When discussing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults, it is important to remember that symptoms exhibit themselves differently in children and adults. The disorder typically manifests itself more subtly in adults, making diagnosis and treatment relatively rare. One marker of ADHD in adults, however, is the widely accepted understanding that it cannot develop in adults.
Researchers now know that approximately 60% of children with ADHD will carry their symptoms into adulthood. In the United States, fully 4% of the adult population, some 8 million people, suffer to some extent from the symptoms of ADHD. Of those who do continue to have symptoms into adulthood, approximately half will be significantly troubled by them. Unfortunately, many children with ADHD are not diagnosed. When symptoms appear in previously undiagnosed adults, they can be bewildered and perplexed by their own actions and moods, often blaming themselves for their perceived inadequacies and limitations.
The causes of ADHD are not well understood. Current research suggests that both genes and environmental issues, such as alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, each have their role to play. Mention ADHD in children and the image that most frequently comes to mind is that of the hyperactive kid bouncing off the walls. As the child reaches adulthood, that type of behavior subsides a bit. It is replaced, however, by other, more difficult to discern symptoms. The young adult is faced with new obligations and responsibilities. Life makes new demands, requiring a juggling act to keep all the balls in the air. This is difficult for everyone. We all feel overwhelmed from time to time, but someone with adult ADHD finds it challenging most of the time, and frequently impossible.
ADHD symptoms in adults are generally divided into three categories – distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Distractibility is defined as the inability to focus on a project or task for a significant amount of time. Impulsivity is defined as the inability to control immediate reactions. Hyperactivity is defined as fidgeting and restlessness, and an inability to sit still.
Distractibility is generally thought to be the least bothersome of the three broad categories of symptoms, at least outwardly. Adults who suffer from them, however, can find them quite disruptive. Those who exhibit symptoms in this category may:
• find it challenging to focus on everyday tasks
• find completely irrelevant sights and sounds distracting
• careen from one task to another and are bored easily
• lack focus, leading to lack of attention to detail
• are chronically late
• lack organizational skills
• find it difficult or troublesome to begin or finish tasks
• forget deadlines, appointments and commitments frequently
• misplace or lose things, such as keys, constantly
• struggle to complete even simple projects
• fail to reasonably estimate the time necessary to complete a project
Impulsivity issues can be quite troubling for an adult with ADHD. They frequently have difficulty maintaining control over their comments, reactions, and behavior. They’ll typically act or speak without thinking. They’ll react without considering the consequences of their actions. Such behavior can lead them into risky situations. At work, they’ll rush into a project without reading the directions, often leading to errors and only partial completion of the task.
Emotional issues can also arise from impulsivity. Adults with impulsivity issues may find it difficult to control emotions. Feelings of anger and frustration are often a particular challenge for the adult with ADHD.
Those adults who manifest symptoms in this category may:
• behave inappropriately in social situations
• be addicted or have addictive tendencies
• rush into situations without giving any thought to the consequences
• often have poor self-control
• make comments, even when rude or questionable
• interrupt or talk over someone else
• be moody and irritable
• be unable to handle criticism
• have explosive bouts of anger which are quickly forgotten
• have low self-esteem
• lack motivation
• be unable to deal with frustration
• have a sense of underachievement
Hyperactivity in adults may express itself in ways similar to its appearance in children. The adult may be in perpetual motion, overly energetic and constantly on the move. However, as mentioned above, the symptoms are usually more subtle in adults. People who exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity may:
• feel inwardly restless and agitated
• be risk takers
• bore easily
• fidget constantly
• have a need for excitement
• talk far too much
Symptoms of hyperactivity occur far less in adults than they do in children. It is important to note, however, that adults who have one or more symptoms of impulsivity or distractibility may still have ADHD, even if they are not hyperactive. Unlike its role in childhood ADHD, where it appears to be a frequent indicator, it is not necessary to be hyperactive to suffer from adult ADHD.