Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD is not limited to children -- 30% to 70% of kids with ADHD continue having symptoms when they grow up. In addition, people who were never diagnosed as kids may develop more obvious symptoms in adulthood, causing trouble on the job or in relationships. Many adults don’t realize they have ADHD, leaving them mystified about why their goals seem to slip out of reach.
Signs of Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD in adults follows a slightly different pattern than in children. Adults may be chronically late for work or important events. Adults may realize that their tardiness is undermining their goals, but they just can't seem to be on time.
One of the hallmarks of ADHD is difficulty keeping your mind on the task at hand. That spells trouble for teens and adults when they're behind the wheel of a vehicle. Studies show that people with ADHD are more likely to speed, have accidents, and lose their drivers' licenses.
Adults with ADHD may have trouble prioritizing, starting, and finishing tasks. They tend to be disorganized, restless, and easily distracted. Some people with ADHD have trouble concentrating while reading. The inability to stay focused and follow through on tasks can derail careers, ambitions, and relationships.
Adults with ADHD may have problems with self-control. This can lead to:
- · Difficulty controlling anger
- · Impulsive behaviors
- · Blurting out rude or insulting thoughts
Some adults with ADHD can focus intently on things they enjoy or find interesting -- the ability to hyperfocus. But they struggle to pay attention to tasks that bore them. The trouble is that many tasks necessary for success in everyday life are dull, from making a grocery list to filing documents at work. People with ADHD tend to put off boring tasks in favor of more enjoyable activities.
It may seem like everyone has ADHD these days, as we respond to text messages, email, calls, and fast-paced work environments. While all of this can be distracting, most people manage to focus on important responsibilities. In people with ADHD, distractions interfere with the completion of vital tasks at home and at work.
If you are often restless and have trouble concentrating, don't jump to the conclusion that you have ADHD. These symptoms are also common in other conditions. Poor concentration is a classic sign of depression. Restlessness or anxiety could indicate an overactive thyroid or anxiety disorder. Your health care provider will investigate whether these conditions could be causing your symptoms instead of -- or in addition to -- ADHD.
What Causes ADHD?
In people with ADHD, brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are less active in areas of the brain that control attention. Researchers don't know exactly what causes this chemical imbalance, but they think genes may play a role, because ADHD often runs in families. Studies have also linked ADHD to prenatal exposure to cigarettes and alcohol.
An Evolutionary Advantage
One genetic variation that causes ADHD-like traits is more common in the world's nomadic peoples. Researchers think that traits such as impulsive behavior, novelty-seeking, and unpredictability might help nomads track down food and other resources. So the same qualities that make it challenging to excel at a desk job may have been an advantage to nomadic ancestors.
Diagnosing ADHD in Adults
Many adults don’t learn that they have ADHD until they get help for another problem, such as anxiety or depression. Discussing poor habits, troubles at work, or marital conflicts often reveals that ADHD is at fault. To confirm the diagnosis, the disorder must have been present during childhood, even if it was never diagnosed. Old report cards or talking with relatives can document childhood problems, such as poor focus and hyperactivity.
Testing for ADHD
During an evaluation for ADHD, some mental health professionals use neuropsychological tests. These can include timed, computer-based tests that measure attention and problem-solving skills. Neuropsychological testing is not needed to make a diagnosis, but it can shed light on how ADHD affects a person's daily life. It can also uncover coexisting conditions, such as learning disabilities.
Complications of Adult ADHD
Coping with the symptoms of adult ADHD can be frustrating in itself. At the same time, many adults with ADHD struggle with depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder. They’re also more likely to smoke or abuse drugs. People with ADHD can limit these problems by seeking proper treatment.
Medications for ADHD
The most common medicines for ADHD are stimulants. It may seem ironic that people who are restless or hyperactive get help from stimulants. These drugs may sharpen concentration and curb distractibility by fine-tuning brain circuits that affect attention. If stimulants don't help enough, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to stabilize mood or a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, such as atomoxetine, which can help control impulsive behaviors.