Help for Adults with ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the area responsible for executive functions, emotional regulation, and impulse control, among other things. Most children with ADHD become adults with ADHD because, though symptoms shift and change with age, they rarely go away all together.
ADHD in adults looks and acts different than ADHD in children, but clinicians’ diagnostic criteria — as outlined in the DSM-5 — does not differentiate adult vs. childhood symptoms, which sacrifices the accuracy of assessments. Notably, the symptoms of ADHD and mania or hypomania associated with bipolar disorder can seem similar. Rapid onset mood-swings are often associated as symptoms of ADHD which can be misleading.
Mood swings are most commonly associated with bipolar disorder, a condition characterised by dramatic shifts from euphoric mania to crippling depression. But people have ADHD mood swings, too: they’re deeply passionate, and have strong emotional reactions that can change their mood dramatically. Bipolar individuals, on the other hand, typically shift moods without a “trigger” and are slower to move from depression to mania, or vice versa. To make a correct diagnosis, doctors need to tease out the causes of the mood swings.
What causes ADHD?
Scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role. Like many other illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD. Interestingly, many parents of children with ADHD experienced symptoms of ADHD when they were younger.
The Difference Between ADD and ADHD: Many people use the terms ADD and ADHD interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. ADD (attention deficit disorder) is the colloquial term for one particular type of ADHD — Predominantly Inattentive Type, formerly called attention deficit disorder.
Adults with ADHD more often tend to hyper focus (sometimes described as mono-manic) or become absorbed in stimulating or rewarding tasks and become oblivious to things happening around them, leading to losing track of time/neglecting other tasks etc. Hyper focus can be a super power when channelled into productive activities, but can cause difficulties at work or in relationships if unmanaged. Indeed both adults and children with ADHD might experience emotional difficulties such as:
- Sense of underachievement;
- Inability to cope with frustration;
- Easily flustered/stressed out;
- Irritability/mood swings;
- Difficulty getting/remaining motivated;
- Hypersensitivity to criticism;
- Short, often explosive temper;
- Low self-esteem and sense of insecurity.
Adult ADHD Symptoms may include:
- Trouble focusing on a task;
- Feelings of restlessness;
- Organisational problems;
- Feeling easily frustrated;
- Poor time management;
- Impulsive decision-making;
- Poor coping skills for stress;
- Difficulty with sleeping (mind-racing).
Some people with ADHD primarily have symptoms of inattention, while others have primarily symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity (another possible derivative manifestation of ADHD). Some people have symptoms in both categories.
A person with ‘hyperactivity-impulsivity‘ will often:
- Fidget with or tap their hands or feet or squirms in seat;
- Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected;
- Feels restless or is unable to be still for extended periods of time;
- Is unable to engage in leisure activities quietly;
- Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed;
- Has difficulty waiting his or her turn, such as when waiting in line;
- Interrupts or intrudes on others.
‘Inattention‘ is a classic symptom of ADHD and can be seen in a range of consistent behaviours such as:
- Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes at work or during other activities;
- Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks, such as during lectures or lengthy reading;
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly;
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish chores or duties in the workplace;
- Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities—for example, is messy and has poor time management;
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort;
- Loses things necessary for tasks or activities, such as keys, wallets, and mobile phones;
- Is easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli;
- Is forgetful in daily activities, such as paying bills, keeping appointments, or returning calls.
Notably, many people with bipolar disorder may find that even when their mood is stabilised with the right medication and treatment, they still struggle to meet deadlines, keep their focus on a task, and stay organized. Often, they mentally beat themselves up for not being motivated enough to change their behaviours. In these cases, ADHD may be the culprit, and by seeking treatment for both disorders, they can gain better control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours as well as improve their personal lives.
Before a diagnosis of ADHD it is important to rule out the condition of ‘Disordered thinking‘, or thought disorder. Disordered thinking is something that can dramatically impact your life. While many of us refer to being ‘scatterbrained’ or ‘losing our train of thought’ at some point or another, disordered thinking is something else entirely and distinct from ADHD.
Disordered thinking, or thought disorder, means that you have an impaired ability to communicate coherently either through written or spoken the language. Individuals who are suffering from this disorder tend to have difficulty organizing and expressing their thoughts in one or both of these ways. Individuals who suffer from this disorder may have varying levels of severity and may also present in several different ways. Because it affects different areas of communication, it’s important to get treatment and assistance as soon as possible. CBT therapy has been shown to have excellent results in the treatment of disordered thinking disorders. Learn more about therapies for CBT >>
Misdiagnosed ADHD Symptom: Anxiety
When a client complains of excessive worry, physicians look to anxiety disorder — and with good reason. Anxiety has passed depression as the biggest mental health problem on college campuses. But anxiety doesn’t often stand alone — it is a hallmark symptom of ADHD, too, affecting 30 percent of children and 53 percent of adults with ADHD. If a child is constantly struggling due to untreated ADHD, for example, he may start to appear “on-edge” in previously tolerable situations. If your child starts feeling suddenly anxious, explore all causes — it could be a manifestation of ADHD. Learn more about therapies for anxiety >>
Misdiagnosed ADHD Symptom: Depression
Clinical depression is common in adults with ADHD — experts estimate that depression exists in approximately 47 percent of adults with ADHD and 14 percent of children with ADHD — but depressive symptoms don’t always indicate a full-blown comorbid condition. Chronic difficulties caused by ADHD can lead to secondary depression, that is depression triggered by the frustration of coping with symptoms of ADHD, especially if the ADHD is untreated. If you’re feeling blue, losing energy, and no longer interested in things you used to enjoy, it’s important to take note of when it started and any possible causes, and to pursue a diagnosis to determine if its primary or secondary to ADHD. Learn more about therapies for depression >>
What are the treatments for ADHD in adults?
Adults with ADHD can be treated with behavioural interventions, medication, or a combination of the two.
Counselling & Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy (‘CBT’), can help an adult with ADHD to become more aware of the deficit in attention and concentration and can provide the skills for improving organization and efficiency in daily tasks. It can also address feelings of low self-esteem and help adults with ADHD gain confidence, as well as control impulsive and risky behaviours. A professional counsellor or therapist can also help an adult with ADHD learn how to organize his or her life and break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Medications: Stimulants such as methylphenidate and amphetamines are the most common type of medication used for treating ADHD. In addition, a few nonstimulant medications are also available. Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for the treatment of ADHD, antidepressants are sometimes used to treat adults with ADHD. An adult who is offered a prescription for a stimulant for ADHD should tell his or her doctor about all other medications that he or she takes. Medications for common adult health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression may interact badly with stimulants. In this case, a doctor (preferably a Psychiatrist) can offer other medication options.
Getting help for your ADHD
It’s never to late to get help for your ADHD. While the condition can not be cured, in the traditional sense of the word, it can usually be managed with the right therapy or combination of therapies. Extreme cases of ADHD may require medication in in combination with behavioural management therapies (talking therapies) such as cognitive behavioural therapy possibly in combination with other neuromodulation therapies such as Neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback.
ADHD assessment and diagnosis should be seen as a step in the right direction, providing relief for sufferers to know that they are on a path forward to alleviating daily personal struggles and other behavioural or relationship issues.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a great option if you’re struggling with ADHD and its derivative conditions.
Indeed, CBT is an effective treatment for a range of mental and emotional health issues, including for anxiety and depression. Research has shown CBT to be particularly effective in the treatment of panic disorder, phobias, ADHD, social anxiety disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) among many other conditions.
To learn more about CBT please click on the following link – about CBT >>
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The information provided on this website (www.cbtcounselling.com.au) is offered as general educational content only. The information herein should not be considered as advice, nor should it be used to treat, assess or diagnose a psychological condition, nor should it be used as an alternative to obtaining professional advice, diagnosis or assessment from a mental health professional.
In severe cases of a mental health disorder, including severe cases of any those disorders described herein, or any others such as bipolar disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia, medication may need to be prescribed to the sufferer. Only a Psychiatrist can legally prescribe medications to address such disorders, for example antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.
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Author: Charles Pratten
Principal CBT Counselling & Psychotherapy
Title: Help for Adults with ADHD