Is Adult ADHD real?

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

Perhaps it is Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for why you have multiple projects started, yet remain unfinished besides what you have heard so many times in your life… that you are lazy or you simply don’t try hard enough. Maybe there is a legitimate reason for why it is so challenging to complete all the things on the “to-do” list, if you could only remember where you put that list.

If someone asked you the question, “What are you thinking about?” Could you truly consider responding, “Ah, nothing…..”, like so many people do? Or, would your response be more like, “Thinking about what? Which thing? I have about twenty ideas racing through my mind just this minute alone!” Maybe the only time your brain seems to slow down from the racing thoughts is when you become laser-focused (often called hyper-focused) on things you have extreme interest in such as: video games, sewing, fishing, woodworking, sports, exercise, art, mechanics, gardening, reading, television, etc. At those times, it is as if you are in a zone and the rest of the world, no matter how important people or situations in that world may be to you, does not exist.

Interpersonal relationship struggles often occur because of this hyper-focus state. Being in the “zone” contributes to difficulty listening, along with impulsively interrupting, becoming easily distracted during conversations and not focusing on what someone else is saying. Thus, it results in not remember what you have been told or even worse, what you have promised during a conversation. Sound familiar?

How about problems keeping a job or issues with progressing in a career? Do you sometimes overreact to what others deem as the smallest things? Are you extra sensitive to noises, smells, brightness of lights, temperature, tags on clothes and seams on socks, and the feel of certain fabrics, such that if these things are not just right you become irritable and easily overwhelmed? Do you have challenges with organization and time management?

If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be dealing with Adult ADHD. Many people used to think that all children who have ADHD simply grow out of it before adulthood. Although some still hold on to this belief, we now know through research and more progressive brain studies and brain imaging that this is not the case. Neuropsychiatric studies are indicating that 50% to 70% of the children diagnosed during childhood are still symptomatic as adults. It is believed, however, that even more adults are suffering with ADHD symptoms, but they may not meet DSM-5 criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition) for an actual diagnosis. The theory about reduced symptoms is that by adulthood some people have learned skills to compensate and minimize some, but not all, of the behavioral, cognitive, or emotional impairments of the disorder. Yet, if the brain were examined through more sophisticated nuclear imaging such as PET scans, research is showing that the adult brain is still showing the markers and the neurochemistry of ADHD just as seen in children.

By DSM-5 criteria, to be diagnosed with Adult ADHD, a person must have had symptoms present throughout their lifetime, starting in childhood. ADHD is known to be a genetic disorder, so it is highly likely that there are children (biological children or nieces, nephews) in the family system with symptoms or who have actually been diagnosed, or perhaps siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. Some of the symptoms of ADHD are common to other mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tic-disorders and others. It is often common to have more than one disorder at a time, but the interventions may be quite distinct for each. There are methods for distinguishing the disorders and because the interventions can be quite different, especially if medications are part of the treatment plan, it is critical to have a thorough mental health and/or psychiatric evaluation by a licensed and trained professional. Adult ADHD can be well managed and treatment can make a remarkable difference in a person’s quality of life. In fact, the other mental health disorders mentioned can also be well managed with effective evaluation and treatment.

If you have symptoms that are intrusive and causing impairment in your life, providers at Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC are experienced and trained to assess your situation, and to help define the problem, and assist with identifying effective solutions. Call 919-292-1464 to establish an appointment right away with one of our providers at Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC.