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10 signs that you might have Adult ADHD

Dr Henriette Smith November 2017

· Mind

A lot of the time it’s not hard to spot ADHD in kids. But adults can have more subtle symptoms. This means many adults struggle with ADHD and may not know they have it. They may not realize that many of the problems they face, including staying organized or being on time, relate back to ADHD.

Here are 10 potential warning signs of adult ADHD:

No. 1: Trouble Getting Organized

For people with ADHD, the responsibilities of adulthood -- bills, jobs, and children, to name a few -- can make problems with organization more obvious and more problematic than in childhood.

No. 2: Reckless Driving and Traffic Accidents

ADHD makes it hard to keep your attention on a task, so spending time behind the wheel of a car can be hard. ADHD symptoms can make some people more likely to speed, have traffic accidents, and lose their driver’s licenses.

No. 3: Marital Trouble

Many people without ADHD have marital problems, so a troubled marriage shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a red flag for adult ADHD. But there are some marriage problems that are likely to affect the relationships of those with ADHD. Often, the partners of people with undiagnosed ADHD take poor listening skills and an inability to honor commitments as a sign that their partner doesn’t care. If you’re the person with ADHD, you may not understand why your partner is upset, and you may feel you’re being nagged or blamed for something that’s not your fault.

No. 4: Extremely Distractible

ADHD is a problem with attention, so adult ADHD can make it hard to succeed in today’s fast-paced, hustle-bustle world. Many people find that distractibility can lead to a history of career under-performance, especially in noisy or busy offices. If you have adult ADHD, you might find that phone calls or email derail your attention, making it hard for you to finish tasks.

No. 5: Poor Listening Skills

Do you zone out during long business meetings? Did your husband forget to pick up your child at baseball practice, even though you called to remind him on his way home? Problems with attention result in poor listening skills in many adults with ADHD, leading to a lot of missed appointments and misunderstandings.

No. 6: Restlessness, Trouble Relaxing

While many children with ADHD are “hyperactive,” this ADHD symptom often appears differently in adults. Rather than bouncing off the walls, adults with ADHD are more likely to be restless or find they can’t relax. If you have adult ADHD, others might describe you as edgy or tense.

No. 7: Trouble Starting a Task

Just as children with ADHD often put off doing homework, adults with ADHD often drag their feet when starting tasks that require a lot of attention. This procrastination often adds to existing problems, including marital disagreements, workplace issues, and problems with friends.

No. 8: Lateness

There are many reasons for this. First, adults with ADHD are often distracted on the way to an event, maybe realizing the car needs to be washed and then noticing they’re low on gas, and before they know it an hour has gone by. People with adult ADHD also tend to underestimate how much time it takes to finish a task, whether it’s a major assignment at work or a simple home repair.

No. 9: Anger Outbursts

ADHD often leads to problems with controlling emotions. Many people with adult ADHD are quick to explode over minor problems. Often, they feel as if they have no control over their emotions. Many times, their anger fades as quickly as it flared, long before the people who dealt with the outburst have gotten over the incident.

No. 10: Prioritizing Issues

Often, people with adult ADHD mis-prioritize, failing to meet big obligations, like a deadline at work, while spending countless hours on something insignificant.

Some other symptoms of adult ADHD

  • Hyperfocus

While people with ADHD are often easily distractible, they may also have something called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can get so engrossed in something that they can become unaware of anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time and ignore those around you. This can lead to relationship misunderstandings.

  • Forgetfulness

It’s human to forget things occasionally, but for someone with ADHD, forgetfulness is a part of everyday life. This can include routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or what important dates you need to keep.

Sometimes forgetfulness can be annoying but unimportant; other times, it can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness or lack of intelligence.

·      Poor self-image

Adults with ADHD are often hypercritical of themselves, which can lead to a poor self-image. This is due in part to their inability to concentrate, as well as other symptoms that may cause problems in school, work, or relationships. Adults with ADHD may view these difficulties as personal failures or underachievement, which can cause them to see themselves in a negative light.

·      Fatigue

Although this may sound surprising given that restlessness is also a symptom, fatigue is a problem for many adults with ADHD. There could be several reasons for this. It may be due to hyperactivity or sleep problems that can come with ADHD. Or it could be due to the constant effort to focus required by adults with ADHD. Or it could be a side effect of ADHD medications. Whatever the cause, fatigue can make attention difficulties even worse.

·      Health problems

Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating (often overeating, with resultant obesity), neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress can also have negative impacts on health. Without good health habits, the negative effects of ADHD can make other symptoms worse.

·      Substance misuse

This issue may not affect every adult with ADHD, but adults with this condition are more likely than others to have problems with substance misuse. This may involve the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. The research isn’t clear on what the link is between substance misuse and ADHD. However, one theory is that people with ADHD use substances to self-medicate. They may misuse these substances in the hopes of improving focus or sleep, or to relieve anxiety. Treating someone with ADHD with stimulants in fact lessens the substance abuse

  • Other common traits among adults with ADHD include:
  • changing employers often
  • having few personal or work-related achievements
  • repeated patterns of relationship issues, including divorce

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most common neurobehavioral disorders presenting for treatment in children. It carries a high rate of comorbid psychiatric problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, mood and anxiety disorders, and cigarette and substance use disorders. Across the life span, the social and societal costs of untreated ADHD are considerable, including academic and occupational underachievement, delinquency, motor vehicle safety, and difficulties with personal relationships.

ADHD affects an estimated 4% to 12% of school-aged children worldwide, with survey and epidemiologically derived data showing that 4 to 5% of college aged students and adults have ADHD. In more recent years, the recognition and diagnosis of ADHD in adults have been increasing although treatment of adults with ADHD continues to lag substantially behind that of children. In contrast to a disproportionate rate of boys diagnosed with ADHD relative to girls in childhood, in adults, an equal number of men and women with ADHD are presenting for diagnosis and treatment.

ADHD has been conceptualized as a disorder affecting “frontal” circuitry due to associated deficits in executive cognitive functioning. Structural imaging studies have documented diffuse abnormalities in children and adults with ADHD.

ADHD is a complex lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. No one knows exactly what causes ADHD, but it is understood to result from chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, that don’t function properly in the areas of the brain that control activity and attention. The specific neurotransmitters involved are noradrenaline and dopamine.

There’s increasing research to suggest that ADHD is linked to genetics – studies of twins show that it’s 76% inheritable. If an adult has ADHD, their children are at risk of having ADHD. In fact, experts say for any child with ADHD, there’s a 30%-40% chance one parent has ADHD too. At least one third of all adults who’ve had ADHD have children with ADHD.

There are also other factors that are thought to increase the risk of ADHD. Some studies show a possible correlation between ADHD and the use of cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy, as well as exposure to toxins (lead, for example) during pregnancy. Environmental factors can also influence the risk of having ADHD, such as birth complications, premature birth, low birth weight and brain injuries.


Coexisting conditions

Although ADHD doesn't cause other psychological or developmental problems, other disorders often occur along with ADHD and make treatment more challenging. These include:

  • Mood disorders. Many adults with ADHD also have depression, bipolar disorder or another mood disorder. While mood problems aren't necessarily due directly to ADHD, a repeated pattern of failures and frustrations due to ADHD can worsen depression.
  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders occur fairly often in adults with ADHD. Anxiety disorders may cause overwhelming worry, nervousness and other symptoms. Anxiety can be made worse by the challenges and setbacks caused by ADHD.
  • Other psychiatric disorders. Adults with ADHD are at increased risk of other psychiatric disorders, such as personality disorders, intermittent explosive disorder and substance abuse.
  • Learning disabilities. Adults with ADHD may score lower on academic testing than would be expected for their age, intelligence and education. Learning disabilities can include problems with understanding and communicating.
Diagnosis

Signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults can be hard to spot. However, core symptoms start early in life — before age 12 — and continue into adulthood, creating major problems.No single test can confirm the diagnosis. Making the diagnosis will likely include:

  • Physical exam, to help rule out other possible causes for your symptoms
  • Information gathering, such as asking you questions about any current medical issues, personal and family medical history, and the history of your symptoms
  • ADHD rating scales or psychological tests to help collect and evaluate information about your symptoms
Other conditions that resemble ADHD

Some medical conditions or treatments may cause signs and symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Examples include:

  • Mental health disorders, including mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, conduct disorders, learning and language deficits, or other psychiatric disorders
  • Medical problems that can affect thinking or behavior, such as a developmental disorder, seizure disorder, thyroid problems, sleep disorders, lead poisoning, brain injury or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Drugs and medications, such as alcohol or other substance abuse and certain medications
Treatment

Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, training and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can relieve many symptoms of ADHD, but they don't cure it. It may take some time to determine what works best for you.

Medications

Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of any medications.

  • Stimulants, such as products that include methylphenidate or amphetamine, are typically the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulants appear to boost and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
  • Other medications used to treat ADHD include the nonstimulant atomoxetine (Strattera) and certain antidepressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin, others). Atomoxetine and antidepressants work slower than stimulants do, but these may be good options if you can't take stimulants because of health problems or a history of substance abuse or if stimulants cause severe side effects.

The right medication and the right dose vary among individuals, so it may take time to find out what's right for you. Tell your doctor about any side effects.

Psychological counseling

Counseling for adult ADHD generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy), education about the disorder and learning skills to help you be successful.

Psychotherapy may help you:

  • Improve your time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce your impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic, work or social failures
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with your family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling your temper

Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This structured type of counseling teaches specific skills to manage your behavior and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones. It can help you deal with life challenges, such as school, work or relationship problems, and help address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance abuse.
  • Marital counseling and family therapy. This type of therapy can help loved ones cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD and learn what they can do to help. Such counseling can improve communication and problem-solving skills.
Working on relationships

If you're like many adults with ADHD, you may be unpredictable and forget appointments, miss deadlines, and make impulsive or irrational decisions. These behaviors can strain the patience of the most forgiving co-worker, friend or partner.

Therapy that focuses on these issues and ways to better monitor your behavior can be very helpful. So can classes to improve communication and develop conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Couples therapy and classes in which family members learn more about ADHD may significantly improve your relationships.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Because ADHD is a complex disorder and each person is unique, it's hard to make recommendations for all adults who have ADHD. But some of these suggestions may help:

  • Make a list of tasks to accomplish each day. Prioritize the items. Make sure you're not trying to do too much.
  • Break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Consider using checklists.
  • Use sticky pads to write notes to yourself. Put them on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, in the car or in other places where you'll see the reminder.
  • Keep an appointment book or electronic calendar to track appointments and deadlines.
  • Carry a notebook or electronic device with you so that you can note ideas or things you'll need to remember.
  • Take time to set up systems to file and organize information, both on your electronic devices and for paper documents. Get in the habit of using these systems consistently.
  • Follow a routine that's consistent from day to day and keep items, such as your keys and your wallet, in the same place.
  • Ask for help from family members or other loved ones.
Alternative medicine

There's little research to indicate that alternative medicine treatments can reduce ADHD symptoms. However, one recent study indicates that mindfulness meditation may help improve mood and attention in adults who have ADHD, as well as those who don't have ADHD.

Before using alternative interventions for ADHD, talk with your doctor about risks and possible benefits.

Coping and support

While treatment can make a big difference with ADHD, taking other steps can help you understand ADHD and learn to manage it. Some resources that may help you are listed below. Ask your health care team for more advice on resources.

  • Support groups. Support groups allow you to meet other people with ADHD so that you can share experiences, information and coping strategies. These groups are available in person in many communities and also online.
  • Social support. Involve your spouse, close relatives and friends in your ADHD treatment. You may feel reluctant to let people know you have ADHD, but letting others know what's going on can help them understand you better and improve your relationships.
  • Co-workers, supervisors and teachers. ADHD can make work and school a challenge. You may feel embarrassed telling your boss or professor that you have ADHD, but most likely they'll be willing to make small accommodations to help you succeed. Ask for what you need to improve your performance, such as more in-depth explanations or more time on certain tasks.

This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

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blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.