Late for a meeting, missing a deadline, or feeling overwhelmed by your workload is normal and happens to everyone occasionally. However, if you are constantly late to meetings or important places, forget important tasks, and always feel overwhelmed by your day-to-day responsibilities, you may have ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by difficulty in impulse control, emotional dysregulation, and issues with organizational skills. Contrary to the popular misconception, ADHD is not just a childhood condition. Many adults also suffer from it. According to the Center for ADHD Awareness, Canada, ADHD affects 3-5% of adults.
Scientists aren't entirely aware of what causes ADHD, but it is believed to result from various genetic, environmental, and social factors. If you are diagnosed with ADHD during childhood, you may likely have carried one or more of the symptoms into adulthood. Research suggests that 58 to 70% of kids with ADHD develop significant impairment into adulthood. If you were never diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, it doesn't mean you cannot develop this condition as an adult. It has been observed that ADHD symptoms often go unnoticed or undiagnosed in children as well as adults.
ADHD symptoms can be managed with support, coping techniques, and education, no matter how overwhelming or difficult it may seem.
Myths & Facts about ADHD in Adults:
Myth: ADHD is the lack of willpower and determination.
Fact: ADHD is not a problem with willpower. It results from a chemical imbalance in the brain systems that handle management and organizational skills.
Myth: People with ADHD can focus on things that don't interest them with more determination and effort.
Fact: A person with ADHD requires a wide range of coping skills, education, training and determination, and effort to get over their symptoms of ADHD.
Myth: People with ADHD cannot focus or concentrate on anything
Fact: People with ADHD can focus on tasks that intrigue them. They have difficulty concentrating on tasks that are boring or repetitive.
Myth: Everyone has ADHD to some extent, but intelligent people can control the thoughts or symptoms to their advantage
Fact: ADHD affects individuals of all age groups and all intelligence levels. People may occasionally develop a temporary attention deficit or lack of focus, but a diagnosis of ADHD is only made if symptoms are persistent and interfere with day-to-day functions.
Myth: A person cannot have anxiety, depression, other mental health issues along with ADHD
Fact: People with ADHD are more likely to suffer from mental health issues or other learning and psychiatric problems, such as impulse control disorders, social phobia, major depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, alcoholism, and eating disorders.
Myth: Unless you were diagnosed as a child with ADHD, you could not develop ADHD as an adult
Fact: ADHD in children often goes undiagnosed as teachers or parents attribute it to mischief, slackness, troublemaking, or daydreaming. Several adults suffer in silence for years with undiagnosed ADHD and attribute their symptoms to other mental health illnesses.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults
The symptom of ADHD varies from person to person and may present very differently in adults compared to children.
The symptoms of ADHD can be classified into various categories such as:
- Trouble staying focused or concentrated: Lack of focus or concentration is the classic symptom of ADHD, but it is so much more than just an inability to pay attention. It includes:
- Easy to get distracted by sounds or sights of low priority external events
- Bouncing from one activity or task to the other
- Experiencing several simultaneous thoughts at any given time makes it harder for them to focus on one
- Zoning out or getting lost in the middle of a conversation with others
- Difficulty paying attention or staying focused when having a conversation with others
- Hyperfocus: People with ADHD also experience hyperfocus – which means getting so deeply involved and engrossed in an activity that they lose sight of everything happening in their surroundings.
- Overcautious while driving to compensate for their lack of attention
- Disorganization: People with ADHD find it difficult to stay organized and prioritize tasks of logical importance.
- Inability to finish relatively simple tasks: Tendency to overlook details leading to the submission of incomplete work.
- Time management: People with ADHD find it difficult to manage their time effectively and efficiently. Adults with ADHD often:
- Miss deadlines of important assignments
- Ignore tasks that they don't find exciting
- Arrive late on meetings and events
- Forgetfulness: People with ADHD often forget important dates, events, and meetings that affect their careers and relationships.
- Impulsiveness: People with ADHD are often perceived as impulsive or impatient. This can manifest in several ways, for example:
- Interrupting others during a conversation to get their point across
- Rushing unnecessarily to complete tasks
- Taking actions without fear of consequences
- Awkward social behavior in gatherings
Impulsive shopping habits are often a telltale sign of adult ADHD, where some people shop for items that they can't afford and don't even need. Other examples include compulsive eating, gambling addiction, sex avoidance or sex addiction, etc.
- Emotional vulnerability: People with ADHD are usually on an emotional roller coaster ride and make spontaneous decisions to seek adventure or excitement. Some people also develop depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
- Low Self-Esteem: People with ADHD have a negative perception of their achievements and accomplishments and are often very critical of themselves. It could partly be due to their challenges in their personal and professional lives.
- Lack of motivation: Since people living with ADHD has so many thoughts and ideas that they often find it challenging to find motivation in what they would like to accomplish
- Restlessness or hyperactivity: Adults with ADHD feel hyperactive and restless. They take on several tasks and responsibilities and crave excitement and adventure in everything they do. But they tend to get bored quickly and lose interest in a task at hand.
- Substance abuse or misuse: Not every individual living with ADHD suffers from substance abuse or misuse issues. Still, data suggest that adults with ADHD are more likely to abuse or misuse drugs or alcohol, marijuana, and caffeine. A study suggested that 15-25% adults with substance abuse problems have ADHD.
If you feel that you have most of these symptoms, fill out this assessment designed by CADDRA–Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance to see where you stand. This tool does not establish the diagnosis of ADHD for you, but if the answer to most of the listed questions is a YES, you should see a registered practitioner evaluate your situation. Keep in mind that not every person with ADHD will have all the symptoms listed above. The condition can vary widely from patient to patient.
What are the effects of ADHD on Adults?
If you are discovering you have ADHD, the chances are that you have already dealt with the effects of your ADHD symptoms over the years. Undiagnosed or poorly managed ADHD can significantly affect the quality of life of an individual.
- Physical and mental health problems: Poorly managed ADHD in an adult can lead to a variety of psychological and physical health issues such as low self-esteem, chronic stress and anxiety, compulsive eating, obesity, smoking, asthma, migraines, emergency room visits, and injury-related insurance claims and accidental death. According to a study, 71.9% of adults with ADHD have a mental health condition (usually mood disorder or anxiety disorder).
- Work and financial difficulties: Adults with ADHD often have a problem keeping a regular 9 to 5 job as they tend to miss deadlines, forget important events and meetings, or stick to the corporate rules or structure. Their compulsive spending habits and missing out on deadlines on paying bills often lands them in financial difficulties. According to the latest data, the economic cost of adult ADHD in Canada is $12.76 billion, attributed mainly (about 81%) to the loss of productivity.
- Relationship problems: Adults with ADHD also face difficulties maintaining healthy relationships with people (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) They may feel overly criticized and pressured by people in their surroundings about their organizational skills, or time management, or other ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, people with whom they are in a relationship often feel neglected, unheard, and unappreciated. Various research and clinical studies suggested that children of parents with ADHD have higher behavioral and psychological issues than children with non-ADHD parents. Another study reported a 28% rate of divorce and separation among untreated ADHD adults compared to 15% among the control group.
The symptoms of ADHD and challenges in managing your day-to-day operations may become overbearing at times, where you may feel frustrated, embarrassed, hopeless, and disappointed in yourself. That's why a timely diagnosis of ADHD can bring so much relief and hope for some adults. The troubling symptoms they have been experiencing are because of a health condition and not because of a flaw in character or incompetence. These adults can research a solution to address the symptoms, which gives them a sense of control and independence.
According to a new study, adult ADHD affects work or career in 79% of subjects, school in 73% of subjects, social relationships, or friendships in 54% of subjects, and family/ partner relationships in 48% of cases.
How can you help yourself with ADHD?
Life with ADHD may seem challenging, but there are a lot of skills that you can learn to control your symptoms and live a productive and satisfying life. In many cases of adult ADHD, you may not require any therapy. Some helpful tools include to control negative symptoms of Adult ADHD are:
- Exercise and eat healthfully: Engaging yourself in a regular workout regimen can help in channeling your aggression and excessive energy in a positive direction while improving your mental and physical health. Consume a well-balanced diet and avoid excessive sugar to limit mood swings
- Get plenty of sleep: Develop healthy sleeping habits. Experts suggest that all adults need at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Adults with ADHD can experience loss of focus and agitation if they are sleep deprived.
- Practice better time management: Train yourself to manage your time more efficiently by setting up deadlines for every task, no matter how small it is. Prioritize tasks and deal with them in an orderly fashion. Take notes and write down important tasks, events, and meetings. Take regular breaks to avoid overwhelming yourself.
- Work on your relationships: Invest time and energy in your relationships. Find people who understand you and your struggles with ADHD. When you are talking to people, be considerate and courteous. Listen to others when you communicate with them and try not to interrupt them to get your point across.
- Create a supportive work environment: Find work that motivates you and makes you feel happier and accomplished. Use technology and innovative tactics to maintain a supportive environment that helps you take care of your responsibilities better, such as setting up reminders and alarms for important tasks and meetings, color code daily/ weekly tasks, and reward yourself when you accomplish something. Also, team up with people who have better organizational skills so you can learn and adapt from them.
- Practice mindfulness: Meditation or mindfulness techniques are a great way of controlling your emotions and relaxing your mind. Start with short periods of meditation and gradually increase the duration once you are more comfortable with the process.
- Blame the ADHD, not yourself: People with ADHD often blame themselves when things go wrong or not as expected. This often makes them feel not as worthy or confident in themselves and may lead to anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues. Remember, it is not your fault if your brain is wired a certain way. Instead of blaming yourself, choose interventions that can help you take control of your ADHD and your life.
Check out Mednow.ca, where we have compiled valuable resources to help you find the help you deserve. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional if you need help addressing the symptoms or coping with the ADHD challenges.
When should an adult with ADHD seek outside help?
If your symptoms of ADHD are not responding to the self-help efforts, you should seek professional help. Several options can help in addressing the symptoms and challenges that come with adult ADHD, such as:
- Behavioral coaching
- Individual therapy
- Self-help groups
- Vocational counseling
- Educational assistance
Management of adult ADHD involves counseling and coaching to learn various skills such as time management, prioritizing tasks, optimizing productivity at work and home, anger, and stress management, and learning organizational skills. Often it requires a team of professionals who work with the adult with ADHD symptoms along with their partner and family to achieve desired results.
Resources for Adults with ADHD:
To learn more about ADHD and how to get help, check out these resources:
Awareness, Education & Advocacy Resources:
- CADDAC or Center for ADHD Awareness Canada – a national organization that improves the lives of Canadians affected with ADHD
- TotallyADD – an educational site to raise awareness about ADHD
- CADDRA or Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance – a not-for-profit organization that allows you to learn about the latest research on ADHD
- Mednow – a full-service online pharmacy that offers virtual consultations with registered pharmacists for evaluation of your symptoms from the comforts of your home. It also provides evidence-based research and resources to help you learn more about mental health challenges and how to address them.
- Life Support Mental Health – a Mental Health Check portal that provides valuable resources and assessment tools to identify mental health issues while also providing referrals and appointments to licensed physicians / mental health experts in a secure and confidential environment.
Employment related Resources:
- Skoach - A time management partner for adults with ADHD
- Cogmed – A partner to help with working memory
This article offers general information only and is not intended as medical or other professional advice. A healthcare provider should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed, and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services is expressly given or implied by Mednow or its affiliates.Get Started