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Adult ADHD, a relatively misunderstood disorder in the medical community, affects 4% of adults worldwide. Many of these adults may not even be aware they are suffering from the disorder. Here is detailed information on how to recognize adult ADHD and what you can do to manage your symptoms.
What Is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition characterized by a deficiency of attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Often confused with hyperactivity and referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), adult ADHD is a real mental health disorder that can have adverse effects on a person’s life.
Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually find that their symptoms are similar to the symptoms of ADHD in children — they find it difficult to stay focused and organized, maintain social relationships, or manage time well. As a result, adults with ADHD may have problems at work, in social situations, and within intimate relationships.
ADHD is primarily a neurodevelopmental disorder that has a strong hereditary component. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Neurodevelopmental disorders are known for affecting how a person’s brain functions. They range from mild impairments to severe disorders that require lifelong care. In addition to hereditary factors, environmental factors such as parenting and diet may also contribute to the manifestation of ADHD symptoms but have not been found to have any association with the development of the disorder.1
ADHD is a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling executive functions and other self-regulatory processes. This area of the brain operates less efficiently in people with ADHD.1
Executive function is a set of cognitive skills that a person needs for self-control and to manage their behaviors. Some of these skills include self-control, mental flexibility, and working memory. These skills help a person focus, control their emotions, and follow directions.
As they mature, children with ADHD tend to develop around 75-80% of the executive functioning capacity of their neurotypical peers.2
ADD vs. ADHD
ADHD is a mental disorder, while ADD is the generic term used to describe a variety of attention-deficit disorders. These can include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, attention-deficit disorder without hyperactivity, and attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity.
ADHD in Children
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly observed behavioral disorders in children. Although ADHD is not a learning disability, it can make learning difficult. Children with ADHD often have problems with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Although most children have behavioral problems, the symptoms of children with ADHD may continue into adulthood, be severe, and cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.3
According to a national 2016 parent survey, the estimated number of children ever diagnosed with ADHD is 6.1 million (9.4%). The number includes:4
388,000 children aged 2-5 years
2.4 million children aged 6-11 years
3.3 million children aged 12-17 years
Additionally, many children with ADHD also suffer from other disorders. The same 2016 parent survey found that 6 in 10 children with ADHD had at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder:4
5 in 10 children with ADHD also had a behavioral or conduct problem
3 in 10 children with ADHD also had anxiety
Some other conditions that affect children with ADHD include depression, autism spectrum disorder, and Tourette syndrome.
ADHD in Adults
Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually find that their symptoms are similar to those of people with ADHD as children — they find it challenging to stay focused and organized, maintain social relationships, or manage time well.
According to the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Foundation, adults who have ADHD also struggle with sleep problems and poor motivation.
It is estimated that approximately 60% of children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms as an adult. The condition is usually diagnosed once the individual reaches adulthood.5
Data indicate that about 4% of adults live with ADHD worldwide. In the US, approximately 8 million adults have ADHD, making it one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders.5
ADHD symptoms may vary from person to person and may fluctuate from one day to the next. The symptoms of ADHD tend to become milder or reduced as the person ages, but some adults continue to have major ADHD symptoms that can interfere with their daily functioning.
Although the symptoms vary, some main symptoms are most common in people with ADHD, including:
Difficulty staying on tasks
Some other possible symptoms of adult ADHD include:
Excessive activity or restlessness
Low frustration tolerance
Frequent mood swings
Trouble coping with stress
If you are concerned that a loved one may be struggling with ADHD, here are some warning ADHD signs to look out for:
- Trouble taking care of responsibilities of adulthood such as bills, jobs, and children
- Poor listening skills and an inability to honor commitments
- Speeding, being involved in traffic accidents, and losing their driver’s licenses
- Restlessness or having difficulty relaxing
- Procrastinating tasks that require a lot of attention
- Always being late
- Reacting explosively over minor problems
- Issues prioritizing tasks
If you believe that you or a loved one are struggling with adult ADHD, there are many self-tests you can do or advise others to do to learn if the symptoms match up with the diagnostic criteria. In fact, an ADHD self-test can be a valuable first step toward receiving ADHD treatment and gaining control of life again.
The World Health Organization has created a self-screening questionnaire that someone can use to determine whether they are suffering from adult ADHD. The Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener consists of multiple questions that are ranked on a scale of “never” to “very often.” If you or someone you know exhibit any of the symptoms significantly, it may be a case of ADHD and a formal ADHD diagnosis needs to be sought out from a professional. Bring the results to a mental health professional for evaluation so that they can provide proper treatment.
Natural Remedies for ADHD
Although this disorder is often treated with medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, many people prefer natural remedies instead.
Some of the most effective natural remedies for adult ADHD include:
- Behavioral therapy: Patients can work with a therapist to find strategies that work best for them.
- Healthy meals: Consuming fresh and healthy ingredients that are low in fat, sugar, and salt can make ADHD symptoms easier to manage.
- Exercise: At least 45 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise three days a week can dramatically improve ADHD symptoms.
- Caffeine and L-theanine: Caffeine and L-Theanine are proven to be effective in improving attention span. Caffeine boosts alertness and energy, while L-Theanine promotes relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety.
- Magnesium and amino acids: These supplements have also been proven to be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
- Herbal medicines: Herbs like ginseng, ningdong granule, and bacopa may help with ADHD symptoms.
- Biofeedback: One 2011 study suggested that biofeedback was a promising treatment for ADHD.6
- Essential oils: Some people believe that essential oils can effectively relieve or reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Famous People with ADHD
Today, about 8 million people have ADHD. Many of these people lead healthy lives with successful careers. Some of them have even become famous.
The list of famous people with ADHD includes names like Richard Branson, Jim Carrey, and Michael Phelps. Some of these celebrities were diagnosed with ADHD as children while others were not aware of the condition until they were adults.
Some of the most famous people with ADHD are:
- Michael Phelps: The American swimmer was diagnosed with ADHD at nine-ears-old. According to Michael, swimming practices helped him develop concentration and self-discipline.
- Justin Timberlake: The Grammy-winning singer has revealed that he is suffering from both ADHD and OCD. He has found a way to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.
- Simone Biles: The Olympic gymnast has ADHD and has taken medicine for it since she was a kid.
- Adam Levine: The Maroon 5 frontman has struggled with sitting still, completing work, focusing since he was a kid.
- Jim Carrey: The actor has been speaking openly about his struggle with ADHD and uses his influence to raise awareness of the problem.
- Richard Branson: The Virgin Group founder has revealed he is battling with dyslexia and ADHD, but the two conditions have not stopped him from building a major record label, owning a large airline, and sending tourists into space.
ADHD and Depression
It is estimated that about 80% of people with ADHD also have other mental health conditions that often co-exist with or exacerbate ADHD symptoms.7 ADHD and depression are comorbid conditions, which means a person diagnosed with ADHD has higher chances of being diagnosed with depression and vice versa.
Some of the symptoms of depression are similar to the symptoms of ADHD. This factor can make it challenging to diagnose and treat the two conditions. For example, boredom and restlessness are some of the most common symptoms of both ADHD and depression. Moreover, some of the medications prescribed for the treatment of ADHD can produce side effects that mimic depression.
Depression can also appear in adults who have a hard time dealing with their ADHD symptoms. For example, adults may have issues at work that can lead to deep feelings of hopelessness and other signs of depression.
Some of the risk factors for having comorbid ADHD and depression include being female, mother’s mental health, early-onset, and not receiving treatment. Moreover, researchers from the University of Chicago discovered that people dealing with inattentive type ADHD or combined type ADHD are at a higher risk to experience depression.8
ADHD and Addiction
The prevalence of adult ADHD in substance users is three times higher than in the general population.9Other studies have found that the risk of substance use is twice as high in people with ADHD and four times as high in people with both ADHD and comorbid conduct disorder.10
Both ADHD and substance abuse disorders are associated with personality traits such as reward-seeking, anxiousness, and impulsivity. People with ADHD tend to have difficulty controlling their impulsive behavior, which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse.
Those struggling with ADHD may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to cope with the negative symptoms of the disorder. Some individuals may be prescribed stimulants to relieve their ADHD symptoms and become hooked in the process.
The Connection Between ADHD and Addiction
What Drugs Do People with ADHD Typically Abuse?
People with ADHD are 1.5 times more likely to develop an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.11 Marijuana and alcohol misuse or the combination of the two are the most commonly abused substances among adolescents with ADHD.
Studies have also found that people with hyperactive/impulsive symptoms of ADHD are more likely to use tobacco and that children with persistent hyperactivity/impulsivity are at a higher risk for early-onset tobacco and alcohol use.
What Causes Addiction?
Reduced Impulse Control
Impulsivity may contribute to the development of addiction. Various studies have confirmed that individuals with reduced impulse control are more vulnerable to substance abuse and more likely to relapse and experience treatment failure.12 People with reduced impulse control need to learn self-control techniques and coping mechanisms to decrease their risk of developing an addiction.
Addiction can also occur when the substance hijacks the parts of the brain that should alert a person to the harmful consequences of their behavior. Using substances like alcohol and drugs can impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for decision-making. Instead of warning the person of their harmful behavior, the person’s brain urges them to continue engaging in a risky activity or behavior despite the negative impact on their ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy.
Another possible cause of addiction is self-medication. People may begin using substances such as alcohol and drugs not to seek euphoria but to cope with different types of underlying conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Medications are the most common form of treatment for adult ADHD. Adderall and Ritalin are two different kinds of ADHD medications that have proven effective in decreasing the symptoms of ADHD.
Adderall is a powerful stimulant that is commonly used to treat ADHD. It increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that provides pleasure and motivation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Adderall improves symptoms of ADHD in 70% of adults.
Ritalin is a “long-acting” stimulant that slows down or suppresses brain dopamine production. It acts on the brain’s vesicles to alleviate hyperactivity in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or disruptive behavior problems.
Treatment for ADHD
ADHD can be treated using medications such as Ritalin and Adderall or with therapy, but a combination of both is often the best course of treatment.
Psychological and behavioral therapy are some of the most recommended treatment options available for adult ADHD. These types of therapies can be very effective for adults with ADHD as they teach patients healthy coping skills and behaviors.
Neurofeedback is a viable treatment alternative for adults with ADHD. The principle behind neurofeedback for ADHD is that improving brain activity through feedback can restore control over attention to control hyperactivity. There are many different types of neurofeedback, and they can be used in conjunction with other types of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a therapeutic technique using biofeedback to improve attention and performance. It can be done with or without neurostimulation. Neurofeedback does not interfere with nerve or muscle function. It helps improve brain functions and provides patients with a deeper understanding of how their brains work.
Benefits of Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback is a promising medical treatment for adult ADHD. It improves attention, motivation, learning, problem-solving, motivation, and social behavior without the use of ADHD medication. It is an evidence-based and scientifically proven treatment method that has been applied in clinical settings for more than 30 years.
A patient can expect positive and long-term results after an average of 30 or 40 sessions, with only a few or no side effects at all. The effects of neurofeedback therapy are similar to the effects produced with the use of medication but without adverse reactions.
Choosing the Right Center for Neurofeedback
Choosing the right center for neurofeedback is of great importance. However, finding a center that offers high-quality services can be challenging as there are also a great number of unqualified practices that offer inferior treatment.
When choosing a neurofeedback center, make sure you choose a provider with the following:
- Neurofeedback credentials: Practitioners who provide neurofeedback therapy should have completed a comprehensive training program and complete continuing education yearly. In addition, look for a neurofeedback provider who is certified by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance.
- Expertise and attention: A qualified practitioner should be able to explain your symptoms and connection to brainwave functioning in a way that you understand. They should also be able to demonstrate the changes that are occurring in your brain wave functioning. Moreover, a qualified practitioner will typically stay in the room with you to properly monitor your brain waves moment-to-moment, making adjustments as needed.
- Comprehensive treatment: As effective as neurofeedback therapy is, it cannot stand alone. A patient dealing with ADHD should receive a comprehensive treatment that combines neurofeedback with other therapies such as behavioral therapy, group therapy, and motivational interviewing, among others. Look for a treatment center that offers neurofeedback in combination with other popular therapies.
- Location: Ideally, you should choose a treatment center that is within driving distance from where you live, as you may be visiting several times per week during treatment.