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Adult ADD / ADHD Overview

Learn more about adult ADHD: its prevalence, the different subtypes, the signs and symptoms, getting a diagnosis once an adult and the effective treatments that can help you mange the symptoms and thrive in life.

Adults can have ADHD - about 65% of children with ADHD will grow into adults who are still living with significant symptoms.

Untreated ADHD can impair your quality of life - adult ADHD symptoms can compromise your effectiveness at work or school, in relationships and even as a parent.

Fortunately, ADHD treatments can reduce the severity of the symptoms you experience and education and psychotherapy can teach you effective coping skills.

Adult ADHD is a common but manageable disorder, but only a small percentage of adults living with the condition receive any appropriate treatment. If you think you may have undiagnosed ADHD you should take steps to initiate the testing process and if you know you have adult ADHD you should strongly consider learning coping strategies and getting the medications and/or counseling and education that can help you to manage your disorder and thrive in life.

Adult ADHD Prevalence

ADHD affects between 5 and 8% of school aged children and between 2 and 4% of adults (somewhere between about 3 and 6 million adult Americans).1

Adults with ADHD are more likely than people from the general public to have a co-occurring mental illness or substance abuse disorder - As many as 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. 2

The 3 Types of ADHD

You may have heard the disorder differentiated as either ADD or ADHD, but although some people still use ADD, most professionals now use only the term ADHD which can be separated into 3 subtypes.

A person with ADHD has one of:

  1. ADHD mainly inattentive
  2. ADHD mainly hyperactive-impulsive
  3. ADHD combined (the most common subtype)

People who have primarily inattentive symptoms are diagnosed with ADHD mainly inattentive, people who display primarily hyperactive or impulsive symptoms are diagnosed with ADHD mainly hyperactive-impulsive and people who display both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are diagnosed with ADHD combined.

Examples of inattentive symptoms include:

  • Having a short attention span – getting distracted easily
  • Being forgetful – frequently losing things
  • Showing carelessness at work or school – having trouble sticking with boring tasks
  • Having trouble with organization
  • Poor concentration skills
  • Poor listening skills – having trouble listening to and following instructions

Examples of hyperactive and impulsive symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Excessive talking or movement – lots of fidgeting
  • Interrupting conversations – having a hard time waiting for your turn
  • Acting without thinking of the consequences
  • Risk taking3

Warning Signs That May Indicate an Undiagnosed Attention Disorder

Wondering if you might have undiagnosed adult ADHD? If more than a few of the following match your experience, you may want to talk to a doctor about testing for a diagnosis:

  • You have little success at work or school. You change jobs frequently
  • You have a history of traffic violations and traffic accidents
  • You’re always late and you’re always losing your belongings
  • You have money problems and have a problem with impulsive spending
  • You have trouble sustaining long term relationships
  • You have poor listening skills
  • You have anger control problems and rapid mood changes4
  • You feel a lot of frustration and guilt
  • You feel a lot of stress and worry about your inability to meet your responsibilities and accomplish your goals
  • You have a hard time with regular daily responsibilities, such as bill-paying or keeping the house in order
  • You’re a risk taker

Getting a Diagnosis

While it’s easy to identify an attention disorder in a 6 year old who can’t sit still, adults tend to learn coping strategies along the way that mask their symptoms – and this complicates the diagnostic process.

To get a diagnosis as an adult, your doctor or mental health professional will/may want to:

  1. Rule out other physical and mental health conditions that can create similar symptoms
  2. Verify that your symptoms have been present since childhood (they may want to speak to your parents or an old teacher for this)
  3. Confirm that the symptoms you experience are significant enough to impair your quality of life and confirm that your symptoms match the symptoms of an attention disorder

Adult ADHD Treatments

The most common treatments for adult ADHD are:

  1. Medications – Most commonly stimulants and sometimes different antidepressants
  2. Education and Psychotherapy – People with ADHD can learn coping skills such as organizational skills or time or money management techniques that can help a lot to counter the symptoms of the disorder. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help reverse negative thinking patterns that may accompany and exacerbate symptoms and which may cause peripheral symptoms, such as low self esteem or substance abuse.
  3. A combination of medication and education/psychotherapy5

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