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Adult ADHD: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is usually diagnosed at a young age. But what happens if this disorder goes undiagnosed?

Undiagnosed ADHD in adulthood can cause problems at work, in relationships, and in daily life. It can leave adults feeling frustrated because they can’t seem to achieve their goals. Even small things, like remembering dinner plans, seem impossible.  

Many people don’t seek adult ADHD treatment because they don’t even know they have it.  We’ll tell you what signs and symptoms of Adult ADHD are and how you can get help for yourself or a loved one.

What Is Adult ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity, or a combination of both. Since adults are better at hiding their “flaws”, it often goes undiagnosed. Some experts think about 75% of the adult population has undiagnosed ADHD.

Adult ADHD results in a lack or decline of executive function. Executive function is a collection of skills adults acquire for managing everyday behaviors. It consists of several key capabilities.

Attention Control

The importance of focus is something we learn as we grow into adulthood. Learning this skill begins in childhood with playground games, hobbies, and sports. As we enter higher education and the working world, our need for focus grows.

Adults with ADHD don’t have these critical attention control skills. They may become very easily distracted or so entirely focused that they get stuck on one thing.

Impulse Control

Impulse control becomes a natural process as we get older. While children scream and cry to get candy, you rarely see adults doing the same. We learn the difference between wants and needs.

Having ADHD severely limits impulse control. Excessive spending, shopping addictions, and debt are common results. Another common negative effect is drug and alcohol abuse issues.

Mental Flexibility

Mental flexibility is the ability to cycle through several different tasks or multitask. Children often lack this skill but develop it during the teen years to keep with schoolwork.

Most careers need some degree of mental flexibility, so lacking this skill can be disadvantageous. Adults with ADHD may feel overwhelmed by their workload. They may have trouble working in different teams or accepting change.

Cognitive Inhibition

The ability to block out non-essential information is a blessing. Imagine trying to focus on tasks and constantly getting distracted by office conversation. Cognitive inhibition allows us to push past all the background noise to meet our goals.

Adults with ADHD may lack cognitive inhibition. They are often distracted by their environment and fail to finish projects on time. They may also experience issues in their daily life, from grocery shopping to schedule planning.

Working Memory

Working memory is our short-term memory. We’re able to store bits of recently acquired information for future use. Imagine what would happen if our working memory didn’t work.

You would forget your partner’s birthday, your dry cleaning, or whatever your boss just said to you. These small mistakes become very frustrating when they happen consistently. Adults with ADHD may experience this symptom daily.

Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

ADHD occurs in three different forms: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Combined ADHD is the most common, but also the least likely to be treated.

Predominantly Inattentive Type

Adults with this type of ADHD tend to have trouble with focus and routine. Simple, daily tasks may seem impossible for them, so they procrastinate or ignore them.

Common issues that adults with this type of ADHD experience are:

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

This type of ADHD is easily diagnosed in children because their actions are more obvious. Adults are better at masking their hyperactive and impulsive tendencies.

Adults with this type of ADHD may experience some of these common problems:

Combined Type

If symptoms of the first two types are both present, you may have combined ADHD. Adults facing this type of ADHD have issues with impulse control and inattention.

Diagnosing ADHD

The first step to a diagnosis is finding the right treatment facility. An ADHD specialist can be especially helpful for adults because symptoms are usually less overt.

The diagnosis process usually starts with an interview and symptom checklist. The clinician may ask you about your physical and mental health history. But this alone won’t usually result in an immediate diagnosis.

Oftentimes, there are also computerized tests and self-assessments involved. Computerized tests may check your ability to focus, recognize patterns, and block out external stimuli. Self-assessments can reveal symptoms that are more difficult to test.

Getting an adult ADHD diagnosis can take some time. There are often other mental health disorders that mimic the same symptoms. Clinicians need to rule out possibilities like depression, anxiety, or PTSD to get a proper diagnosis.

The criterion for adult ADHD is the presence of five or more symptoms for at least six months. Additionally, the symptoms must be severe enough to reduce the adult’s quality of life. Finally, the symptoms cannot be the cause of another mental health disorder.

Adult ADHD Treatment

There are many types of adult ADHD treatment techniques available. Most people use a combination of them to properly manage their symptoms.

Medicated Treatment

Some adults with ADHD choose medicated treatment to relieve their symptoms. The most common medications for adult ADHD are stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Non-stimulant options can also be available.

Stimulants work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. The surge of dopamine produces more feelings of pleasure and motivation. Usually, an increase in attention and a decrease in hyperactivity follow.

Anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed for ADHD, especially if depression co-exists. An FDA-approved choice is Strattera. Rather than raising dopamine levels, it decreases levels of norepinephrine, a stress hormone.

But sometimes medication is not the right choice. If you have chronic illnesses or are at risk for certain diseases, these medications may cause complications.

Psychotherapy

Most adult ADHD treatment centers use psychotherapy as part of the program. Some examples are behavioral therapy, neurofeedback, and cognitive behavior therapy.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a popular therapy type for handling adult ADHD. According to CBT, disorders stem from a vicious cycle of negative emotions and thoughts. It uses different techniques to break this cycle.

Through therapy, adults learn how to handle emotions and let go of negative thoughts. They acquire positive coping mechanisms for future events. Symptoms become easier to manage with ongoing CBT.

Combination Treatment

Combination treatment is a traditional approach to adult ADHD. It relies on both medicine and therapy to help individuals manage their symptoms.

Holistic Methods

Holistic methods focus on healing through making connections with yourself and others. Some popular programs and techniques are:

Adult ADHD and Addiction

We know that ADHD symptoms can cause extreme frustration and feelings of failure. We also know that many adults remain undiagnosed. Alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes can often become coping mechanisms.

Alternatively, many adults have been living with ADHD since childhood. Over time, dependency on the same medication used to treat ADHD can turn into substance abuse. Approximately 25% of adults seeking addiction treatment also have ADHD.

Treating ADHD without accounting for the substance abuse issues would result in relapse. Focusing on the addiction without considering ADHD symptoms would continue the cycle.

Dual diagnosis treatment is a crucial step in helping adults with both ADHD and addiction. It focuses on the simultaneous treatment of both disorders to promote a complete sense of healing.

Learn more about co-occurring Adult ADHD and Addiction.

Disorder or Neurodiversity?

In psychology terms, a disorder is something that interrupts the normal function of the brain. Neurodiversity is a more positive name that celebrates the diversity of cognitive function.

Clinically, mental health professionals still use the word disorder. The DSM-5, which categorizes all mental disorders, also considers ADHD a cognitive disorder. It remains something many adults still seek treatment for.

But neurodiversity is a community-led initiative to focus on the positive traits of ADHD. For example, adults with ADHD are often more creative and intelligent. Their attention problems can result in hyperfocus, which can allow them to finish projects faster.

If you align more with the neurodivergent view, holistic and self-help options may be a good solution for managing symptoms. Psychotherapy is also a strong recommendation for symptom management.

Living with ADHD

If you’ve recently received an adult diagnosis, you may be wondering how to treat ADHD. Or you may feel like you can handle it on your own, without professional help.

Adult ADHD treatment can be tailored to your preferences. Whether you choose to seek out medicated or unmedicated treatment, holistic or clinical, finding the right treatment center is crucial.

Whether this is your first time looking for an effective treatment program or if you are giving this one last try to find a program that actually works, you have come to the right place at New Method Wellness! You will not be disappointed when you receive the highest caliber of care from our compassionate team of clinicians and counselors.

Our top-rated dual-diagnosis treatment center is dually accredited by The Joint Commission and CARF International, which demonstrates our commitment to ethical excellence and supreme quality. If you are seeking help on behalf of a loved one, please contact us and allow us to help you guide your loved ones to treatment.

To schedule a tour at one of our residential facilities, call 866-951-1824 today!

To see why Dr. Phil recommends New Method Wellness, click here!

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