Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is an issue many assume is childhood related. We all hear about ADHD affecting kids and their teachers in classrooms across the globe.
But the truth is, ADHD can affect adults too. ADHD is not something we ‘grow out’ of before puberty. And just because you didn’t get diagnosed as a child doesn’t mean you didn’t have undetected ADHD and carry symptoms into adulthood. Many grown men and women suffer from signs of Adult ADHD without ever understanding what it is that is causing their life to feel so unfocussed.
As many as 4% of adults have ADHD, and many will have suffered from the disorder for decades without understanding why they behave and think the way they do. And yet adult ADHD remains a largely overlooked piece of the ADHD spectrum.
So What IS ADHD, anyway?
ADHD is a pattern of behavioural symptoms which are usually detected during childhood. Parents and teachers may notice that a child is unusually over-active, gets distracted all the time, cannot stick to doing something for any length of time, is impulsive, and does things on the spur of the moment without thinking. In general the symptoms of ADHD centre around difficulties in concentrating.
Note that ADHD is not related to intelligence and can occur in children of any intellectual capacity. It does, however, seem to come hand-in-hand with others disorders. Often people with ADHD have difficulties with learning in traditional ways and/or have sleep issues.
The symptoms of ADHD tend to be most recognisable during periods of change, such as starting a new school or moving house.
And Adult ADHD? Is it the same?
Due to a lack of research into adult ADHD it is more difficult to define. Simply applying childhood symptoms to adults doesn’t necessarily work. The signs of Adult ADHD tend to be far more subtle, with adults less likely to struggle with hyperactivity and more with inattentiveness and poor concentration. Add that symptoms are unique for each individual, and that Adult ADHD can exist alongside other problems such as depression, OCD, and personality disorders that might mask its presence, and diagnosis gets even tricker. But here are the common symptoms to be used as a guideline to determine if you are suffering from Adult ADHD.
Common Symptoms of Adult ADHD
Hyperactivity tends to be the symptom most associated with ADHD. But adults with ADHD are less likely to be overtly hyperactive than children. Instead, you might often feel agitated, have racing thoughts, crave excitement, talk excessively or have trouble sitting still. Note that hyperactivity is not always one of the signs of Adult ADHD either, or by any means a requirement. You might have several different symptoms from this list except for hyperactivity and yet still have ADHD.
Difficulty concentrating/ paying attention
You may ‘zone out’ during conversations with friends, have difficulty following conversations, or get easily distracted when undertaking an activity. People might constantly say things to you like, “Are you listening to me? Do you care what I’m talking about or not?” You may struggle to complete simple tasks and have a tendency to overlook things, meaning that errors are often made.
Hyperfocus is when you can become so engrossed in a task that you find stimulating that you become oblivious to everything else around you. Although this may at first seem like a positive, it can actually lead to problems in that you may neglect everything else around you. Or, you hyperfocus on the wrong thing.
For example, say that you are preparing a pitch document for a client and have two hours left to finish it but begin to hyperfocus on layout styles. Suddenly, you realise you have fifteen minutes left and don’t have time to add in relevant information and proofread, both of which are more important than the way the document looks on the page. Another example would be throwing a dinner party, and hyperfocusing so much on the way your food looks when the food does get to the table it’s cold, and then you realise later you totally forgot to serve an important side dish. Sound familiar?
Given all the symptoms listed above, life can certainly feel seem chaotic and out of control for those managing Adult ADHD. Keeping on top of the events and responsibilities around you can be extremely difficult. For example, you may be late for everything, procrastinate, and struggle to keep things tidy. You may never be able to find what you need when you are wanting to rush out the door, and always be searching for your keys.
Those struggling with impulsivity will often find patience an extremely difficult thing. You may interrupt others, have issues displaying self-control, act inappropriately with others due to not thinking, have addictive tendencies, or find yourself in risky situations due to spontaneous thoughts.
Managing emotions can be a challenge for adults with ADHD. You may often feel easily stressed, have a short and explosive temper, and struggle with issues regarding your self-esteem and confidence. You may also find yourself suffering from irritability, frustration and mood swings.
What Causes Adult ADHD?
As with most problems in life, ADHD seems to be caused by a variety of issues – some biological, some social. Specific genes have been identified and one-third of those with ADHD have at least one parent with similar symptoms. Complications for the mother during pregnancy and birth such as medications in pregnancy, low birth weight and the mother experiencing stress are also thought to be related.
Treatment of Adult ADHD
There are a number of treatments available for managing Adult ADHD. Your family doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist can explain some of the options available to you in more depth and develop a plan with you to suit your needs and circumstances. Here are some of the options they might suggest:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT has shown some success in helping adults with ADHD by reducing surrounding problems such as issues with low mood, low self-esteem, and anxiety. It can also help you hone your skills around organising, prioritising, and effectively socialising.
Medications: There are a number of medications available to aid symptoms of ADHD. They tend to be amphetamine-based and can have side effects like weight loss and occasionally psychosis. But these effects will be fully explained to you by your doctor. Harley Therapy’s Dr Stephen Humphries specialises in Adult ADHD and is available for consultations.
Self Help for Adult ADHD
There are lots of things you can begin to do by yourself that can help you regain control of ADHD symptoms. Here are some self-help tactics that are seen to be useful:
Lists, diaries, reminders – these are essential ways of helping you to organise your time and remember key things that need your attention.
Exercise, diet, sleep – As with all health-related problems, eating healthy, exercising and getting lots of rest can improve the way you feel. Exercise is also a great way to let off steam if you find yourself frustrated by your ADHD.
Avoid alcohol and drugs – Although it can be tempting to release tension and boredom by drinking or taking drugs, these substances can actually make you feel worse and increase signs of Adult ADHD.
Relaxation: Learning to relax via music, dance, yoga or by using simple meditation techniques can be a great way of releasing tension and slowing your busy mind. Relaxation can also help manage stress so you can deal better with challenging situations at work or at home.
Mindfulness: The technique of noticing the present moment and accepting thoughts and experiences without judgement called Mindfulness might sound ‘hippy’. But it has been embraced and proven by the psychological community as a seriously effective way to make better decisions, react less, and experience more joy on a daily basis.
Self-Help Groups: Meeting others who go through the same day-to-day troubles as you can be a relief, help you feel less alone, and see you learning new strategies for managing Adult ADHD.
Accepting Support: Discussing your problems with your workplace health team, teacher, etc. can often provide support and structure to help you do your best. Remember, people can’t help you if they don’t know what the problem is.
Adult ADHD left untreated and unsupported can play havoc with your life, and sometimes it can all feel too much. Being proactive and getting the support and help you need can help you feel better about yourself, your life, and your condition.
But don’t jump to conclusions if you feel you have signs of Adult ADHD- in some cases it is not ADHD and just a case of being bored with life and not focusing because of lack of interest in daily routine. It’s best to talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist if you feel you might be a match to Adult ADHD symptoms. But note the self-help techniques mentioned above will work wonders for anyone suffering distraction or hoping to feel healthier and more motivated by life, so feel free to give them a go!
Has this article struck a chord? Would you like to share about your personal experience with Adult ADHD, or ask a question? Feel free to use the comment box below, we love hearing from you.