Primary Care Doctor Vs. An ADHD Specialist: Which Is Better For My ADHD Treatment?

PCPs vs Psychiatrists
Psychiatrist is examining a person’s brain versus a PCP examining other parts of the body.

Some points to consider if you’re asking yourself: “Should I visit my primary care doctor for ADHD treatment?"

Albert Hernandez

December 29, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read

December 29, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read


When you are considering where to seek treatment for your symptoms of adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you might be wondering what type of provider you should see. Is it best to see your primary care provider, also called PCP? Or would it be better to see a provider who specializes in treating ADHD?

While already having an established relationship with your PCP can make it convenient to seek adult ADHD treatment from him or her, there can be drawbacks, too. PCPs can sometimes be dismissive of patients’ concerns about their ADHD symptoms, especially if the person looks successful in their career or in school.

A doctor who doesn’t specialize in the treatment of behavioral health disorders may evaluate your symptoms and offer a diagnosis that isn’t correct. If you are treated with medications for the wrong disorder, the consequences can be severe.

Seeing Your Primary Care Provider For ADHD Symptoms

For some patients, it may feel natural to turn to your PCP when you are experiencing the loss of focus, irritability, and difficulty completing tasks that can characterize adult ADHD. Many PCPs are able to prescribe stimulant medication, such as Concerta, Vyvanse, or Adderall. Moreover, the location of their office is likely convenient for you, and you already have a relationship with your PCP.

Primary care doctor is auscultating a patient’s systems while psychiatrists focus on the mind.

However, there can be challenges to seeing your PCP for your adult ADHD or other behavioral health symptoms. Some of my patients in El Paso and Albuquerque have told me they felt dismissed by their PCPs when they tried to describe how out of control their symptoms felt. Patients have described being told things like, “You don’t have ADHD, you just need to study harder,” or, “You can’t have ADHD; you’ve been working at the same company for four years and are doing well there.”

Additionally, when a provider doesn’t specialize in behavioral health disorders, they can misdiagnose one condition for another. Sometimes PCPs can diagnose ADHD as an anxiety disorder, missing the fact that untreated ADHD symptoms can make a patient feel anxious and worried. It’s also possible for a provider who doesn’t specialize in behavioral treatment to misdiagnose Bipolar Disorder as adult ADHD. Some of the symptoms of mania in of Bipolar I disorder are:

  • Irritability
  • Being easily distracted
  • Talking a lot
  • Making impractical/impulsive decisions
  • Mind racing

To a provider who doesn’t currently treat many patients with ADHD, these symptoms may look like adult ADHD. With this nuance missed, bipolar patients treated with stimulants only have a significant risk of experiencing a manic episode. Therefore, it’s very important for a provider to exactly pinpoint the condition that is causing a patient’s symptoms. If a patient is experiencing bipolar disorder, treating this condition with stimulants such as Vyvanse, Concerta, or Adderall could make a patient’s symptoms worse. An experienced mental health practitioner who specializes in ADHD and depression will understand this potential risk and proceed with caution when evaluating whether or not stimulants are the correct treatment.

Seeing a Behavioral Health Expert For ADHD Symptoms

Although convenience and familiarity are typical reasons you might choose to see your PCP for your ADHD symptoms, seeing a provider who specializes in behavioral health care doesn’t have to be a hassle. You may find a mental health provider with a convenient office location for you. Additionally, many behavioral health providers offer telehealth services, in which you can access treatment from the comfort of your home or office.

Psychiatrist shining a flashlight on a patient’s brain to see the inner workings.

Providers who specialize in ADHD treatment are also more likely to recognize the varied ways that adult ADHD symptoms can present in different people. You won’t feel dismissed or belittled if you bring up your concerns about having ADHD, even if you present as successful or “together” to the outside world. ADHD expert Oren W. Mason, MD, recommends seeing a provider who currently sees “at least 50-100 patients” with ADHD to make sure that your provider is current on the best diagnosis and treatment practices for ADHD. When researching what provider you’d like to see for your ADHD treatment, it’s a good idea to ask them how many patients they are actively treating with ADHD. Upper Valley Behavioral Health, for example, has an active treatment list of over 500 patients with ADHD.

When you see a provider who is an expert in treating ADHD, you will also have less risk of inappropriate treatment. Having a specialized provider choosing treatment, there is less concern for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder as ADHD, or ADHD as anxiety. When you receive medications for a condition that you don’t actually have, the results can range from ineffective therapy to dangerous medication reactions. Stimulants like Concerta, Vyvanse, and Adderall will likely be very helpful to a patient with ADHD, but can cause mania in a patient with bipolar disorder. An expert behavioral health provider will carefully consider your symptoms before recommending treatment.

For most patients with ADHD symptoms, it will make sense to seek treatment with a provider who has current expertise with ADHD. A provider who has seen a lot of patients with ADHD will have the ability to diagnose ADHD, whether its presentation is “typical” or not. Providers who specialize in ADHD will be up-to-date on effective treatments and will have the best information to help you decide what medication will work best for you.

At Upper Valley Behavioral Health, we are experts in treating adult ADHD in patients in El Paso, and other areas of the US. We offer convenient appointments and friendly, non-judgmental staff and providers. If you are interested in pursuing treatment for your ADHD symptoms, please click here to complete our short application for treatment. We look forward to helping you soon!

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

Tags: adhd, adhd life, adhd awareness, adhd support, adult adhd, pcp or specialist, pcp adhd, adhd specialist, neurodivergent, misdiagnosed, psychiatric misdiagnosis, mental health, mental health info, anxiety, depression, mental health information, self care, recovery, therapy, bipolar

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