Can Adults Really Have ADHD?

Yes, adults can have ADHD, and you may not have noticed this until well into your work career. Read more:
Often, throughout elementary school, high school and even college life can, for some, already be pretty organized. Parents and teachers make just that little effort that makes the difference between failure and success. So I'm not surprised when I hear, " Can I really have ADHD? No one noticed when I was a kid."

Suddenly after years of success people can find themselves in a mess. Suddenly they are clearly disorganized, distracted and forgetful. Often this is because they have moved up the ladder to a job and family responsibilities that are just above their level of coping. And now, suddenly, they report that everything is falling apart.When we go through a symptom checklist of current symptoms it's there, and then when we review their childhood history ...well, there it is again.

As an adult who finds that you are suffering there are some things you can do. First, learn everything you can about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD). Yes, many adults don't have problems with hyperactivity, but right now that the accepted medical term. ADHD rather than ADD. If you don't have the hyperactive symptoms it is usually Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-Inattentive Type. And understand, just because you were not aware of the disorder a s a child doesn't mean you don't have it now (although it is a developmental disorder and in some form or another should have been noticeable at a fairly young age).

The important thing is, if you think you haveADHD as an adult, get a comprehensive diagnosis. Not just a quick check of symptoms, because all of the symptoms of ADHD can be caused by other issues, but a complete and fairly comprehensive diagnosis. This doesn't mean you need a lot of testing, and doesn't mean you need a "neuropsychological assessment." But at least a diagnostic evaluation that rules out other possible causes (we call this a "differential diagnosis." You may want and need further testing because almost 1/2 of individuals with ADHD (ADD) have a co-morbid disorder such as a specific learning disability, depression or especially anxiety. And while it's usually not necessary to do a neuro-psych exam, you ma want a more comprehensive examination that includes a neuro-psych component in order to understand the exact nature of your strengths and weaknesses. This is something to discuss with your psychologist.

One of the sad things about finding out you have ADHD as an adult is to realize you may not get the support you expect. MAny people think this disorder is willful, that with a little extra effort and willpower you can overcome these problems of distraction, poor planning and lack of focus. This, frankly, isn't true. ADHD may certainly look like a lack of willpower, but it isn't. Decades of research have shown it's a chemical problem in the management of the brain, especially the "executive areas" know as the frontal lobes.

Some people also think that because you have ADHD you can't have depression, OCD or anxiety. As a matter of fact, I just wrote about the diagnostic process which focuses on ruling out these other disorders. Make no mistake, you can have ADHD and depression, or anxiety. And the problem is anxiety, OCD or depression can make the ADHD much more difficult to deal with. Sometimes our treatments need to focus on your depression or anxiety before we can address ADHD.

Adult ADHD can have a little different twist than child ADHD. Or at least, the problems that come to peoples attention may be different. With adults we often see a problem with "hyper-focus." This is a problem when we become absorbed in tasks we find enjoyable and reinforcing ....to the detriment of all the little boring details we needed to complete at the same time. Many have noted that hyper focus in adult ADHD is actually a coping mechanism. We hyper-focus to avoid being distracted. Hyper-focus, and the other side of the coin ...all those things your not focusing on...can be a real problem with relationships. This is why many adults with ADHD find it disrupting their relationships, their marriages, their relationship with their children and relatives.

Often the methods we developed as teenagers for being organized and focused in school no longer work in the adult-working world. Luckily we have some excellent skills training programs to help with just these issues, but the help of a "coach" or therapist can be very useful.

Other areas that adults with ADHD often find themselves having trouble with include regulating their emotions, including having a sense of underachievement, getting easily stressed, being irritable, difficulty staying motivated or having an explosive temper. While medication often helps with these problems Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Anger Management Training are found to be useful by many adults with ADHD.

Some adults do have the typical restlessness that many think of when they think of ADHD. But for adults with ADHD it can be very different in nature. They might report just a feeling of "inner restlessness,"  some adults with ADHD actually report a feeling of wanting to travel, move, go elsewhere. Others report a constant craving for excitement, trouble sitting still, fidgeting, racing and intrusive thoughts, the need to talk excessively and the inability to do less than 20 things at a time. All of these are typical problems of adults with ADHD.

Professionals trained in Adult ADHD can help you with these issues. With your medical provider you can decide if you are a good candidate for medication. There are many choices, and different medications address different issues that ADHD present. Discuss these possibilities with your family physician. A Registered Psychologist can help you with a number of things: Fist, he or she can give you a comprehensive diagnostic examination. This would include ruling out other causes for your symptoms, and looking for co-morbid disorders like depression, anxiety, OCD or specific learning disabilities that may be part of your global problem. After that your psychologist can help you with stress, anxiety, OCD and depression by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). They can also put you through a structured program to address issues of organization, planning and procrastination. While it would be nice if there were a pill for these things, there really isn't. Medication can help you focus, concentrate and often stabilize your mood, but there are no "skill pills" to teach you how to remember appointments and organize tasks in an appropriate manner.

A psychologist can also help you with issues of self-esteem, confidence building and problems that may have developed in your marriage or relationships due to symptoms of Adult ADHD.  Whatever you decide to do, find a professional with experience working with children, adolescents AND adults with ADHD, as ADHD is a developmental disorder, and a comprehensive understanding of this disorder throughout the lifespan helps in putting together an intervention plan.

A Book: Best book on the subject of Adult ADHD, "Controlling Your Adult ADHD" by Dr. Russell Barkley. You can find information about ordering this book on my web page.