Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a problem for children and teens. However, ADHD also affects many adults, and its symptoms can result in numerous serious challenges later in life, including relationship problems, poor work performance, and low self-esteem, among others. In some cases, ADHD is also linked to substance abuse, trouble with the law, and suicidal thoughts.
ADHD often goes undiagnosed in childhood. This was especially true in the past when doctors had less understanding of ADHD and its symptoms. Children with ADHD were often just labeled as undisciplined troublemakers or poor students. As a result, adults with undiagnosed ADHD can face significant challenges, compounded by increasing responsibilities at work and at home. The demands of a career and family can be challenging for anyone; but for someone with ADHD, they can often feel completely overwhelming.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD, formerly referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD), is a chronic mental health condition characterized by impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and difficulty concentrating.
Scientists aren't completely sure what causes ADHD, but it appears to be related to genetics, environmental factors, and levels of some chemicals in the brain. Some research indicates that ADHD may be related to low levels of dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters that relay messages between nerve cells in the brain and plays a critical role in our ability to think and plan.
You may have an increased risk for having ADHD if you have close relatives with ADHD or with another mental health disorder; if you were born prematurely; if you were exposed to environmental toxins as a child; or if your mother smoked, used drugs, or drank alcohol while pregnant.
According to a 2006 survey, ADHD affects 4.4 percent of U.S. adults. Men are more likely than women to be affected by ADHD.
Research shows that almost 66 percent of people diagnosed with ADHD as children continue to experience symptoms in adulthood.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD in adults may look different from ADHD in children. Symptoms may change or decrease as people get older. Adults with ADHD may experience less hyperactivity, but continue to struggle with impulsiveness and difficulty concentrating.
Symptoms of adult ADHD can range from mild to severe. Some adults with ADHD continue to experience major symptoms that interfere with their daily lives.
Adults with ADHD often aren't aware that they have it; they only know that they struggle with everyday tasks. They may find it difficult to prioritize tasks and focus, which can lead to problems such as missed deadlines and forgotten appointments. Impulsivity can result in emotional outbursts and mood swings.
Symptoms of adult ADHD can include:
- Poor time management skills
- Difficulty multitasking efficiently
- Poor organizational skills
- Poor planning skills
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Low tolerance for frustration
- Difficulty handling stress
- Impatience or short temper
- Difficulty following through or completing tasks
Diagnosing Adult ADHD
Almost everyone experiences the symptoms of ADHD at some point. If these occur infrequently or have just started happening, they are probably not an indication of ADHD. Only symptoms that are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in one or more areas of life and that can be traced back to childhood are considered to be symptoms of ADHD.
Diagnosing ADHD in adults can be difficult, because similar symptoms can be caused by other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. It's also common for adults with ADHD to have other mental health conditions as well.
If you have severe symptoms that interfere with your daily life, talk to a doctor who has experience treating adults with ADHD. Treatment for adult ADHD often involves a combination of medication, therapy, and skills training. There is no cure for ADHD, but these approaches can help to manage it.
Certain stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) or amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse) may help balance levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. For individuals who don't respond well to stimulants, antidepressants and other medications may help but may take longer to work.
If your doctor prescribes medication to help treat ADHD symptoms, you can use a ScriptSave WellRx discount card to get the lowest price at a pharmacy near you.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.