Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

ADHD isn’t just a problem for children. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence, often persists into adulthood. Several studies have found that most adults diagnosed with ADHD as children still meet the criteria for the disorder. Recent research has shown that many adults who have ADHD did not have the condition as children. In adulthood, ADHD is associated with significant occupational, academic, and social functioning impairments.

The symptoms of ADHD go beyond simply not paying attention. In particular, it can make it difficult to plan, organize, and focus on daily tasks. It is also possible for ADHD to have a negative effect on your relationships. Furthermore, people with ADHD can experience difficulties with alcohol, substances, and drugs, as well as ongoing emotional and lifestyle problems.

The good news is that ADHD can be managed. You can manage adult ADHD by learning ways to turn challenges into strengths by receiving education and support. Many people find great relief in getting a diagnosis and understanding that there is a reason for their difficulties.

Symptoms of ADHD

A person with ADHD may:

  • Have mood swings that are unpredictable
  • Work carelessly and make mistakes
  • Have a difficult time maintaining attention
  • Be unable to listen when directly addressed
  • Fail to follow instructions or complete tasks
  • Have trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoid prolonged mental effort at work
  • Often lose keys, paperwork, and task-related items
  • Be distracted easily by other stimuli
  • Be forgetful in daily activities
  • Squirm in their seats or fidget with their hands or feet
  • Be continually on the go
  • Become impatient
  • Say things without thinking
  • Butt into conversations or other activities
  • Have sleep difficulties

Causes of ADHD

As of now, it is unclear exactly what causes ADHD. Heredity and genetics may play a large role in who develops ADHD. Scientists are still determining whether certain genes, especially those linked to dopamine, play a role in ADHD development. It has also been suggested that exposure to certain chemicals may increase a child’s risk of ADHD.

ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, too much sugar, or too many video games. This disorder is based on a biological process in the brain. According to brain imaging studies and other research, the brains of individuals with ADHD show many physiological differences.

Risks of Untreated ADHD in Adults

As mentioned above, untreated ADHD is connected to impairments in key living areas, such as work and school, relationships, and quality of life. A few risks of untreated ADHD in adults include:

  • Low self-esteem: Adults with ADHD often experience negative attitudes due to their difficulties functioning. According to studies, the effects of ADHD on self-esteem in adulthood can be improved with treatment.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety disorders affect about 50% of adults with ADHD. It is possible to improve ADHD and anxiety symptoms with medications and psychotherapy.
  • Relationship issues: Studies indicate that adults with ADHD have poor emotional regulation (a lack of ability to manage emotions). Untreated ADHD makes it difficult to manage emotions, frustration, impatience, and anger. Relationships are negatively impacted by emotional reactivity. Medication and therapy can help treat ADHD and improve communication and relationship skills.
  • Job stress: Adults with ADHD face a variety of workplace challenges, including poor communication skills, distractibility, procrastination, and managing challenging projects. It is possible to gain skills to manage ADHD in the workplace through psychotherapy. Additionally, finding a career path that plays to ADHD’s strengths, such as those in fast-paced environments, is important.
  • Substance use: Studies have shown that people with ADHD are three times more likely to be nicotine dependent. People with ADHD were 50% more likely to develop a drug or alcohol use disorder. Substance abuse can be reduced with ADHD medication treatment.

Diagnosis of ADHD

An accurate diagnosis of ADHD is crucial. ADHD symptoms can be similar to anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses. There is no biological test to see whether or not a person has ADHD. A diagnosis is currently made by subjectively rating a person’s behavior at home, work, or school. The American Psychiatric Association provides clinical guidelines for diagnosing ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is widely accepted that these guidelines are used in both research and clinical practice. During an evaluation, one of our SF Stress clinicians will attempt to determine whether these symptoms currently apply to the adult and if they have been present since childhood. Adults should have at least five of the symptoms to make a diagnosis. Symptoms may change over time, so adults may present differently than children. Diagnosis may also include:

  • Ruling out other psychological conditions with similar symptoms
  • Making sure that alcohol or drug abuse is not the cause of the symptoms
  • Assessing the person’s current lifestyle and behavior
  • Seeing if the person showed ADHD symptoms as a child
  • Interviewing their partner, family, friends, and others about the person’s behavior

Treatment Options for ADHD in Adults

The good news is that all types of ADHD in adults can be managed once they have been diagnosed. When treating ADHD symptoms in adults, a combination of the following methods is ideal:

  • Education – assisting the person in understanding and managing their condition
  • Lifestyle improvement – taking up regular exercise, cutting back on drugs and alcohol, and quitting smoking
  • Medication – The use of stimulants and non-stimulants is common
  • Psychotherapy – for problems with self-esteem or substance abuse
  • Therapy – behavioral and cognitive behavior therapy to teach anger management, organization, and social skills according to the individual’s needs.
  • Vocational counseling – increasing a person’s chance of success and satisfaction in the workplace
  • Family therapy – support is needed for the whole family when one member has ADHD
  • Getting involved in a support group.

The Good News

While ADHD can affect people in different ways, once you understand why it is you have been struggling, you can start to explore the many different approaches to managing it and living with ADHD successfully. For adults who discover late in life that they have ADHD, it can be both a source of relief and sadness as they reflect on how different their lives might have been if they had known earlier. Criticizing yourself or others and blaming others for not understanding your struggle won’t help. What matters is what you know now. Learn how to take control of your ADHD and become responsible for managing it so that you can get back to living, working, and pursuing your interests and goals.

Living with ADHD can be difficult, but the good news is that when you implement these strategies and lifestyle changes, you will start to notice how much better you are feeling, and you will grow in confidence about your ability to manage your day-to-day life. A positive solution-focused attitude is something that you learn – and it takes time. Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, cultivate a sense of humor, and appreciate the people and things in your life that mean something to you. If you think you might have ADHD schedule your free consultation with one of our highly-trained therapists today.  We offer both in-person and virtual ADHD evaluations.

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