Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness. The mention of ADHD usually conjures the image of a 6-year-old bouncing off the furniture or staring out the window of their classroom, ignoring their assignments. While ADHD is certainly more prevalent in children, the disorder also affects about 8 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The hyperactivity of childhood ADHD usually subsides by adulthood, but other symptoms may persist. They can even trigger risky behaviors, such as gambling and alcohol or drug abuse. These symptoms and behaviors may wreak havoc on:
- social interactions
Recognizing Adult ADHD
ADHD presents differently in adults than it does in children, which may explain why so many cases of adult ADHD are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Adult ADHD disrupts the so-called “executive functions” of the brain, such as:
Impaired executive functions can result in the following symptoms:
- inability to stay on task or take on tasks that require sustained concentration
- losing or forgetting things easily
- frequently showing up late
- talking excessively
- appearing not to listen
- regularly interrupting other peoples’ conversations or activities
- impatient and easily irritated
Many adults with ADHD also had the condition as children, but it may have been misdiagnosed as a learning disability or conduct disorder. The symptoms of the disorder might have also been too mild during childhood to raise any red flags, but become obvious in adulthood when the individual is faced with increasingly complex life demands. However, if you suspect you have ADHD, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. When left undiagnosed and untreated, the disorder can cause problems in personal relationships and affect performance at school or work.
Adult ADHD Self-Reporting Scale
If the aforementioned symptoms of ADHD sound familiar, you may want to consider checking them against the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Symptom Checklist. This list is often used by doctors to evaluate adults seeking help for ADHD symptoms. Doctors must verify at least six symptoms, in specific degrees of severity, to make an ADHD diagnosis.
The following are examples of questions from the checklist. Choose one of these five responses for each:
- Very Often
- “How often do you have difficulty keeping your attention when you are doing boring or repetitive work?”
- “How often do you have difficulty waiting your turn in situations when turn-taking is required?”
- “How often are you distracted by activity or noise around you?”
- “How often do you feel overly active and compelled to do things, like you were driven by a motor?”
- “How often do you have problems remembering appointments or obligations?”
- “How often do you interrupt others when they are busy?”
If you answered “Often” or “Very Often” for most of these questions, consider making an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation.
Treatments for Adult ADHD
Living with ADHD can be challenging at times. However, many adults are able to manage their ADHD symptoms effectively and lead productive, satisfying lives. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may not need help from a doctor right away. There are various personal adjustments you make first to help get your symptoms under control.
Exercising regularly can help you handle aggression and extra energy in a healthy, positive way. Aside from soothing and calming your body, exercise is also critical for maintaining good health.
Get Sufficient Sleep
It’s important to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. A lack of sleep can make difficult to focus, maintain productivity, and stay on top of your responsibilities. Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Improve Time Management Skills
Setting deadlines for everything, including seemingly small tasks, makes it easier for you to stay organized. It also helps to use alarms and timers so you don’t forget about certain tasks. Taking the time to prioritize important tasks will further set you up for success.
Set aside time for your family, friends, and significant other. Schedule fun activities to do together and keep your engagements. While you’re with them, be vigilant in conversation. Listen to what they’re saying and try not to interrupt.
If the symptoms of ADHD are still interfering with your life despite making these efforts, then it may be time to get help from your doctor. They may suggest numerous different treatments depending on the severity of your symptoms. These may include certain types of therapy, as well as medication.
Most adults with ADHD are prescribed stimulants, such as:
- methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, and Ritalin)
- dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall XR)
- lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
These medications help treat ADHD symptoms by boosting and balancing levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Other medications that may be used to treat ADHD include atomoxetine (Strattera) and certain antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin). Atomoxetine and antidepressants work slower than stimulants, so it may take several weeks before symptoms improve.
The right medication and the proper dose often vary from person to person. It may take some time at first to find what’s best for you. Make sure to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of each medication, so you’re fully informed. You should also speak with your doctor if you begin to develop any side effects when taking your medication.
Therapy for adult ADHD can be beneficial. It typically includes psychological counseling and education about the disorder. Therapy can help you:
- improve your time management and organizational skills
- learn ways to control impulsive behavior
- cope with difficulties at school or work
- boost your self-esteem
- improve relationships with your family, co-workers and friends
- learn better problem-solving skills
- create strategies for controlling your temper
Common types therapy for adults with ADHD include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This type of therapy allows you to learn how to manage your behavior and how to change negative thoughts into positive ones. It may also help you cope with problems in relationships or at school or work. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be done individually or in a group.
Marital Counseling and Family Therapy
This type of therapy can help loved ones and significant others cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD. It can teach them what they can do to help, and how to improve communication with the other person.
Having ADHD as an adult isn’t easy. With the right treatment and lifestyle modifications, however, you can greatly reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.