We have done a pretty good job in alerting the general public to the importance of diagnosing ADHD in children, and we’ve done fairly well in providing accurate information about the condition. The same cannot be said about diagnosing and treating ADHD in adults.
Len Adler, M.D., one of the leading researchers in adult ADHD and a professor of psychiatry at New York University, told me that at least 75 percent of adults who have ADHD do not know that they have it. This is a huge proportion, and this lack of knowledge causes damage to those who go undiagnosed, as well as to their families and friends.
One Problem Leads to Another
Adults who have ADHD but do not know it are at much higher risk than the general population for serious problems. Depression and anxiety usually occur when ADHD goes undiagnosed. Even if depression and anxiety are treated, the underlying problem, if left untreated, leads to other problems.
Adults with undiagnosed ADHD get fired from their jobs more frequently, or they impulsively quit, or they underachieve, slowly losing self-esteem, confidence, drive, and joy in life. While not depressed, they resign themselves to a life with less success and luster than it could have were they diagnosed and treated.
Substance abuse, as well as other compulsive or addicting habits, afflict a far higher percentage of adults with undiagnosed ADHD than adults in the general population. These problems typically lead to more problems, from DUIs to the end of a marriage, to crime and, in some cases, jail.
Accidents of all kinds are more common, especially car accidents and speeding, which carry with them the risk of permanent physical disability or death, and trouble with the law.
The Downsides of Undiagnosed ADHD
Just about every bad outcome you can imagine in life is more common in adults who have ADHD than it is in everyone else. Because people with ADHD are not good at caring for themselves, the risk rises for health problems. Because people with ADHD are not good at planning, the consequences of being a day late abound in their lives — at home and at work.
We need to do better in educating the public, as well as medical and mental health professionals, about adult ADHD. We need more professionals trained in adult ADHD, and we need to dispel the stereotype that this is a childhood condition affecting hyperactive little boys.
Getting the right diagnosis and the proper treatment can save a life. It can also turn failure into success. ADHD is a good-news diagnosis. Life can only get better when the diagnosis is made, a person embraces the condition, and gets the appropriate treatment. It is time to shout from the rooftops: Adults who struggle with life should look into the possibility that they have ADHD.