We have all experienced being impulsive or losing track of our thoughts. However, when those two experiences are joined by other problems, you might be suffering from attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In this article, we shall investigate together the definition, symptoms of attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder and ways to mitigate its effects. We shall also, through the words of those who understand best, examine how living with ADHD alters a person’s life.
Attention/Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults
So, it is vital to look at ADHD as a disorder of adults as well as children.
The Definition and Symptoms of ADHD according to the Mayo Clinic are as follows:
“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.”
The kicker is that many people living with ADHD aren’t even aware they have it and ponder why they have so much trouble in their daily lives.
The symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe and include:
- Disorganization and problems prioritizing
- Poor time management skills
- Problems focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Problems following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
Adults living with the effects of ADHD can find it challenging to prioritize, and this can lead to being late for work, missing important deadlines or not showing up for social engagements. It also can make it hard for these folks to control impulsive behavior leading to problems with impatience and angry outbursts.
The Causes and Risk Factors of Adult Attention/Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
The cause of ADHD is not well-understood, and research continues. However, there are some factors that researchers believe may be involved in the occurrence of ADHD.
These factors may include:
Genetic Factors: Attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder tends to run in families, and this suggests that genetics may be involved.
Environmental Factors: There may be environmental factors involved such as exposure to lead in childhood that can cause brain injury.
Developmental Problems: There may have been something seriously gone wrong in the development of the central nervous system at crucial moments in childhood.
Childhood Trauma: Until recently it was believed that ADHD was not caused by adverse childhood experiences (ACES). However, researchers reported in a paper written by the Children’s Hospital Association that they had found a “significant association” between ACES and the development of ADHD in children.
Parental Smoking or Alcohol Use During Pregnancy: If the mother smoked and/or drank alcohol during her pregnancy, the odds of her child being born with the brain changes associated with ADHD significantly increase.
Children Born Prematurely: Adults who were born prematurely have an increased risk of developing and living with ADHD.
How Does ADHD Effect an Adults Life?
Patient Next Door conducted a survey of our members who live with the effects of attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder so that they could tell our readers how their daily lives have been altered.
As to be expected, these adults listed their daily struggles as including time management, difficulty completing tasks and having little motivation. However, they also listed having problems waking up for work in the morning and managing their time.
Then we asked them what they feared, and their answers were sobering.
They listed not being able to learn how to manage their daily schedules, not being accepted by their peers, and more devastatingly, they feared they would end their lives by suicide.
Co-Existing Diagnoses That Can Make Life Even More Difficult
These conditions are as follows:
Mood Disorders. Depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders have been found in adults diagnosed with ADHD. Although mood disorders may not be part of the ADHD diagnosis, the pattern of frustration in these people’s lives from the stress involved with failures in home life and work can worsen them.
Anxiety Disorders. These devastating disorders are found often in adults living with ADHD. Anxiety disorders bring overwhelming worry, fear, and panic that drastically alter the lives of those afflicted with them. Any challenges or perceived setbacks by a person living with an anxiety disorder can make the condition worse, and life with ADHD is full of them.
Other Psychiatric Disorders. There other psychiatric disorders that co-occur with ADHD such as substance abuse, anger disorders, and dissociative disorders.
Learning Disabilities. Many people living with ADHD often score lower on academic tests, but these problems are not necessarily due to an intellectual disability. Rather, low test scores can happen because of problems with attention and communication caused by ADHD.
Other side-issues can make life more difficult for those who live with adult attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder. These may include but are not limited by:
- Poor school or work performance
- Being in trouble with the law
- Alcohol or other substance abuse
- Frequent car accidents or other accidents
- Unstable relationships
- Poor physical and mental health
- Poor self-image
- Suicide attempts
Life with adult ADHD can be very challenging for not just the person living with the disorder, but those who love them as well.
What New Research Has Found is Amazing
Researchers are beginning to zoom in on ADHD, and their better understanding of the disorder may someday mean a cure or at least an effective treatment that works.
One such researcher is Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a child and adult psychiatrist and nuclear brain imaging specialist. Working with single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) brain scans of people living with ADHD, she and her colleagues have made an astounding discovery.
ADHD isn’t one disorder, it can be separated into seven different types. This revelation means that there are seven different regions of the brain that are affected and seven different kinds of treatments that, in the future, may help enormously.
Below I am going to outline these seven types, but my descriptions may not be complete.
Type 1: Classic ADHD
Symptoms include being inattentive, distractible, disorganized, hyperactive, restless, and impulsive. Procrastination can also be an issue.
People with classic ADD have reduced blood flow in the brain area of the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia help produce dopamine.
Type 2: Inattentive ADHD
Symptoms include being inattentive and easily distracted (but not hyperactive), sluggish, and slow moving, with low motivation. People with inattentive ADD are often described as space cadets, daydreamers, and couch potatoes. This type is more common in girls than boys and is usually diagnosed later in life because these people don’t have behavior problems.
People with inattentive ADD have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex as well as low levels of dopamine.
Type 3: Over-focused ADHD
Over-focused ADD includes classic ADD symptoms, plus trouble shifting attention, frequently getting stuck in loops of negative thoughts or behaviors, obsessive, excessive worrying, inflexibility, and frequent oppositional and argumentative behavior.
People with over-focused ADD have a deficiency of serotonin and dopamine. The goal of treatment is to increase both these neurotransmitters, the nervous system’s chemical messengers. Dr. Amen explains that because people with this ADD type become more worried and anxious when taking stimulant medication, he tries supplements first.
Type 4: Temporal Lobe ADHD
This type includes classic ADD symptoms plus being irritable, quick-tempered and aggressive, and having dark thoughts, mood instability, and mild paranoia. People with this type might see or hear things that are not there, and learning and memory problems may be present.
People with temporal lobe ADD have irregularities in their temporal lobes and less activity in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain.
Type 5: Limbic ADHD
This type includes classic ADD symptoms plus chronic low-level sadness, but not depression. Negativity, “glass-half-empty syndrome,” low energy, frequent feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and low self-esteem are other symptoms of this type.
People with limbic ADD have excessive activity in the limbic section of the brain, which is where moods are controlled. They have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex both when relaxing or focusing on a task.
Type 6: Ring of Fire ADHD
This is a more extreme version of Classic ADD, plus being extremely distractible, angry, irritable, and overly sensitive to noise, light, clothes, and touch. People with this type are often inflexible, extremely verbal, oppositional, and have cyclic moodiness.
People with a ring of fire ADD have an overactive brain. There are excessive amounts of activity in the cerebral cortex and other areas of the brain.
Type 7: Anxious ADHD
Anxious ADD includes classic ADD symptoms plus feeling anxious and tense, physical stress symptoms like a headache and stomachache, freezing when in situations that cause anxiety, and anticipating the worst.
People with anxious ADD have high levels of activity in the basal ganglia, which aid in making dopamine. This differs from the majority of the other ADD types, which have low activity in this part of the brain.
Maintaining Intimate Relationships with ADHD
ADHD is extremely difficult on a marriage relationship. Because a person living with the effects of adult attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder has difficult with follow through with tasks, their partners face feeling anger from forgotten birthdays and daily chores.
A person with ADHD may become extremely anxious when an unexpected bill appears that throws the budget into a temporary turmoil and react impulsively. They may also become enraged when interrupted while doing something because they have great difficulty switching gears from one task to another.
Then there is the inevitable forgetting where things are located.
People living with ADHD have problems remembering where they placed items such as their keys or wallet. This problem can lead to them yelling from frustration as they search frantically for these items at the last minute before leaving for a necessary appointment.
The angry outbursts and seeming aloofness to other’s feelings wreaks havoc on their relationships.
Indeed, on our survey people who lived with ADHD reported one of their greatest daily challenges was their relationships with their spouses.
When we asked the same people what their deepest regrets were, their answers were what one might expect from people living with such a life-altering disorder as ADHD.
They stated they wish that they were more patient with those they love and that there were better treatments to help them live a more calm and healthy life.
They also stated they wish people understood that they aren’t being difficult in their daily interactions with others on purpose. Instead, they want others to know it is because their brains are “wired differently” that they can’t help their behavior.
While the former may be true, the latter, not being able to help their behavior is not necessarily true. Some treatments can help a person living with ADHD control their mood changes and anger outbursts as well as ways to deal with the other effects.
Treatment Options for Adult Attention/Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Medications. The medications that doctors might prescribe for ADHD involve stimulants to boost the brain’s balance of levels of neurotransmitters. However, the use of these powerful drugs comes the risk of becoming a substance that one may abuse. To be clear, becoming abusive of medications is not the intent of the person who is taking them for ADHD, but a nasty consequence that can happen.
Other medications that may be given to treat ADHD involve antidepressants like Strattera or Wellbutrin. These drugs work slower than stimulants but are safer for those who have a history or family history of substance abuse.
Dosages vary among individuals, and when using these medications, it is vital to listen to the recommendations and orders of your prescribing physician.
Counseling. Therapy for people living with the diagnosis of ADHD can help them learn the coping skills necessary to end the damage done by the symptoms of the disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one type of counseling used to teach the specific skills people living with ADHD needed to manage their lives. It also aids in dealing with any other co-existing mental health issues such as depression of substance abuse.
Marital and Family Counseling. Therapy involving the loved ones of the person with ADHD can lessen the stress involved with the disorder. Through family and marital counseling, improvement in communication, problem-solving and education about the disorder helps to stabilize significant relationships.
There is Help on the Horizon
Just as with any other mental health disorder, receiving the diagnosis of ADHD is not a death sentence. Facing the condition head-on and bringing into the families of the person who has the disorder into the treatment of it can significantly lessen the trauma caused by trying to deal with it on one’s own.
In the research done by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, there have been indications that targeting the brain region associated with the different types of ADHD can bring relief from the symptoms.
With her breakthrough research from 2013, how much longer might it be before there is a significant change in the way ADHD and other mental health disorders are treated? Time will tell.
In the meantime, if you find you recognize yourself in the symptoms above, don’t hesitate, seek help. Life need not be a series of frustrations and misunderstandings, ADHD is treatable, and millions live fulfilling lives with healthy relationships.
There are lots of places online you can go for more information. I’ve provided the names of these organizations and their links below.
Good luck on your adventure. We at Patient Next Door wish you smooth sailing with the wind always at your back.
Other Resources to Learn More about ADHD (list taken from Friendship Circle)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of PatientNextDoor. Any omissions or errors are the author’s and PatientNextDoor does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.