Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Adults

adhd in adults

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes problems such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Adult ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem and other problems.

Typically, ADHD symptoms start in early childhood and continue into adulthood. In some cases, people aren’t diagnosed with ADHD until much later in life. In adults, symptoms of hyperactivity may decrease, but impulsiveness, restlessness and difficulty paying attention may continue.

Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD. Adult ADHD treatment includes medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with ADHD.

Symptoms

Many adults with ADHD aren’t aware they have it—they just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line to outbursts of excessive anger.

Symptoms of adult ADHD may include:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Poor time management skills and trouble multitasking
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Executive function issues
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Inattention hyperactivity or problems completing tasks/being easily distracted
  • Hot temper
  • Trouble coping with stress

Lots of us have symptoms similar to ADHD at some point in our lives; if your difficulties are recent or occurred only occasionally in the past, you probably don’t have ADHD. It’s only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in multiple areas of your life that you may have ADHD. These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood.

adhd in adults

When to See a Doctor

If any of the symptoms listed above continually disrupt your life, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you might have ADHD.

Seek a provider who has training and experience in caring for adults with ADHD. Most healthcare providers use the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to help diagnose ADHD. This diagnostic standard helps ensure that people are appropriately diagnosed and treated for ADHD.

Causes

While the exact cause of ADHD is not clear, factors that may be involved in the development of ADHD include:

  • Genetics: ADHD can run in families, and studies indicate that genes may play a role
  • Environment: Certain environmental factors also may increase risk, such as childhood exposure to lead
  • Problems during development: Problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development may play a role
  • You were born prematurely
  • Your mother smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs during pregnancy

Coexisting Conditions

Although ADHD doesn’t cause other psychological or developmental problems, other disorders often occur along with ADHD and make treatment more challenging. These include:

  • Mood disorders: many adults with ADHD also have depression, bipolar disorder or another mood disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders: anxiety disorders occur fairly often in adults with ADHD. Anxiety disorders may cause overwhelming worry, nervousness and other symptoms.
  • Other psychiatric disorders: Adults with ADHD are at increased risk of other psychiatric disorders such as personality disorders, intermittent explosive disorder and substance abuse disorders.
  • Learning disabilities: Adults with ADHD may score lower on academic testing than would be expected for their age, intelligence and education.

Treatment

Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, skills training and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment.

adhd in adults

Medications

Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of any medications.

  • Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. Stimulants appear to boost and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
  • Other medications used to treat ADHD include the non-stimulant atomoxetine and certain antidepressants such as bupropion. Atomoxetine and antidepressants work slower than stimulant medications. These may be good options if you can’t take stimulants because of health problems or if stimulants cause severe side effects.

The right medication and the right dosage may vary among individuals. So, it may take time to find out what’s right for you. Tell your doctor about any side effects.

Psychological Counseling

Counseling for adult ADHD generally includes psychological counseling, education about the disorder and learning skills to help you be successful.

Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: this structured type of counseling teaches specific skills to manage your behavior and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones.
  • Marital counseling and family therapy: this type of therapy can help your loved ones cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD.

For more information about diagnosis and treatment, take a look at the National Resource Center on ADHD. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), their website has links to information for people with ADHD and their families. The National Resource Center also operates a call center (1-866-200-8098) with trained staff to answer questions about ADHD.

At the Anxiety & Depression Institute, our providers understand ADHD, the ways it presents itself and how it affects people’s lives. You are your biggest advocate, so we work closely with patients to come up with a treatment plan that may include medication, therapy or both. Our collaborative will get you closer to living your life better than ever. Give us a call today to get started.

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