Published on ADDitudeMag.com

Is It Adult ADHD? 10 Signs and Symptoms You Might Have ADD

Lazy. Ditzy. Disorganized. Selfish. Too many adults spend their lives feeling defective, when really undiagnosed ADHD is to blame. Overlapping symptoms, persistent myths, and stigmas all make diagnosis difficult — here is what you need to know about ADD in adults.

by the editors of ADDitude

Adult ADD Is Real

ADHD was once considered a pediatric disorder, but it’s now clear that many children never outgrow their symptoms. In fact, more than 70 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD have symptoms throughout adolescence. And up to 50 percent will have it as adults. Hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms often improve in adolescence, while inattention inattentionpersists or gets worse as you age.

The Causes of ADHD

ADHD is a neurologically based condition caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, and the inability of the brain to transmit these chemicals to the brain's neurons. ADHD is not caused by poor parenting or too much sugar, and it is not synonymous with laziness. Most adults with ADD, in fact, work incredibly hard to devise coping systems to compensate for symptoms. 

Could YOU Have ADHD?

Adults with ADHD find it hard to manage clutter, be on time, and complete projects. They may interrupt others, or blurt out words without thinking. Adults with ADHD are more likely to be distracted while driving, reading, and doing other tasks. These behaviors frequently lead to underperformance at work and challenging relationships. 
However, exhibiting one or more of the behaviors above does not necessarily mean you have ADHD. For a full overview of symptoms, read on. 

Two Types of ADHD

ADHD is divided into two symptom categories: inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive. A person may fall into one category or into both, called combined type. To be diagnosed with ADHD, at least five symptoms must be present in each category, be chronic, and be noticeable before age 12.
Read on for more information on the most typical ADD symptoms in adults. (For more on symptoms, take the Adult ADHD Self-Test.)

1. You're Always Restless

Most teens and adults with ADHD learn to control their energy, and may not appear overtly hyperactive. On the inside, however, they feel jumpy and restless, even when they have nothing to do.
If you have ADD, your mind feels like it is whirring along at 90 miles per hour, skipping from topic to topic. People might call you a chatty Kathy or struggle to follow your logic. The hyperactivity of the condition expresses itself verbally and mentally more often than it does physically.

2. You're Easily Distracted

You start gathering dirty clothes, and then the phone rings. Your spouse reminds you it's trash pick-up day and that inspires you to go buy new recycling bins. Two hours later, the laundry is still untouched. Adults with inattentive or combined-type ADHD have trouble staying on task and finishing projects. It's not that you don't want to follow through, you just notice stimuli that others tune out easily, and even when spoken to directly, you have trouble focusing on the conversation. 

3. You Make Spur-of-the-Moment Decisions

You act impulsively, whether it's splurging on those way-too-expensive shoes, going out when you should be studying, or eating too much. Since you can't wait for people to finish their sentences, you often interrupt, no matter how many times you resolve not to. Acting without thinking is a common trouble for adults with ADHD, which can lead to regret, financial problem, and social trouble after sticking your foot in your mouth too many times. 

4. You're Very Forgetful

You rarely leave the house with everything you need on the first try. Where did I put the keys? Is the oven off? Can you call my phone? You spend a big portion of every day looking for things you've misplaced, or retracing your steps to see if you've actually done something. The inattention of adult ADHD can come out as spaciness that leaves others frustrated with your behavior — and you feeling like you let everyone down.

5. You Lose Track of Time

Why is it that when you're playing a video game, hours go by in a flash, but when you sit down to pay the bills, you can't seem to concentrate even for a second? Adults with ADHD are able to pay attention to tasks that interest them — sometimes so intensely they lose track of time and place. It's called hyperfocus, and it doesn't often kick in for “boring things” like finishing a tedious project at work. You can feel inadequate or like you're falling short at life because you just.can't.get.it.done.

6. You're Not Good at Planning Ahead

You to-do list is never-ending, but you never seem to cross any important tasks off. You know when you need to pick the kids up at school, but somehow you're always late. Executive functions — planning ahead, getting organized, managing time, concentrating on a task, and being motivated — are often impaired in adults with ADHD, leaving you feeling scattered and disorganized.

7. Your Relationship is on the Rocks

Adults with ADHD have higher divorce rates. Often, we get swept up by the novelty and intensity of a new relationship, only to lose focus later. Non-ADHD partners may interpret lack of focus as lack of interest. We also have trouble pro-actively finishing chores, paying bills, and remembering important dates, which can cause relationship problems.

8. You Have Trouble Sleeping

You struggle to fall asleep at night, or wake up during the night. You describe yourself as a night owl — in part because your bullet-train brain keeps racing with thoughts and worries long after it's supposed to shut off. You stay up too late and then have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Many of the same regions of the brain regulate both attention and sleep, so a brain that has trouble paying attention will often have trouble going to sleep.

9. You Hate Your Job

There is no perfect career for someone with ADHD. Adults diagnosed with ADD succeed in many different fields, but they all tend to hate monotonous jobs that require a great attention to detail and long periods of sustained focus with little stimulation. Russell Barkley, Ph.D., suggests careers in sales, acting, the military, and many trade professions. Your ability to hyperfocus and to generate creative ideas can be an asset in these and other jobs. 

10. Your Child Has ADHD

While scientists are still looking for the gene (or genes) responsible for ADHD, the condition does appear to run in families. Children with ADHD usually have at least one close relative with ADD, and studies have shown that one-third of all men who had ADHD in their youth have biological children with ADHD. Often, parents will go for an evaluation after recognizing their child's symptoms in themselves.

Diagnosing ADHD

There is no single test for ADHD in adults. Your physician will make a diagnosis after taking a detailed medical history, and interviewing people in your life like parents, and former teachers. Sometimes neuropsychological tests are given when looking for co-occurring conditions, such as learning disabilities. Conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or sensory integration disorder (SID) cause symptoms that mimic those of ADHD. About half of people with ADHD have at least one other disorder, which makes symptom detection and diagnosis difficult.

Mild to Severe Symptoms

ADHD is not like pregnancy, in which a person tests either positive or negative. Instead, it’s more like depression, where symptoms occur along a continuum of severity. In order to obtain a diagnosis, symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with normal functioning at home and at work.

Treatment: Medication

Stimulant medications are often prescribed to treat ADHD. The two basic classes—methylphenidate and amphetamine—are sold under several different brand names and are administered as pills, patches, or liquids. No drug can cure ADHD, but the right medication regime can help manage core symptoms. Studies have shown that stimulant medications alleviate symptoms in 70 to 80 percent of those diagnosed with ADHD. Improvements are generally seen 30 to 90 minutes after a dose is administered.

Treatment: ADHD Coaching for Adults

Most adults improve with medication, but many continue to struggle with poor habits or low self-esteem. ADHD coaches can help. They are different from psychiatrists in that their focus is practical and goal-oriented. Coaches have different specialties, and may help clients with everything from improving relationships to starting a new business. Most coaches will offer a free initial interview to make sure the match is a good fit.

Treatment: Diet and Alternative Therapies

While ADHD is not caused by too much sugar or other dietary factors, a healthy diet can help to keep symptoms under control. Omega-3 supplements supply healthy fats that can improve focus. Protein steadies blood sugar levels, increasing attention. A diet rich in fiber (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes) can stabilize energy levels.

Additional Resources for Adults with ADHD

Do you suspect you have adult ADHD? Check out these additional resources, and see your doctor for a diagnosis:

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