Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness.
The mention of ADHD may conjure up an image of a child bouncing off the furniture or staring out the window of their classroom, rather than working on their assignments.
While ADHD is certainly more prevalent in children, the disorder also affects about 2.5 percent of adults in the United States.
The hyperactivity of childhood ADHD usually subsides by adulthood, but other symptoms may persist. They can even trigger harmful behaviors, such as gambling and the misuse of alcohol or drugs.
These symptoms and behaviors may be detrimental to a person’s social interactions, careers, and relationships.
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, which include:
- decision making
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
- being 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.
Adults who were inattentive children might have also gone undiagnosed because their behavior wasn’t viewed as disruptive (especially when compared to children who presented as hyperactive).
The symptoms of the disorder might have also been too mild during childhood to raise any red flags, but they become obvious in adulthood when the individual is faced with increasingly complex life demands.
If the aforementioned symptoms of ADHD sound familiar, you may want to consider checking them against the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Symptom Checklist.
Doctors often use this list 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.
- “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?”
For each question, choose one of these five responses:
- Very often
If you answered “Often” or “Very often” for most of these questions, consider making an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation.
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 can make first to get a handle on your symptoms.
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 for adults to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. A lack of sleep can make it difficult for you to focus, maintain productivity, and stay on top of your responsibilities.
Talk with your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Improve your 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 your 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.
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 manage 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 managing your temper
Common types of therapy for adults with ADHD include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- marital counseling or family therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 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.
This type of therapy can be done individually or in a group.
Marital counseling or family therapy
Marital counseling or family therapy can help loved ones and significant others manage the stress of living with someone who has ADHD. It can also teach them what they can do to help and how to improve communication with the other person.
Most adults with ADHD are prescribed stimulants, such as:
- dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis)
- lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
- methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate CD, and Ritalin)
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 with 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.
When left undiagnosed and untreated, ADHD can cause problems in personal relationships and affect performance at school or work.
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.
If you’re looking for extra support, check out these apps, blogs, and resources for people with the condition.