Medications vs. Non-Pharm Alternatives

Educated Opinions
Informing personal CHOICE

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Non-Pharm Alternatives Series

Expanding a Comment

The genesis for this article is my response to a comment left on an earlier article, my first on a recently new non-pharmaceutical alternative claiming wonderful improvements to the brain’s Executive Functioning: entitled  Neuroflexyn: BUYER BEWARE.

By the way, I’m still reserving judgment on the value of Neuroflexyn until I’ve been able to give it a solid one month trial, as promised. Life events interrupted my trial after two weeks, so I plan to begin anew before reporting my experience. Meanwhile, my jury’s still out.

Why expand a response to a comment on an earlier article?

Since my articles tend to be lengthy, I know that many of you seldom read the comments – especially since,  at times, some of my replies seem almost as long as the original posts.

I believe that the particular point I was making subtly in one particular response to a comment cannot be stressed too often, so I have decided to expand it into a blog post of its own, quite a bit more overtly.

Demonizing is Dumb

As I continue to affirm, I believe it is a big mistake to demonize pharmaceutical approaches OR non-pharmaceutical alternatives simply because they didn’t work for us personally.

People are different and brains are different – and each of us has the right and responsibility to decide for ourselves what we will or will not ingest.

Even worse, I hate to see articles voicing strong disapproval or pronouncing one or more substances — from either side of the pharmaceutical fence — wrong or morally culpable (i.e., demonizing), primarily because the writer hasn’t really investigated them.

In my extensive experience, the nay-sayers are usually reacting out of confirmation bias or after a quick read of an article or several found in the popular press (RARELY complete or accurate anymore).

  • As I have always said to my clients and students, you can’t trust the popular press for information about anything as important as your health.
  • Once instruments of journalistic integrity in the information business, print publications are now in the entertainment, sales and marketing business, for the most part.
  • Desperate to keep their doors open in the face of increasing internet competition, reporters and editors are pressured by publishers and backers to increase readership as they reduce the length of the articles themselves. “The non-reading public” wants it down and dirty. Sensationalism sells.
  • Television “news” is even worse. Apparently trying to be all things to all people in the ratings race, each “story” seems little more than a collection of soundbites, strung like beads on a “Now, let’s cut to the next little tidbit” necklace.
  • AND THEN there is the internet – where it is sometimes difficult to tell fact from fiction, “internet marketing” from “used car sales,” editorial opinion from fact.

How ARE we to sift through the “information” glut to determine what will be best for our own health and that of our families?

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Trying to figure out what works

For my own challenges, I have found more than a few substances and approaches to be helpful to one degree or another, some to be effectively worthless, and some to have side effects that weren’t worth tolerating for the minimal positive change I received.

Other individuals, even those with a mix of symptoms similar to my own, report that they respond in the same manner, but to a different mix of substances and approaches.

Let me take a moment to remind everyone that ANY substance can result in side effects (effects that are not the reason one is taking the medication – not necessarily “bad effects”) – EVEN those that were not created by a pharmaceutical company.

We still don’t know enough about the brain to know exactly which areas to target to ameliorate which symptoms.

Even if specifically targeted medications and approaches had been developed, tested and available (which is not the case at this point), there remains the issue of the brain’s connectivity to consider.

  • Not only are there more than a few isolated areas that can, when working atypically, produce and contribute to similar symptoms, the way in which they work together can be atypical.
  • For now, and until there is some sort of “cure” or long term “solution,” each of us must conduct our own “one rat studies” to figure out what works best for us.

So far, prescription psychostims have supplied the best relief for the greatest number of my own challenges.

Individuals who are not, for one reason or another, what doctors refer to as “medication responders” have no choice but to use one or a combination of several of the non-pharmaceutical alternatives.

Some individuals have made a personal CHOICE not to take prescription medication to help them deal with their ADD symptoms – which is a personal choice I believe we each must honor, whether or not we agree personally.

Still others, unfortunately, have allowed themselves to be frightened away from prescription medication, so they haven’t really made a choice at all.

What I want for everyone reading is to investigate with an open mind, then make a choice of what to try first – and to keep trying until you reach Optimal Functioning.  “Good enough” functioning really isn’t good ENOUGH!

So why am I still looking?

That’s a fair question.  If I’m as happy with my personal pharmaceutical approach as I claim, and I am as convinced of its safety as I seem to be, why do I continue to investigate non-pharmaceutical alternatives?

Because taking Scheduled Medication is a PAIN in the Patootie!

I continue to investigate alternatives, NOT because I am fearful of the enormously effective medication I have safely taken for about twenty years now, but because it is such a hassle for those of us with EFD challenges to jump through the monthly hoops to remain consistently medicated.  If I could find a non-medical alternative that worked as well, I would not hesitate to jump at the chance to avoid the hassle.

It is even more of a pain in the A$$ when we must jump through those hoops UNmedicated. 

How come? Because the truly lousy fit between ADD/EFD challenges and DEA rules and regulations results in a day or several (during more than a few months every year) when many of us run out of meds before we can get our new prescription filled.

Many of you who are reading have experienced the medication-go-round personally.
I can almost see you nodding your heads already.

Before I describe it in a bit of detail for those of you who are not familiar with the struggles of staying medicated, lets take a quick look at what the DEA (the United States Drug Enforcement Administration) has to say about the classification of the first-line ADD medications: the psychostimulants.

Schedule II Drugs and Medications

Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs**, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.

**For example: heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote
are all Schedule I drugs

Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:

Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, methamphetamine, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin

Why I am still looking

Worth repeating: I continue to investigate alternatives . . .

NOT because I am dissatisfied with the prescription medication I have taken safely for about twenty years now . . .

BUT because it is such a hassle for those of us with EFD challenges to jump through the monthly hoops to remain medicated when our medication is on the controlled substance list as Schedule II medications  . . .

AND it’s even more of a pain in the A$$ when we must jump through them UNmedicated.

  • We must get a new monthly prescription written by our doctor or psychopharmacologist twelve times a year, pick it up (or hope it makes it through the mail), and take it to the pharmacy in person. BY LAW, Scheduled medication prescriptions can’t be called in or faxed.  
  • We can’t get it more often than once a month – no back up supply is possible.  THAT MEANS we can’t  begin to jump through next month’s hoops until this month’s medication is practically exhausted.
  • Our pharmacies are NOT wonderful about keeping it in stock – so we either have to wait and hope they’ll get it in quickly, or drive from pharmacy to pharmacy to try to find a drug store that has enough of the type of medication we take on hand to fill our prescription before we run out.

Like most people who take medication for other reasons, those of us who take ADD medication need to take it.  Every single day.

The degradation of my personal functioning
when I run out of medication is dramatic! 

Anyone who knows me personally will attest to the fact that, medicated, I am practically a genius compared to the dunce I appear to be unmedicated.

As I told you in an article I wrote several years ago, Anger and Advocacy, if you think I might be overreacting, you haven’t been paying close enough attention to recent ADD medication dynamics.

  • Are you aware of the problems that many unmedicated ADDers have been facing getting their prescriptions filled because of medication shortages?
  • Are you aware that part of the reason for shortages is the way “controlled substances” are controlledBY LAW? If drug manufacturers underestimate demand (in a population that continues to expand), except in instances of declared emergency, they cannot make-up for shortages by producing more – at least, not until the following year.

20 years ago we called it “October panic.” It’s b-a-a-c-k.

Anybody else see a problem with current approaches?

Our lawmakers don’t. It’s not THEIR lives they’re disabling – that suddenly become difficult to impossible to manage effectively, every single time the supplies of OUR medications are inadequate.

Surely, if they’d think about it, there’s a way to protect drug abusers from themselves without disabling those who need the medications to function, not to party!

Don’t forget: the most effective PAIN medications are also controlled substances – so make SURE nobody you love needs them as the year draws to a close. You might not be able to locate a pharmacy that can GET any.

But WAIT – there’s more . . .

  • Are you aware that — recently signed into law – medications imported for personal use may now be confiscated and destroyed? Yep. No more running to Canada or Mexico to save money – OR to get medication unavailable here in the US because of shortages.

Some Background – U.S. Policy on Drug Importation and The Letter (and Spirit) of Drug Import Law; check back or sign up for notification to read more on the recent change in the laws here on

What else might work?

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I did find neurofeedback helpful in some respects (more so in combination with medication), but not lasting, as often reported in articles attempting to position it as a “better” alternative to medication.

I have received a bit of help for a few of my symptoms on some of what I have nicknamed “the non-pharm cocktails” – meaning some of the more popular brain supplements with a large number of ingredients in one supplement bottle (for example, Focus Factor).

The main problem with those is that, in more than a few of these formulations, many of their ingredients do not even reach the brain, flushed from the body in the usual manner.

In subsequent articles on “non-pharms” I’ll share more detailand I hope you’ll leave your “one rat studies” in the comments section.

The more we share our experiences with one another, the more likely that more of us will find a way to be able to experience “lives worth living” (congruent with our levels of intelligence, education, personal desires, drive and initiative). We seem to be our best shot!

Right now, sadly, the ADD field seems to be going “backwards” again:

  • Books published claiming that ADD doesn’t exist by supposedly “credible” sources (with far too few people stepping up to discount their opinions presented as fact);
  • Media scare tactics and DEA policies making it difficult for ADD/EFDers to remain medicated with first-line ADD medications (stims), or even to find a doctor willing to give controlled medication a trial, seeming to care more about protecting the lives of potential abusers (and their own medical licenses) than the lives of many who are struggling needlessly;
  • ADD/EFD diagnosis more difficult to obtain as fewer “doctors down the street” understand enough to do a proper differential dx or medicate effectively;
  • “ADD” coaches trained to favor ICF-approved neurotypical approaches and ADD organizations jumping on that bandwagon, etc., etc., etc.

Who knows? Maybe if those of us with Executive Functioning struggles would flood the net with comments sharing our struggles and attempts at solution, science might even decide to stop demonizing “anecdotal report” and begin to use our information to begin solve this complex puzzle and get out of their confirmation bias boxes.

But then, of course, more of us would have to take the time to comment. I am so grateful to ALL of you who have taken the time to ring in as part of the solution.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

12 Responses to Medications vs. Non-Pharm Alternatives

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  5. wendy says:

    Oh honey I could go on and on about medications and me.
    Beth mentioned Lithium…it may be great for bipolar, but, it pretty much killed my thyroid.

    I’m not in a state where marijuana is legal, but my doctor suggested it, not for my moods but for the vomiting from the vertigo, and to calm me during an attack to possibly help it . I can say, I do not throw up during an attack. I don’t smoke it. I have a vaporizer. I may be getting some in my resporitory system, but strangely my asthma has gotten so much better since using it I am off all of my asthma meds (I was on 3 daily meds). I also have a tincture of it that you put drops under the tongue, I use it for pain, it lasts a bit longer, but it doesn’t start working as fast so it doesn’t work as well for the vomiting. I can’t use opiates so it is very hard for me to control pain.

    I do not use it daily. Yes I could use it in food, but you can’t really just use it in your baked goods, you need to make it into a butter…get the oils out and use that, before using it that way. I really wish I could get it by prescription so I would know the strain all the time (different strains are better for different things and different strains are not as sedating…one strain called Charlotte’s Web doesn’t get you high, it is just for pain…I’d love that) To be able to get it under controlled conditions would be ideal. Right now it’s very difficult as I never know what I may be getting, so I do not know how to dose it out from each time I get a “refill”.

    I have had a hard time getting refills from my 90 day pharmacy for my mood stabilizer Lamictal. They are late often. It has been ridiculous.

    I’m on Valium for vertigo. I do not take it daily, only as needed, but some months I need much more than other months. By that I mean, some times I don’t take any for days, then I’ll need 4 a day for a few days sometimes. The way I take it I am much less likely to get addicted actually. But often a doctor will only write a script for 30 a month. Well sometimes I need more, sometimes less. I feel I have to stock pile it, and that is horrible.

    Much like I do my migraine meds that I can only get a certain amount each month too. (I do think Benzodiazepines are dangerous if you take them every day for an extended period, taking them for anxiety often doesn’t work well because you keep needing more and more for them to keep working and then you get addicted. I was on Clonazapam for a while and know several people who have been on them for a long time and I’ve found they can get nasty. but the way I take Valium (diazapam) now, is not addictive. It’s a low dose and I go many days where I do not take it.)

    My psych drugs often work for just so long and then they stop working. (same with my migraine meds) then they have to change them. I know now they are looking at me and scratching their heads as what to try next. That scares me. I’ve been stable for most of 20 years. I do not want to go back to the ups and downs of bipolar. I do find that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction helps me a lot, however, I am not proficient in it and need a lot more practice. 🙂

    Yes I agree diet is HUGE.
    Gluten free makes me feel better and finding out I have other food issues has made a big difference too.

    I have a limited amount of exercise I can do…as you know, but I try…and I think it helps, if for no other reason, it makes me feel good about myself because I am able to do more.
    I am huge on taking care of me first…I don’t believe I should leave my life in the hands of doctors.

    I do take supplements I think help. Since I can’t get enough sunlight, I take more Vitamin D3. I also get B12 shots…I really think that helps my moods. and I take a supplement that I think helps my vertigo too. I think magnesium helps too. ect. I have certain levels checked every few months…I was low in Vit. D, B12, and magnesium for a while.

    Wow…I can’t believe I wrote so much….
    Hope you were interested in my meds. haha

    your article made me think and get kinda worked up!



    • I LOVE it when you comment at length, Wendy – when anyone does, actually – and I am MORE than “interested.”

      I think it is a blessing for all to see the details of lives in similar situations: what they’ve tried; what helps; what’s worthless; what hurts, what’s frustratingly difficult, etc.

      I wish more folks would share in this manner – so thank YOU very much!!!

      My article got ME a bit worked up too – besides the standard meds-hassles work-up, I mean. I’m finding it more and more difficult to believe much will change while I’m still alive to see it, but I continue to sing out, hoping to support (or rile up ::grin::) younger sufferers who can, perhaps, get done in their lifetimes what I have not been able to in mine.

      Mental Health “awareness” and “care” is an abomination – in this country and around the world. We must all tell our stories, if only to put a face on the difficulties and illuminate how VERY far we have to go as a society.

      Thanks again for taking the time from YOUR life to ring in to support the lives of others.


  6. bethbyrnes says:

    I used to think sticking with Lithium was a safe way to go, but I have heard that its side effects are severe enough to preclude using it. I am less and less involved in the pharma end of the field. Each person is unique. For my money, I wouldn’t be crazy about smoking anything and involving the respiratory system that way. I guess people bake with marijuana. I have never liked drugs, but then again, I don’t need them, so it is easy for me to say.

    For mild conditions, what do you think of something like SamE?


    • SamE didn’t do much for me – but (except for one instance when my gut flora was totally wiped by the unfortunate necessity of long-term antibiotics to combat a severe bone infection in my upper jaw – so no serotonin precursors), my own depression has always been more like a side effect of ongoing struggles with ADD and the effect of an accumulation of ADD oopses on my life trajectory (vs. the “classic” depression that moves most people to consider meds). Some people swear by SamE.

      Giving up gluten seems to help stabilize mood, believe it or not – and, after my experience, I am HUGE on serious probiotics. I probably need to do an article on the benefits, actually – the science is fascinating.

      AND there is a new atypical anti-depressant [Brintellix] that seems to have a beneficial effect on cognition that looks promising – tho’ pricey and, for most people, pre-approval is required to get insurance to pay for it. (So much to share, so little time!)

      RE: smoking weed – apparently there is now a CANDY version of medical maryjane – OMG.

      A West Coast client informed me just last nite that Washington state actually sells various junk foods that are marijuana-laced (and a new cottage industry is born!)

      But grass is a big-time “demotivator” for most people, even though it can be a godsend where warranted. Given my experience with weed in my wonton youth, I think I am now too addicted to getting things done to consider giving it a try for mood or sleep – even if I could talk somebody into writing a prescription for me at this time.

      I am aware of a few ADDers who swear that mj HELPS them activate and focus (one whom I know well enough to say that I have to agree that, in his case, it does).

      The studies are fairly conclusive about the mood and cognitive benefits of regular exercise for almost everyone – so I’m looking for a Zumba or professional level tap or jazz class — since I’ve always loved dance and hated gym!

      Like you said, “each person is unique.” We all have to do our own “one rat studies” – and pray that SOMETHING helps.
      xx, mgh


      • bethbyrnes says:

        I could probably write a book on my own, what I call personal guinea pig longitudinal experiment. I have been a vegetarian for 40 years and I love it. I am almost a vegan now and that is working well.

        I am a big believer in exercise but I have an elliptical and don’t know what I would do without it. It is the easiest exercise on earth and it also helps with weight-bearing to ward off osteoporosis. But I also do sweeping, scrubbing, raking — practical house chores that are a work out.

        As for maryjane, I don’t like anything that slows or narcs me. That is why I never drink alcohol, I hate the flavor and the effects.

        I have always taken supplements and I do think sunshine helps with mood. I never smoked or did any kind of drugs, largely because I hate being sick and am not fond of our medical behemoth.

        Some people take St. John’s Wort, but I think it may cause liver damage, long term, as does Kava.

        Sooooo complicated!


        • You are soooooooo right about the complications of substances. The “alternatives” are sometimes the worst in that regard, primarily because “supplements” don’t have to jump through meds approval hoops, and because Big Pharma has been so demonized that many people believe that anything “natural” is safe (until it becomes clear that it isn’t).

          Then there are so many opinions on the web about this or that herb, etc. that it can take a while for the info from the “don’ts” to outweigh that of the “take this instead” do-bees (especially those blogging to sell you what they’re touting).

          I’m with you on “downs” – my brain limps along all by itself, thank you very much – deliver me from anything likely to make things fuzzier (although I do drink on occasion and do, unfortunately, like the taste of most hard liquor – never liked beer).

          You sound like the Poster Girl for healthy living – I stand in your shadow! And speaking of which, YES, sunshine helps a great many things – sleep, mood & cognition included. WELL researched, btw, and scientifically validated.

          The problem medical science is seeing currently is that so many of us are aggressively “protecting” ourselves from skin cancer and eye damage (not to mention wrinkles!) with high-SPF lotions, wide-brimmed hats and dark glasses that we’re not getting enough sun to see the benefit. (There has actually been a recurrence of rickets in the U.S. that has been hypothesized to be linked to insufficient sun exposure in kids.) All things in moderation?

          I know that my own symptoms of various challenges have taken a turn for the worse since being told, sternly, **NO** sun (after surviving a moderately advanced stage of melanoma, many years ago now). As the self-professed “world’s whitest woman,” it seems I don’t produce enough protective melatonin. Since I’ve never been a sun worshipper (don’t tan), the cancer was a real shocker, prompting my dermo’s stern warning.

          But that does NOT mean that avoiding sun exposure is healthy for all.
          HOWEVER, it will never cease to amaze me how many adults will read about something and jump right on it without taking the time to check it out. (My fav are those miracle skin cream ads – “guaranteed” to take years off your appearance – god bless Photoshop’s little heart!)


  7. bethbyrnes says:

    Oh goodness, Madelyn. Why can’t we all be kind and polite to one another? I am going to go see what you are referring to. A thorough treatment and rebuttal here. I have my own problem with people misunderstanding me. The internet is a curse and blessing. As the French say, bon courage! xx


    • GREAT to see you over here, Beth – and thanks so much for taking time to comment.

      Kindness is one of my core values – and I ask the same question all the time (re: kind and polite). NONE of us get a free ride through life – and it is so much more difficult when people judge us before they’ve “walked a mile in our shoes.” Fear makes fools of us all, I suppose – but I do expect better from those charged with caring for those of us who struggle.

      And it’s not just ADD docs. Sufferers of anxiety disorders are facing a medication mess that is rapidly approaching the ridiculous. Anxiolytics are extremely effective, but getting a doctor to prescribe them these days is almost harder than getting ADD medication – even asking for them is considered “drug seeking behavior” by quite a few shrinks these days.

      BELIEVE IT OR NOT, the doctor of a friend’s grandmother, who has suffered debilitating anxiety and panic attacks all her life, just prescribed medical marijuana rather than writing a script for that “dangerous” Xanax or [god forbid!) Valium.

      To end on a more positive note, there are a few new medications for depression that look promising, and the dark ages of “just pull yourself together” seem to be behind us. So far, at least, doctors are not afraid to give these newer meds a try. In an upcoming article, I’ll be sharing information about one that also seems to have positive effectiveness for cognition. Who knows? That may turn out to be some sort of a medication solution for EFD as well.

      Onward and upward?


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