Do I Have Adult ADHD?
Reviewed by Cathy Zegarowicz Leeson, SLP
I always just assumed I was scatterbrained, but now I’m not so sure. I tend to get really excited about something I plan on doing, but then I often end up doing other things that are not at all related to what I’m excited about.
For example, I might clean the house for an hour, then decide to take a walk through the woods. Then when I get back, I’ll be too tired to continue with whatever it was that got me so excited. Sometimes I’ll feel really motivated to do something, but then once I start thinking about it too much, I won’t be able to finish. It’s really hard for me to sit still and focus on one thing for very long.
Is this normal? Or could these be signs of adult ADHD?
What is Adult ADHD?
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based mental health disorder that can cause trouble with paying attention or being organized. It can lead to being impulsive and feeling restless. You may have trouble focusing and setting priorities. When you’re an adult with ADHD, your work, relationships, and home life can suffer.
Symptoms of inattention and disorganization can include:
- Missing deadlines at work
- Frequently losing keys, glasses, important papers, etc.
- Having trouble paying bills on time
- Forgetting plans you made with family or friends
- Frequent procrastination
Symptoms of being impulsiveness or feeling restless might include:
- Feeling impatient with other drivers or waiting in lines
- Frequently buying things you can’t afford
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Having frequent outbursts of anger
- Moving from one activity to the next to the next
My Friend has ADD, but I’m Different…
There are three different types of ADHD in adults. These are mostly inattentive, mostly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of the two.
Inattentive ADHD might look like:
- Trouble keeping track of details or time
- Losing things you frequently use
- Getting easily distracted
- Difficulty concentrating
Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD might show up as:
- Trouble staying still (knee jiggling, fidgeting, etc.)
- Moving from one activity to the next
- Interrupting others or blurting out
- Trouble waiting for turns
- Talking too much or too fast
- Frequent angry outbursts
For any ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms must have started before the age 12. Problems must be seen in at least two settings (such as work, home, community, school, etc.) and interfere with how you function in these settings. Most people your age do not have the same problems you do with paying attention, concentrating, or being impulsive.
About 50-63% of children diagnosed with ADHD outgrow it by adulthood, but many adults still struggle or have never been diagnosed. ADHD starts before the age of 12, but how it looks can change over the years. For example, people may be less hyperactive, but are still impulsive, restless, and have trouble paying attention. As people get older they sometimes find ways to cope with these symptoms, but some adults continue to struggle and need help.
Who Can Diagnose ADHD in Adults?
There are a number of professionals who can diagnose ADHD in adults, including:
- Primary care doctors
- Clinical psychologists
- Nurse practitioners
- Clinical social workers
- Other licensed counselors or therapists
ADHD is diagnosed using the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -5 (DSM-5). Professionals may gather many types of information including:
- Family history of ADHD
- Reviewing symptoms that started before age twelve (using self-reports, school records, etc.)
- Ruling out other mental health conditions
- Identifying how ADHD symptoms affect work, community, or home functioning
- Using ADHD screening tests
What Can I Do? Is There Treatment?
There are three main types of therapy used to treat adults with ADHD – cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), couples therapy, and family therapy. CBT is based upon the idea that how we think, how we feel, and how we behave all interact together. Couples or family therapy can be helpful to learn about ADHD, how to manage it, and how to interact in a healthy way.
There are many medications that can be used to help reduce ADHD symptoms. A psychiatrist might prescribe some for you to try and will keep track of how you do. Sometimes you will work with your doctor to adjust the dose or try a different medication.
- Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD and can be very effective. They are safe when used under medical supervision. There can be some side effects, especially if they are misused or too much/little is taken. Tell your doctor if you have another health condition such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, or anxiety. Some side effects include decreased appetite, sleep problems, headaches, or increased anxiety or irritability. People who have substance abuse issues may not be able to use stimulant medication.
- Non-stimulants take longer to start working, but also can help with focusing, attention, and impulsivity. Sometimes antidepressants are used, especially if people have side effects from stimulants.
There are many coping strategies that can be used to help with symptoms of adult ADHD at work and at home.
Workplace strategies may include:
- Setting up a workspace that is not distracting
- Breaking up big assignments into smaller tasks
- Using checklists for projects, including how much time each step may take
- Using an electronic filing system
- Recording instructions or meetings, and asking for written instructions
- Finding a mentor to help you prioritize tasks
At-home strategies may include:
- Keeping a wall calendar with everyone’s activities
- Setting up a specific place to keep items such as keys, glasses, school supplies
- Setting up a simple filing system to keep track of bills with reminders of when to pay them
- Asking your digital assistant (like your Alexa, Google Home, or smartphone device) to set reminders of events and allowing extra time for travel
- Using sticky pads to write notes to yourself and putting them in places you look at often (bathroom mirrors, cars, fridge, etc.)
- Following a daily routine
If you think you have Adult ADHD, you aren’t alone. Approximately 4-5% of all adults struggle with this condition, but there is hope. Ask your doctor or find a mental health professional today so you can be properly assessed.
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