Until recently, ADHD was primarily viewed as a disorder affecting children, characterized by high levels of activity, difficulty maintaining focus in school, and constant fidgeting. However, it’s now understood that the condition isn’t always outgrown, as evidenced by approximately 8.7 million adults in the U.S. who continue to live with ADHD.
People with ADHD have different brain structures and neurotransmitter levels that impact executive function. Affected individuals experience challenges in maintaining focus, managing impulses, and controlling their activity levels.
If you have just been diagnosed with ADHD, you might be curious about how to manage your condition. Consider exploring medication and behavior management techniques to regain control over your life.
Symptoms and Signs of Adult ADHD
There are three main types of ADHD – inattentive, hyperactive/impulse, and combined – and each has accompanying symptoms that are important to understand so you can manage your condition. Common signs of ADHD in adults include:
- Poor focus and distractibility. Adults with ADHD often have trouble staying focused on tasks. They may get easily sidetracked by sights, sounds, or intrusive thoughts, bounce from one activity to another, or become bored quickly.
- Disorganization and forgetfulness. Difficulty organizing tasks, managing time, and prioritizing tasks are common. Adults with ADHD may miss deadlines, forget meetings, or misplace important items like their wallet, keys, or phone.
- Impulsivity. Impulsivity can show up in various ways, such as interrupting others during conversations, making impulsive decisions without considering the consequences, making large purchases that you can’t afford, or engaging in risky behaviors like drug or alcohol use or overeating.
- Restlessness and difficulty relaxing. Many adults with ADHD feel restless or constantly on the go. They may find it hard to relax or engage in quiet activities. It may also present as constantly shifting while sitting at your desk or bouncing your legs.
- Poor emotional regulation. Adults with ADHD may have quick temper flares, be easily frustrated, or feel overwhelmed by their emotions.
- Problems with self-esteem. The challenges of living with ADHD can lead to feelings of underachievement, failure, or low self-esteem.
- Issues with time management. This includes being chronically late, underestimating the time needed for tasks, or procrastinating.
- Trouble focusing on reading. Difficulty concentrating on reading or completing tasks that require sustained mental effort is common.
- Hyperfocus. Some adults with ADHD may find themselves deeply engrossed in activities they find stimulating and rewarding, leading to a state of hyperfocus. This intense concentration can make them lose sense of time and overlook other duties and responsibilities.
- Variability in performance. Adults with ADHD often have inconsistent work or academic performance. They may excel in some areas while struggling in others.
Diagnosis of Adult ADHD
Symptoms of ADHD can overlap with those of other conditions, such as thyroid disease, depression, and bipolar disorder, making it challenging to diagnose. Additionally, symptoms tend to present differently between genders, with men often displaying more external signs of aggression, while women may internalize their symptoms.
Understanding the diagnostic process can make it more manageable. During your consultation with a psychiatrist or other mental healthcare provider, you can expect the following:
- Review your symptoms. The provider will ask about specific difficulties like concentration, organization, and restlessness, including duration and consistency across settings like home and work.
- Medical and psychiatric history. You’ll discuss any past or present health issues, focusing on conditions that mimic ADHD symptoms, such as mood disorders or learning disabilities.
- Family history. ADHD is 80% heritable, so they’ll ask about relatives with ADHD or other mental health disorders to assess potential genetic factors.
- Adult functioning. Your healthcare provider will also evaluate your job performance, relationships, and social interactions to understand the impact and severity of potential ADHD symptoms.
- Childhood symptoms. ADHD is a developmental disorder, so they’ll ask questions about your early behavior, school experiences, and any signs of attention problems as a child.
- Rating scales or questionnaires. They’ll use standardized tools like the Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Scale (BADDS) and Adult ADHD Clinical Diagnostic Scale (ACDS) to measure the severity of your ADHD symptoms.
- Ruling out other conditions. Your psychiatrist will take into consideration other physical conditions like thyroid problems or sleep disorders. You’ll undergo a general physical exam and blood test.
- Gathering additional information. They’ll collect observations from partners, family members, or friends about your behavior and possible symptoms across a range of ages and scenarios.
- Psychological testing. You’ll likely need additional cognitive and psychological assessments like the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS). These tests evaluate learning abilities, memory, and executive functioning and differentiate ADHD from other disorders.
I Have ADHD, Now What: Treatment Options for Adult ADHD
Treatment for adult ADHD typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments. The symptoms and severity of ADHD vary from person to person, so your healthcare provider will create a custom plan to minimize the impact of your condition on your life. Standard treatment options include:
Stimulant medications are the first line of defense for ADHD. Medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse) increase the levels of brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. They help maintain your attention and focus. While they are effective, you may experience some side effects, such as trouble sleeping and a reduced appetite.
If stimulant medications aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe non-stimulants like atomoxetine (Strattera). Atomoxetine increases norepinephrine levels to improve your attention span and reduce hyperactivity. Your doctor may also prescribe other non-stimulants, such as antidepressants like bupropion (Wellbutrin).
One of the challenges of living with ADHD as an adult is the negative thought patterns and habits that can lead to impulsivity and distractibility. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a practical, task-based therapeutic approach to treating ADHD that can help you change the way you think so you can stay on-task and improve your organization and planning skills.
One-on-one coaching and training sessions can also be beneficial to help you navigate the daily challenges that come with an ADHD diagnosis. Each session with your coach focuses on specific actions you can take to develop skills like time management or managing finances.
Your coach can also make you accountable to improve your motivation and provide a supportive, encouraging environment.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
Staying committed to your medication routine and regularly attending therapy sessions can help you manage ADHD. Additionally, there are various changes you can make at home to help you cope with your ADHD symptoms.
Make sure you get plenty of physical activity each day. A daily 30-minute walk around the block can increase dopamine levels in your brain to improve attention, decrease impulsivity, and reduce stress.
You can also make changes to your diet to incorporate brain-boosting omega-3-rich foods like fish and raw nuts and reduce the amount of sugar, caffeine, and processed carbohydrates you consume.
People with ADHD often experience insomnia or poor sleep quality. A lack of sleep can also exacerbate ADHD symptoms, making it harder for you to concentrate. Improve your sleep and ADHD symptoms by developing a consistent sleep routine.
Living with Adult ADHD
While medication and behavioral therapy can be highly effective for many adults with ADHD, it’s essential to complement these strategies with practical solutions. The key to effectively managing ADHD is to work with your symptoms rather than against them. Some simple ways to set yourself up for success include:
- Establish a routine. Start by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Set an alarm and place it on the opposite side of the room from your bed so you can’t hit the snooze button. Eat at the same time every day to curb impulsive eating or binging after forgetting to eat all day.
- Set reminders. Use apps, trackers, or post-its to leave yourself reminders about important upcoming events, tasks, or deadlines.
- Optimize your home layout. For many adults with ADHD, their brains operate on the principle “out of sight, out of mind.” Set up your home so that you keep important items highly visible and easily accessible.
For example, use clear storage containers for pantry items and open shelving for cookware and servingware. Keep essential documents in clearly labeled folders or files, and create a designated space for your keys, phone, wallet, or purse.
- Front-load. Front loading is an effective ADHD organizational strategy often used for kids but is just as helpful for adults. Front loading helps develop executive function skills like working memory by encouraging future thinking to make transitions easier.
This might include packing your lunch for work and laying out your clothes the night before to reduce your mental load in the morning.
- Minimize distractions. Distractions can negatively impact your productivity and disrupt your established routines, whether at home or work. Remove the temptation to zone out by eliminating distractions from your home and workspace.
Try installing browser-blocking apps like Freedom on your electronic devices, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and moving your workspace away from the TV or windows.
- Take frequent breaks. Work with your shorter attention span by taking quick, regular breaks to boost productivity. Use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique (working for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break) to maintain focus.
- Gamify boring activities. Because people with ADHD tend to avoid tedious tasks, turning them into a game or a competition can give you the motivation to get them done. Try breaking down the housecleaning into smaller tasks, and set a 30-minute timer to see how much you can get done in that time.
Embrace Your Unique ADHD Journey
ADHD is a highly individualized condition, meaning what benefits one person may not necessarily help you. Therefore, it’s crucial to collaborate with an experienced mental health professional to create a tailored treatment plan that aligns with your specific symptoms and lifestyle.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD or suspect you may have the condition, contact the Mind Health Group for a consultation. A Mind Health Group psychiatrist can perform a thorough evaluation and create a personalized plan to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.