ADHD: Not just for kids
"Often, people with ADHD are very creative and
intelligent. If they learn to work with their condition,
the hope is they can find ways to make the
condition work for them rather than against them."
— Suzi Brauner-Tatum, assistant director of
Outpatient Behavioral Health Services
In first grade, you found it hard to settle down, pay attention in class, focus on phonics. Your third-grade report card called you bright but disruptive, disorganized, and distracted. By fifth grade, you had a brand: You were the goof-off, the dreamer, the class clown.
Nevertheless, you excelled in music, science, and sports. You felt best on a ball field, in the band room, or in science lab, where you got to set up an ecosystem, dissect a frog, hand-make soap. You did better when you could participate in the more interactive elements of school.
The experts gave your behavior a name: attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurobehavioral disorder that affects 3 percent to 5 percent of American children. Its exact cause isn’t known, but it is characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity, making it difficult to sit still, focus on work, and organize thoughts and belongings.
So your parents got you into sports, enrolled you in a science camp, and bought a piano. Your mother helped organize your bedroom, your backpack, and your binder and handed you everything you needed for the day as you went out the door. And it all worked pretty well.
Until you grew up, moved out on your own, and took on a world of responsibility. All by yourself.
You may not have even noticed the disorganized feelings or focus issues, until you were on your own, with no one telling you step-by-step what is expected. Or you might have thought you would outgrow your childhood challenges. After all, when most of us hear about people with ADD or ADHD, we envision kids. But in reality, the condition can and does continue into the adult years. It just looks a little different. In adults, it can sideline careers, curb ambitions, and ruin relationships.
“ADD/ADHD follows a slightly different pattern in adults than in children,” says Suzi Brauner-Tatum, assistant director of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Community Hospital. “Adults may be chronically late to work or important events. They may be disorganized or restless and have difficulty relaxing. Mood swings, low self-esteem, and anger management may also be common problems.”
While it can cause problems from mild annoyances to severe disruptions, the disorder in adults is treatable. There are different ways to cope with and treat ADD/ADHD, but the first step is confirming that you have it, Brauner-Tatum says. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional can provide an evaluation. Community Hospital also periodically offers classes and screenings on ADD/ADHD.
“Sometimes people experience more than one set of symptoms or disorders,” says Brauner-Tatum. “They may have ADD/ADHD and depression, anxiety, or some other disorder. That’s why diagnosis by an appropriate mental health professional is so important.”
If the diagnosis is confirmed, a treatment plan can be developed. Treatment might include a combination of medication, therapy, coaching, and organization instruction. One part of the approach, Brauner-Tatum says, is “figuring out how ADD/ADHD is affecting you, then problem-solving ways to make it work for you.”
“Often, people with ADHD are very creative and intelligent,” she continues. “If they learn to work with their condition, the hope is they can find ways to make the condition work for them rather than against them.
“If someone has trouble sitting or concentrating for long periods, perhaps it’s best to avoid a desk job and opt for something more interactive. Work that involves multitasking and flexible organization systems may be more manageable. By developing systems, it is possible to learn to manage symptoms rather than letting the symptoms manage you. By surrounding yourself with people who play to your strengths and help you learn to strengthen your weaknesses, you will be more successful. ADD/ADHD can become a strength if it is well managed.”
Medication may be an important part of treatment, but it must be used properly and only after a professional evaluation.
“Unfortunately,” Brauner-Tatum says, “many people try to self-diagnose or self-medicate. People come to Behavioral Health Services asking for medicine or already taking someone else’s medication. There is a fair amount of misuse and even addiction. Using prescription medications that aren’t prescribed for you or using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to address symptoms creates another set of problems.
“Seek out a professional assessment,” she says, “so you can get appropriate information and guidance.”
Classes and screenings for adults with ADD/ADHD are offered by Community Hospital's Behavioral Health Services department. For information on upcoming classes, please call 831-625-4600.
Myths and facts about ADD/ADHD in adults
MYTH: ADD/ADHD is just a lack of willpower. People with ADD/ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any other tasks if they really wanted to.
FACT: ADD/ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isn’t. It’s essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.
MYTH: Everybody has ADD/ADHD symptoms, and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome them.
FACT: ADD/ADHD affects people of all levels of intelligence. Although everyone sometimes has symptoms of ADD/ADHD, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.
MYTH: Someone can’t have ADD/ADHD and also have depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric problems.
FACT: A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric or learning disorder than most other people. ADD/ADHD usually overlaps with other disorders.
MYTH: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you can’t have it as an adult.
FACT: Many adults struggle all their lives with unrecognized ADD/ADHD impairments. They haven’t received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to usual treatment.
Source: Dr. Thomas E. Brown, Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults