonal and structural changes to the brain, affecting the brain’s ability to function. In Nature Neuroscience, researchers describe how stress impairs function in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is low in activity in those with ADD/ADHD.

Keep stress levels in check with relaxing activities like yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature. Following routines and systems can help reduce stress too by reducing the number of decisions you need to make and helping to regulate daily life.

9. DON’T skimp on sleep.

Sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances are common with ADD/ADHD and have been shown to worsen symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, according to research. Sleep is necessary for a number of restorative processes in the brain. Skimping on sleep disturbs these processes and decreases cerebral blood flow, which compromises brain function. Children and adults with ADD/ADHD need adequate sleep each night. Experts suggest that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep, teens 8-10, and younger children even more.

10. DON’T quit therapy.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, behavioral therapy is an important treatment component for kids with ADD/ADHD, particularly those who also exhibit oppositional behavior. Many children and adults find that therapy helps them acquire behavioral, social, and academic skills that help them manage ADD/ADHD across their lifespan. Yet, after seeing improvements, some people stop going to therapy, which can cause symptoms to rebound. Don’t quit therapy too soon.

11. DON’T ever give up hope.

You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better. And with a better brain, you can better manage ADD/ADHD symptoms. The work conducted at Amen Clinics shows that when treatments are targeted to an individual’s ADD/ADHD type, people get dramatically better. The hopeful news is that with the proper diagnosis and treatment, you or your child can feel better!

ADD/ADHD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. A very timely article for my family. Dr. Amen your staff/clinic was a gift to us. It was years ago and when your programs were unknown to many . I’ve often used your information professionally and personally helping others. ANTS, your studies of kids in middle school, hugely increased knowledge about our brains and strategies for smoothing the bumps in the road when ADD/ADHD is a part of life. Thank you to you and your staff.

    Comment by Berniece Thornton — November 30, 2022 @ 4:17 AM

  2. Have a 26 yr old son who had been diagnosed is ADD as a child. Now as an adult, he has learned to manage it (no meds for years now) but, is addicted to vaping and mar…..for years now. What possible damaged has this caused?

    Comment by Al — November 30, 2022 @ 4:38 AM

  3. I have had adhd all of my 75 years. I consider it a gift. I am curious and do a lot of research. I have two professional jobs. I am quite happy.

    Comment by Sue Ferris — November 30, 2022 @ 5:21 AM

  4. I was born I 1955 and labeled as not being normal.in truth I had HDHD.in my Teens I started "self medicating" I tried many substances to excess but always came back to myself without developing an addiction. Now I have been on Anti depressants for many years(since my late 30s) my children were also affected ,my youngest especially. I've researched my condition .If I was younger and richer I would love to delve further into my condition. I feel mY life marriage and being a mother were definitely hindered by my condition!!!! I'm grateful that our children can be diagnosed these Days and not being labeled as crazy

    Comment by Christa Melesky — November 30, 2022 @ 6:08 AM

  5. I found this article very helpful…..
    I have had a severe concussion two years ago… then a couple of weeks ago got a hit to the head…ugh…. Am seeing an excellent concussion Dr….. your articles have been quite helpful. What I am having difficulty with is finding a counselor that takes Medicare. Plan to check in with my insurance folks today. Thank you for your emails…
    Most sincerely,

    Comment by Dot Wilson — November 30, 2022 @ 7:12 AM

  6. It is all fine suggestions if you take medication or get therapy. Diet is very important and being organized to a fault is the other thing that is important. A family member or other person should help with this and encouragement should be given all the time.

    Comment by Deade — November 30, 2022 @ 7:12 AM

  7. I was diagnosed with ADHD back in 2019 and once I discovered I had it I was relieved because I kept going to therapy & had realized I was going to be ok. I had switched my psychotropic medication as well & that was helpful too. I discovered I was not the only person to have ADHD. I’m thankful for mental health & all it’s helpful information. Life is good.

    Comment by Kim Clark — November 30, 2022 @ 11:25 AM

  8. wonderful article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 18, 2023 @ 5:56 PM

  9. I was diagnosed with adhd at birth (I’m 14 now) and I wish I had the money to help me cope with it. I have poor memory and I forget things a lot. My grades are suffering because of this small problem, and when I tell my parents or siblings I forgot. They get mad and yell at me saying it’s an excuse. This has been a help thank you 🙂

    Comment by Jazlyn — November 30, 2023 @ 9:02 AM

  10. Shouldn't there be a clear simple list of "Do's and Don'ts" for parents who have Children with ADHD Symptoms. I say this because there seems to be a lot of confusing attempts to help with this problem as a lot of parents do not realise that there are several variations of adhd and each may need to be treated differently.

    Comment by Vasi Govender — January 21, 2024 @ 1:19 AM

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