When you think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the first image that probably springs to mind is a young child squirming in his seat or racing from activity to activity. But that’s not the only face of ADHD. Experts estimate that approximately 8 million American adults also live with ADHD, though very few of them are diagnosed or treated for the condition. How can you tell if you’re one of those adults and what treatment options are available?
One reason many adults with ADHD may not be diagnosed is that the symptoms can look very different than they do in children. For both children and adults, ADHD can be defined by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. But while hyperactivity is often the most noticeable symptom in children, that’s rarely the case with adults.
In adults, common ADHD symptoms can include:
- Difficulty with organization and completing tasks such as projects at work or paying bills
- Chronic lateness and forgetfulness
- Severe procrastination
- Chronic boredom
- Lower than average listening skills
- Anxiety and depression
- Impulse control issues such as inability to control anger, little tolerance for frustration and a higher risk for substance abuse
- Extreme distractibility
- Restlessness (mental or physical) or an inability to relax
These symptoms can have a negative effect on most every aspect of life. Studies have found that people with adult ADHD experience more frequent marital problems and often have difficulty maintaining employment or change jobs frequently. They also commit more traffic violations and have a higher risk of being in a traffic accident.
Adult ADHD has also been linked to behaviors that can have a negative impact on your health, including compulsive eating and chronic stress, which can contribute to the development of a range of problems including heart disease and diabetes.
Treatment can help improve your quality of life
The treatment for adult ADHD depends on the severity of your symptoms. For many people with mild symptoms that do not cause serious disruptions to daily life, cognitive therapy can help build the organizational skills and systems they need to overcome a tendency toward disorganization and distraction.
People with more severe symptoms may benefit from the same medications used to treat childhood ADHD or antidepressant medications. The combination of behavior therapy and medication works well for many people with severe adult ADHD. One randomized controlled trial at Massachusetts General Hospital found that combining cognitive behavioral therapy with medication achieved a 67 percent response rate for adults whose symptoms were stabilized with medication but who still had clinically significant symptoms. Those who only received medication had a much lower response rate of 33 percent.
If you are living with adult ADHD and the issues the condition can create, a personal health advisor can help you connect with physicians who have experience treating adults living with this condition. Together, you can develop a treatment plan tailored to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.