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It’s for Real: Adult ADHD Myths and Facts

Feeling overly scattered or disorganized? Do you find yourself struggling with completing tasks, remaining focused on your responsibilities, and/or unable to keep up with normal, everyday activities?  It happens to everyone. We might even joke about our lack of focus or our extremely limited attention-spans.

For some adults however, these symptoms are more than just a laughing matter. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a condition most often connected to children, can also have adult-sized consequences.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition marked by longstanding and persistent inattention, hyperactivity, overt restlessness, and sometimes irresponsible impulsivity. Symptoms of Adult ADHD vary widely. It might be someone who starts multiple projects and lacks the focus to finish them. Struggling with organization or constantly feeling stressed and overwhelmed is also common.

Someone with ADHD might also find themselves rereading the same page of a book over and over again – or realizing they have been staring off into space when there is work that needs to be done.

In today’s stressful world, many of the aforementioned problems can be commonplace.  Nonetheless, when such issues become “dysfunctional” or overly-debilitating in our everyday lives – such as missing deadlines at work or struggling with parenting responsibilities – that’s when a diagnosis of adult ADHD should be explored.

Let’s start by debunking some common myths about ADHD.

Common Myths About ADHD

Myth: Adult ADHD is different from childhood ADHD

Fact: Considerable research has been conducted in recent years suggesting the developmental nature of ADHD.  Put another way, ADHD is not a disorder that suddenly appears in adulthood.  Rather, many of these symptoms are likely to have existed in childhood and adolescence, and may even possess genetic components.  While there may be multiple reasons that no diagnosis was ever made during these earlier years (i.e. lack of understanding of the problem, generational beliefs, etc.), it is frequently reported that adults with ADHD typically experienced similar symptoms when they were younger.

Some adults have even reported that they were able to develop effective coping mechanisms while in school.  As life becomes more complicated and stressed, however, their historical methods of overcoming their problems may have begun to fail and/or become less effective.

Myth: ADHD is more common in boys/men than in girls/women

Fact: It is difficult to say with certainty that ADHD is more common in males given that females may often simply go undiagnosed.  For many girls/women, they often “fly under the radar” given that their ADHD symptoms more commonly manifest as inattention or distractibility. Rather than, the restlessness and hyperactive behaviors seen in boys/men.

For some women, racing thoughts, disorganization, and/or chronic procrastination may also be misinterpreted as anxiety or depression and therefore, an accurate diagnosis may be missed.  Likewise in men, their continuous sleeplessness, restlessness and anger-control problems may be perceived as impulse-control disorders and/or other mood disorders.

Myth: Persistent disorganization, distractibility, or chronic procrastination typically leads people to seek treatment for ADHD

Fact: It is certainly true that some adults seek help when chronic disorganization or the inability to focus becomes a significant problem in their everyday lives. But more often, individuals seek professional assistance when realizing that their symptoms of inattentiveness or distractibility are causing them problematic anxiety or dysfunction at home, at work, or around others.

This is not surprising given that you can have both ADHD and anxiety. At times, people will present to treatment with statements like, “I’m not able to get things done at work and I feel constantly overwhelmed.  The more behind I fall, the more anxious I become.”

It is not difficult to understand the correlation between ADHD and anxiety and often the two possess a cyclical relationship.  As an example, someone with ADHD may frequently procrastinate and/or become easily distracted while attempting to complete projects.  Later, they may feel anxious about their incomplete work leading to feelings of nervousness, worry, or simple avoidance.  Rather than address the task, they may again procrastinate and put off working on it.  In turn, the tasks may continue to pile up leading to further anxiety; and thus, the cycle perpetuates.

Myth: ADHD treatment is all about medications

Fact: The first line of defense for ADHD is often medications. In this realm, two types of medications are most common: stimulants and non-stimulants. The goals of both of these medications are to bring about greater focus in the frontal lobe of the brain. That way a person can maintain concentration, to feel personally organized, and to sustain attention on even moderately monotonous tasks.

It is beyond the scope of this brief article to discuss the nature of all ADHD medications. That's why patients are encouraged to talk to their prescribers openly about considering ADHD medications.

Talking to Your Doctor about ADHD

Patients Should Talk About Their Historical Symptoms Including:

As is the case with most mental health diagnoses, the most effective treatment for ADHD often involve medication and psychotherapy.  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has proven particularly beneficial for many patients struggling to remain organized throughout their days and focused on personal responsibilities.  Within therapy, clinicians can assist with developing and implementing various coping mechanisms and behavioral techniques including the use of daily calendars, cognitive-reorientation skills, scheduled breaks, etc.

Other Aspects of Treatment May Include the Following:

  • Changes to a person’s lifestyle such as avoiding caffeine, nicotine, or excessive consumption of sugar.
  • Establishing daily routines, exercise habits, and proper sleep hygiene may also prove useful.

However, the success of life adjustments depends on a person's motivation, readiness and willingness to change.

For help treating ADHD symptoms, please learn more about CHI Health Behavioral Care.

CHI Health Behavioral Care Team
CHI Health Behavioral Care Team

These blogs were written by members of the CHI Health Behavioral Care team.

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