ADHD in adults

ADHD in adults

Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D.

For decades ADHD has been recognized as a disorder that affects young children, mostly boys, who are inattentive and hyperactive. Research over the past decade has made it increasingly clear that ADHD also impacts children who are not hyperactive and that it affects girls as well as boys.  Current research suggests that this disorder occurs in about 7% of school-aged children, affecting one girl for every three boys. Research also demonstrates that ADHD is a disorder that usually persists into adulthood.

Does ADHD continue after childhood?
For decades it was assumed that children outgrow ADHD as they reach the middle of their teenage years. Research has now shown that 70% of children who have ADHD in childhood continue to suffer from significant ADHD impairments into adulthood.

Why did everyone assume that ADHD went away during adolescence?
In earlier years it was assumed that hyperactivity was the primary symptom of ADHD. Often the hyperactive symptoms of this disorder do improve a lot during adolescence. It is the inattention symptoms that tend to persist into adulthood, These symptoms were not recognized as important in ADHD until more recent years.

How does ADHD affect adults?
Usually adults with ADHD suffer most from problems with inattention. Even when they want to focus on a task, they become excessively distracted. Frequently they are unable to remember what they have just heard or read. They have difficulty organizing their work tasks and are often excessively forgetful about what they intended to do. These and other related problems can cause great difficulty for adults in their work, driving, social relationships, parenting and family life.

Are adults with ADHD ever able to be successful?
Yes, many adults with ADHD are very intelligent, creative, likeable people who can accomplish good things. Yet for many, living with ADHD as an adult is like running a long race while carrying a knapsack of bricks on one’s back. You can do it, but you have to work very hard and the results are not usually as good as for others with the same ability and effort who are not carrying such a heavy load.

Does ADHD run in families?
ADHD definitely runs in families. Out of every four children with ADHD, one has a parent who has ADHD, whether they know this or not. And the other three usually have a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, or a brother or sister who has ADHD. ADHD is as inheritable as height.

Can ADHD occur with other psychiatric problems?
It is not only possible for someone to have ADHD with another disorder, it is very likely. It is two to five times more likely. ADHD in an inherited disorder often accompanied by depression, anxiety, substance abuse, mood problems or another disorder. Often doctors helping adults can recognize and treat their other problems, but do not recognize or know how to treat their ADHD.

What help is available for adults with ADHD?
The most important help for adults with ADHD is a careful evaluation, diagnosis,  and scientifically accurate education about the nature and course of ADHD. Good information about ADHD is available from Adana and from chadd.org. The most effective treatment for ADHD is medication. Research has shown that 80% of adults with ADHD experience significant improvement when they are taking a carefully tailored regimen of appropriate medication.  These medications cure nothing, but they can alleviate ADHD symptoms much as eyeglasses do not cure, but can improve vision when they are properly fitted and while they are worn.

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Dr. Brown is a clinical psychologist who is Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine in the U.S.

This article was originally published in Spanish in adananews nº 3 in 2003.  Dr. Brown sent us this English text, which was translated into Spanish by us and published in the newsletter nº 3 issued by the Asociación Peruana de Déficit de Atención (APDA), on March 22, 2004.

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