When someone mentions attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may imagine a 6-year-old bouncing off the furniture or staring out the window of his classroom, ignoring his assignments. What most people don’t know is that adults can have ADHD. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that 4 percent of U.S. adults have the disorder. Sadly, only 20 percent of them have been properly diagnosed.
ADHD is considered a lifelong (chronic) condition. Even if you are treated for its symptoms, it doesn’t always go away. The hyperactivity of childhood ADHD is not as prevalent in adults. Yet ADHD symptoms can still wreak havoc on social interactions, careers, and marriages. It can also trigger dangerous behaviors, such as gambling and alcohol or drug abuse. Understanding both the complexities and treatment options for ADHD can make a world of a difference in terms of coping with this condition.
ADHD presents differently in adults than it does in children, which may explain why so many adult cases are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. As you get older, some of the “hyper” symptoms might still occasionally exist, but they are not as noticeable.
Adult ADHD disrupts what are called the “executive functions” of the brain, such as:
- completing complex tasks
Impaired executive functions can spell disaster for scholastic and professional achievement, as well as sustainable, stable relationships.
Adult ADHD is characterized by:
- inability to stay on task
- inability to take on tasks that require sustained concentration
- forgetting appointments
- habitual lateness
- poor listening skills
- mood swings
The condition also reveals itself in one’s communication style. Adult ADHD triggers a compulsion to finish other people’s sentences or to interrupt someone while they are talking.
A high level of impatience (for example, when waiting in line or in traffic) is another potential sign of adult ADHD. What may be considered high-strung, nervous behavior, or quirky character traits may actually be adult ADHD at work.
ADHD diagnoses are made in accordance with the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, you must exhibit at least six symptoms to be diagnosed with ADHD. If the aforementioned signs and symptoms sound familiar or representative of issues you’ve experienced, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Rule out other conditions
The symptoms of ADHD can be similar to other mental health conditions. Because of this, your doctor will first try to rule out other health conditions. Alcohol or drug abuse and other mental health disorders can have similar symptoms to ADHD. Other health disorders, such as epilepsy and thyroid disorder, can also cause similar symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, many adults with ADHD also have at least one other form of anxiety or depression. This is due to the fact that the disorder is another form of anxiety.
Evaluating symptoms from your childhood
Your doctor may ask you if you had signs or symptoms of ADHD when you were a child. They may request copies of your school records and interview someone who knows you very well.
Assessing the severity of your symptoms
While ADHD does indeed cause symptoms of hyperactivity and attention difficulties, this does not mean that everyone who experiences these symptoms has the disorder. Aside from looking at your health history, a key component of an adult ADHD diagnosis is the severity of symptoms. As a rule of thumb, you could very well have the disorder if the symptoms are severe enough to disrupt your everyday life.
As with children, adult ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Stimulant medications are quite effective in treating the symptoms. These medications work by balancing brain chemicals associated with the disorder.
Forms of psychotherapy, such as behavioral therapy, can help you learn skills that lead to changes in thinking, negative attitudes, and behavior. Adults with ADHD can use psychotherapy to learn:
- skills for decreasing impulsivity
- ways to manage their temper
- improved methods of organization
- time management skills
- ways to boost your self-esteem
- how to build and keep relationships
It’s important to learn your treatment options so you can feel better, and also lead a better quality of life. The ADAA estimates that only one-quarter of all diagnosed adult ADHD patients actually seek treatment.
Coping and support
People with ADHD often respond well to treatment, but there are other things you can do to manage your condition. Aside from medications and behavioral therapy, you might also:
- Consider finding a support group in your area. Support groups allow you to meet with other people who have ADHD and share experiences. You can also learn coping strategies from others who have ADHD.
- Find an ADHD coach. If you need assistance, consider calling the National Resource Center on ADHD’s hotline: 800-233-4050.
- Exercise regularly to help tame symptoms of anxiety. Regular workouts also help release the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which can reduce hot tempers and also make you feel better all around.
- Establish a routine. Doing the same things around the same time of day can help you manage your time better, while also making sure you complete tasks.
- Let your friends and loved ones help.