What Is Adult ADHD and What Can I Do About It?

By John Shin, MD

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a childhood illness, yet up to 70% of children with ADHD will have significant ADHD symptoms as an adult.  That is, at least 4.4% of adults will have prominent ADHD symptoms affecting their functioning. The true number may be up to double that amount.  It can be a truly debilitating condition that not only affects the ADHD adult patient, but also their family members and children.  

What is Adult ADHD? ADHD is a constellation of symptoms indicating issues with hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. In adults, hyperactivity may not be as evident as one would notice in a child with ADHD. However, the adult may feel restless, easily bored, frustrated and fidgety. Impulsivity and inattention tend to persist from childhood to adulthood without fail. The adult ADHD patient may demonstrate impulsivity by biting on their tongue or walking away when feeling impulsive. The Adult with ADHD may try to organize their lives with lists and prompts, but inevitably they cannot keep themselves on track and tend to start projects and not complete them. Their inability to prioritize prevents them from keeping up with work obligations, or housework, or they may need to take extra time and effort in order to keep up.  All these add an inordinate burden which makes life complicated and hectic for Adults with ADHD. 

What can I do about Adult ADHD? The first thing one should do is to get a thorough assessment to ensure one does have Adult ADHD and to determine if one has any other conditions which may negatively impact on what may be ADHD symptoms. Adult ADHD patients should have some evidence of ADHD as a child which may have worsened over time. It is not a condition a person has developed just as an adult. If focusing concerns developed as an adult, it is more likely due to effects of anxiety, depression, or drug or alcohol problems.  It could be secondary to medical issues such as brain trauma, medication side-effects, or other medical processes which affect focusing and memory. It is essential, if one suspects one has Adult ADHD, to receive a thorough psychiatric assessment to determine what the etiology of the focusing problems might be.  Often adults with ADHD, will get an assessment once one of their children is diagnosed with ADHD and then realize they have similar symptoms as well.

What can be done to treat ADHD? Adult ADHD is a readily treatable condition. Treatment may include medication treatment with a variety of different kinds of medications that have been scientifically proven and thoroughly researched to be very effective to address symptoms. In addition, treatment of any co-existing conditions must be addressed. That is, anxiety, depression, or substance problems may exacerbate focusing and emotional/behavioral problems.  Medication and/or psychotherapy services are most likely needed to treat these other psychiatric conditions, in order to more fully treat one’s adult ADHD symptoms. In addition, specific therapeutic intervention, via an experienced therapist, may be needed, as well, addressing issues such as, but not limited to:  how to prioritize, plan, keep a routine, manage stress, and manage interpersonal relationship concerns impacted by ADHD.

Adult ADHD is a psychiatric condition which can be effectively evaluated and treated. One needs to be aware of the symptoms and get the appropriate help.