TUESDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Adding therapy to the medications an adult might be taking for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could lessen symptoms and improve quality of life, new research suggests.

After one year, patients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy along with their medications quelled persistent symptoms better than using drugs plus relaxation exercises.

"We have known that therapy helps, but this study shows that it's not just sitting with someone and talking about ADHD but specifically cognitive behavioral therapy that's helpful," said Jon Bergeron Jr., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychologist with Scott & White College Station Clinic.

Whether or not patients actually pursue a professional's recommendation to start therapy is another matter.

"Most people don't pursue therapy," Bergeron stated. "Our culture is always looking for a magic pill."

Bergeron was not involved with the study, which appears in the Aug. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Medications such as the stimulant Ritalin are the first course of treatment for ADHD.

But the majority of patients still have some symptoms even after being prescribed drugs, said study author Steven A. Safren, director of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

After a pilot study of cognitive behavioral therapy and ADHD was successful, Safren and his colleagues decided to embark on a larger study.

This randomized, controlled trial involved 86 adults with ADHD already on medication who were randomized to receive 12 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or combined educational/relaxation support.

The CBT involved learning how to address tasks throughout the day and think more flexibly. The control group involved education and muscle and other relaxation techniques.

Seventy of the participants were included in the final analysis.

Patients in the CBT group saw more relief of their symptoms than those in the control group as assessed by several different scales. The improvements lasted the whole year.

Safren does not see CBT replacing drugs as a mainstay of ADHD treatment.

"ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, but this might help in addition to medication and we may be able to do this in people who can't tolerate drugs," he said.

The questions are whether patients will go for it and whether insurance companies will pay for it.

But, said Bergeron, "this is proof that [CBT] does make a difference in someone's life."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on ADHD.