Having trouble focusing?

You're not the only one. Besides the people struggling with a legitimate ADHD diagnosis, lots of us simply have trouble sitting at our desk and staying focused. And with all the distractions of the digital world, it's not hard to see why.

Adderall and Ritalin are the most common medications prescribed to combat the symptoms of ADHD. [See our tips on How to study with ADHD.] But lots of people without an ADHD diagnosis also use these substances (not-so-legally) to do better in school or college.

If you struggle to focus, you too might be tempted to try them. But here's the thing: there are so many Ritalin and Adderall alternatives that can be just as effective at supercharging your focus and committment to your studies. And it's way better to try them first before pounding back pharmaceuticals!

Adderall alternatives: natural remedies for ADHD and increasing focus

Adderall alternatives pills on blue table
There a ton of natural Adderall alternatives that can help manage ADHD and enable focus.

We've written a comprehensive guide on how to boost your focus and get motivated when you're tempted to procrastinate. In this article, however, we'll also give you some Adderall alternatives to try when you're feeling particularly distracted or when your ADHD is getting the best of you.

Now, obviously, natural alternatives may not be as effective at treating ADHD as a drug like Adderall, but by the same token, they won't have the same (or any) side-effects or long-term effects, one of which is, ironically, an inability to concentrate.

So skip the Adderall or Ritalin, if you can and consider one (or a combination of) these 11 best Ritalin and Adderall alternatives for boosting focus.

1. Transcendental meditation

Research has consistently found that meditation can significantly improve the side-effects of ADHD, while increasing focus. In one study, participants who engaged in regular transcendental meditation for three months had greatly reduced symptoms of ADHD. They also reported feeling less stress, hyperactivity, and anxiety. The researchers suggest that meditation can increase activity in parts of the brain that are responsible for the same things you need to study: learning, focus, and memory.

The take-away: Consistently engaging in meditation can help you manage ADHD and achieve greater focus more easily.

2. Aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise

Adderall alternative exercise two women
Exercise is a great (and natural) Adderall alternative.

Exercise has a ton of great learning benefits; it's one of the essential complements to an effective study schedule and to excelling in school. But it can also help you focus. Exercise has been used in several studies of children as a non-pharmacological way to manage symptoms of ADHD. The results are promising: it seems that exercise (aerobic in particular), could be an effective Adderall alternative for managing ADHD. In fact, a systematic review of its use suggests that exercise is a beneficial treatment for people who suffer from ADHD.

The take-away: build regular moderate to intense exercise sessions into your routine.

3. Omega fatty acids

Symptoms of ADHD may be improved or made worse by diet. For instance, some research has found that people who take supplements for Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids experienced improved control of ADHD symptoms. In the study, the supplements were taken daily and symptoms improved after a few months; still, this suggests that consistent supplementation of polyunsaturated fatty acids can help those with ADHD.

The take-away: speak to your doctor about introducing Omega fatty acid supplements to your diet.

Interlude: use more effective study methods to improve focus

Another, super-effective way you can combat difficulty concentrating and staying focused is by shifting of your approach to learning by introducing a super engaging study tool that eliminates study inertia, while helping you bank the facts twice as fast as traditional study methods.

Brainscape's flashcard app is just such a tool. Based on decades of cognitive science research, we've engineered an adaptive learning platform that personalizes itself to the individual's pace of learning. Through the spaced repetition of flashcards at precisely the right intervals—and via a hyper-engaging web and mobile experience—even short study sessions can pay great dividends.

Brainscape's spaced repetition flashcard app
Brainscape helps you study efficiently by showing you concepts at the perfect time interval to remember them, and then work them into your permanent memory. Through this spaced repetition of knowledge, you can learn information twice as fast.

Plus, you can use Brainscape anytime, anywhere to repurpose those short snatches of "downtime" (on the train, between classes, while waiting, etc.) into powerful study sessions. So, go check out our extensive Knowledge Genome for pre-made flashcard collections for just about every conceivable subject, or get started making your own right away!

[Read: Do flashcards help kids with dyslexia?]

4. Reduced sugar intake

Sugar gets a bad rap these days and for good reason: there are innumerable health conditions caused by a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates. Eating sugar-packed foods can also destroy your studying efficiency.

But does sugar intake stoke the symptoms of ADHD? Well, the research is a bit mixed. There are certainly a number of high-quality studies that link ADHD with higher sugar intake ... but that relationship may not be causal. It could even be the other way around: people with ADHD may be predisposed to consuming more sugar, perhaps because they have lower impulse control.

Whatever the relationship, it makes sense that a diet high in sugar could put a person at greater risk of developing ADHD-like symptoms and that a healthy, balanced (low sugar) diet could enhance focus, memory, and study stamina.

The take-away: Sugar causes energy highs and lows, which can exacerbate ADHD-like symptoms and cause fatigue. So, it ain't your study friend!

5. Slow-drip caffeine intake

The research here is a bit more tentative, but there still does seem to be some promise for caffeine as a treatment for the symptoms of ADHD. (For example, in animal studies, caffeine seems to improve spatial learning deficits and memory.)

We all know from personal experience that caffeine improves focus, and there is a lot of research that shows it to improve problem-solving, creative thinking, focus, and other forms of cognitive performance. So, in the caffeine vs. Adderall debate, caffeine certainly seems to be the more desirable choice.

As with any stimulant, however, be cautious about consuming caffeine too late in the day or else it'll interfere with your sleep (in which case you'd need our guide to curing insomnia without drugs)!

The take-away: Caffeine ingested in moderation and over a longer period of time (as opposed to knocking back a triple-shot espresso in one go) is a much better and healthier Adderall alternative for improving focus and concentration.

adderall alternatives woman with coffee
Caffeine is a great alternative to Adderall.

6. Pycnogenol: French Maritime Pine bark extract

Don't ask us how scientists figured out that an extract from the bark of the Maritime Pine tree is a potential natural ADHD treatment. Yet, here we are.

Several studies in children have found that Pycnogenol could indeed be an effective treatment for ADHD; although there aren't many peer-reviewed studies on the subject, so at this point, scientists are hesitant to say anything other than "it looks promising but more research is needed".

Still, thought, the studies that do exist suggest that Pycnogenol can reduce hyperactivity, improve coordination, concentration, and attention.

7. Monoamine amino acid precursors

ADHD is posited to occur, or at least be affected by, the particular neurochemistry going on in the individual's brain. By properly balancing your neurotransmitters, you might be able to naturally control some of the symptoms of ADHD.

Since neurotransmitters are created in your body from amino acids, taking amino acid supplements may give your body what it needs to make the neurotransmitters that it's low on and balance out the brain chemistry.

Some studies suggest that supplements containing the following amino acids could be particularly useful:

  • L-Dopa
  • L-Tyrosine
  • L-Tryptophan
  • 5-HTP

This hypothesis is a little more complicated and definitely dependent on the individual, so if you're curious to learn more, it's best to contact and work through your doctor.

8. Zinc supplements

Zinc is another crucial element that seems to play a role in concentration. Some studies have shown that it can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms. Most of us probably get enough zinc, but if perchance you are deficient, it may be a route through which you can better harness your attention.

The take-away: Ask your doctor for a blood panel to see if you're possibly zinc deficient and if so, what supplements you can take to safely and effectively address that deficiency.

9. Magnesium + Vitamin-B6 Supplementation

Magnesium is another important bodily element that's thought to be related to ADHD. And Vitamin B6 is a known brain-boosting chemical. Combine the two nd you've got a potential natural ADHD alternative.

One study found some evidence for this: in 40 children with ADHD, Mg-B6 reduced symptoms after two months of supplementation. Interestingly, when the supplementation was stopped, the symptoms returned. Like zinc, this could be a sign that ADHD-like symptoms could be related to a deficiency in some of these essential vitamins and minerals.

10. Dopamine fasting

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is connected to your reward or pleasure center. It gives you a positive feeling when you do things that are good for you and your survival: eating, exercising, connecting with friends, and so on. But this center is also triggered by a bunch of other stuff that isn't great for our focus (or well-being), like mindlessly scrolling through social media, gambling, taking illicit drugs, and watching TV.

As a response to the feeling of being addicted to technology, some individuals have suggested "dopamine fasting". While it's probably not possible (or desirable) to actually fast your body from dopamine, think of it more as "stimulus control". Taking a vacation from modern technology, addictive behaviors, and the stressful demands on your life absolutely could be useful to improve focus and productivity. The idea is to avoid stimulation from outside sources.

This avoidance of distraction could be helpful as a way for people with ADHD to manage symptoms, or simply as a strategy to improve focus. Put your phone away, turn off the TV, and clear your head with a walk in nature. Your focus will improve.

The other "good" sources of dopamine can, of course, stay.

11. Lifestyle changes

ADHD (and, more generally, a sub-clinical inability to focus) has both a genetic and environmental component. That means that there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve symptoms and better concentration and focus.

What are they?

Although lifestyle changes can be difficult to make, if you have a condition like ADHD or tend to struggle to concentrate on your studies, you may need to shake up the way you are living in order to successfully manage your symptoms.

Adderall alternative healthy food in bowls
Lifestyle changes, like adopting a healthy diet, is perhaps the best Adderall alternative for boosting focus.

Where to from here?

Managing ADHD, or simply improving your focus, can be done without Adderall or other drugs like Ritalin. In fact, we may go so far as saying that you should try to harness your focus without these drugs (with the advice of your doctor, of course), particularly if you don't actually have an ADHD diagnosis.

But it's going to take some work and perhaps a little experimentation with some of the alternatives we've mentioned. One thing that will certainly work, irrespective, is Brainscape's flashcard app, which is proven to double your learning speed. So get that app in your corner and check out some of our other seminal study guides so that you can rise to your next academic challenge!


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