Attention deficit disorder is not just a childhood disorder. Adults can be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well. Sometimes this is a result of the person’s childhood ADHD progressing into adulthood (up to 70 percent of children will continue to struggle with ADHD as adults). Other times, an adult can either simply never been diagnosed as a child, or develop the disorder later on in life.
Adult attention deficit disorder looks a lot like childhood attention deficit disorder. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the symptoms are largely the same. If you answer “Yes” to six or more of the below symptoms, you may have adult ADHD:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in course work, work, or other activities
- Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish chores or duties in the workplace
- Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
- Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
- Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
- Often leaves seat in situations in which remaining seated is expected
- Often experiences subjective feelings of restlessness
- Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
- Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
- Often has difficulty awaiting turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations)
Symptoms must have persisted for at least 6 months. Some of these symptoms need to have been present as a child, at 7 years old or younger. As with children, in adults the symptoms also need to be creating significant impairment in social, academic or
occupational functioning and/or relationships. In other words, having these symptoms is interfering with the person’s ability to have a normal routine. You can also take our adult ADHD quiz to find out if you have this concern.
While some of these symptoms must have been present in your childhood before age 7, a childhood diagnosis itself is not needed. Many children who may have qualified for an ADHD diagnosis were simply never evaluated or they and their parents found other strategies to help deal with the problems associated with attention deficit disorder.
Treatment of ADHD in Adults
The types of treatment available in adults for attention deficit disorder is very similar to the treatments available to children. Adults are more often treated with medications, however, whereas children have greater access to additional options (such as parent skills training for the parents).
Psychotherapy is readily available to help a person learn about ADHD and strategies that can help them minimize many of the effects of the disorder. Time and project management skills that can be put into use in a person’s life can help minimize the impact of distracted attention. Techniques that teach mindfulness can help a person to “be in the moment” and focus one’s attention.
Psychotherapy can provide an opportunity to explore emotions related to ADHD, such as anger that the problem was not diagnosed much earlier. It may boost self-esteem through improved self-awareness and compassion, and offer support during the changes brought about through medication and conscious efforts to alter behavior and limit any destructive consequences of ADHD.
Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for adult attention deficit disorder. They are fast-acting (they work immediately) and many people take them with few side effects. These include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, Methylin) and certain amphetamines (Dexedrine, Dextrostat, Adderall). Methylphenidate is a short acting drug, and in older forms, had to be taken multiple times a day. Longer-acting versions of the drug are now available for once-daily use. Although taking stimulants for treatment may seem risky, there is significant research that demonstrates that when taken as directed by your psychiatrist or physician, they are safe and effective in the treatment of adult ADHD.
The side effects of stimulants may include reduced appetite, headache, a “jittery” feeling, irritability, sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal upset, increased blood pressure, depression or anxiety, and/or psychosis or paranoia. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
Other, newer kinds of drugs, have also been approved for the treatment of attention deficit disorder. These non-stimulant medications include Strattera (atomoxetine, a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate). These drugs typically offer similar benefits to stimulants, but act in a different way on the brain. Some people may find they better tolerate these drugs.
Another useful category of drugs for adults with ADHD are the antidepressants, either alongside or instead of stimulants. Antidepressants which target the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are the most effective. These include the older form of antidepressant known as the tricyclics, as well as new antidepressants, such as Venlafaxine (Effexor). The antidepressant Bupropion (Wellbutrin) has been found useful in trials of adult ADHD, and may also help reduce nicotine cravings.