What is Adult ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by impulsiveness, lack of focus, and hyperactivity.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, ADHD affects nearly 8.5% of all children and 2.5% of all adults in the U.S. Furthermore, 30 - 70% of all children diagnosed with ADHD manifest symptoms when they reach adulthood.
There are also cases when this condition goes undiagnosed. As a result, children with undiagnosed ADHD grow into adults who might struggle to hold on to their jobs and relationships.
Unfortunately, many of those who struggle with adult ADHD do not realize that they’re dealing with this condition. Furthermore, they are often surprised to find out that the reason why they’re having trouble concentrating on tasks is a neurodevelopmental condition that they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their life.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not a disease per se, but a sum of symptoms that result from the patient’s inability to focus on a given subject or action.
Although the scientific community is still debating the origin of this condition, many experts believe that adult ADHD is primarily the result of neurochemical deficiencies and imbalances that cause different areas of the brain to malfunction.
Unlike children, adults with ADHD might also deal with co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Signs of Adult ADHD
Although the three main symptoms of adult ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and lack of focus, numerous telltale signs can help you determine if you’re dealing with this condition.
- Difficulties in maintaining focus during activities such as reading
- Lack of attention that results in unnecessary mistakes at work or other activities
- Challenges in organizing tasks
- Failure to obey instructions and carry out activities
- Poor time management skills
- Excessive talking
- Fidgeting of hands or feet
- Avoidance of tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Restlessness; the inability to stay in one place for more extended periods
- Failure to perform activities in silence
- The tendency to rush to answers before the other person finishes the question
- The tendency to interrupt and disturb others
- Impulsive decision-making
Experts consider the possibility of adult ADHD when the symptoms are visible in almost all contexts of a person’s life and do not occur after a critical event such as divorce, separation, or job loss.
But the only way to find out is by requesting a psychiatric or neurological consultation. A licensed mental health professional with the right diagnostic tools can help you figure out what you’re dealing with and how you can overcome the difficulties associated with adult ADHD.
How is Adult ADHD Treated?
ADHD therapy involves a multidisciplinary approach (psychiatry, neurology, psychology) and the involvement of friends and family members who can provide social support.
Most experts agree that the best approach to treat adult ADHD is a combination of pharmacological treatment and psychotherapy.
Since adult ADHD is often accompanied by depression or anxiety, psychiatrists can prescribe medication to help patients cope with their condition and achieve mental balance.
However, a therapeutic approach based solely on medication is not sufficient for adults with ADHD, as medication only diminishes the symptoms, but does not fundamentally change how the brain works.
Psychotherapy is an extremely useful tool in the treatment of adult ADHD. Many clinicians believe cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can have a significantly positive effect on adults who have ADHD in terms of gaining valuable organizational and time management skills.
With the help of a counselor or therapist, adults with ADHD can find ways to avoid distractions, control their impulsive decisions, and cultivate peace of mind through meditation and relaxation techniques.
Furthermore, if the person is dealing with co-occurring conditions (e.g. bipolar disorder, OCD, anxiety, depression) then psychotherapy becomes an absolute necessity.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.