A few decades ago, doctors believed that ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD) was a childhood condition that everyone outgrew. But research has shown that around 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD will have symptoms of the condition as adults and require treatment. More than 4 percent of American adults are thought to have ADHD. Like children with ADHD, adults with ADHD have trouble focusing to the point where it affects their work, family life and social relationships. They can also be impulsive, but hyperactivity becomes less common, which is part of the reason adult ADHD can be difficult to diagnose.
ADHD doesn’t develop in adults; it must be present since childhood. However, not all adults with ADHD have been diagnosed as children. For one thing, medical professionals, educators and parents were not as skilled at recognizing ADHD decades ago as they are today. Also, some very bright individuals, as well as those from very structured, supportive home environments, may have been able to compensate for their ADHD during childhood, but have trouble coping when college, career or family life require more multi-tasking and focus.
Not everyone with ADHD exhibits all the symptoms of the condition, and effects can range from mild to severe. However, for some ADHD can lead to a stalled careers and troubled relationships because of behaviors like chronic procrastination, difficulty completing tasks, volatile temperament and an inability to listen without interrupting. Several long-term studies of individuals with ADHD have shown that they have lower levels of academic and job success than those without the condition and more troubled personal lives. This in turn can lead to feelings of failure, frustration and unhappiness. Adults with ADHD may suffer from other mental conditions as well, notably depression, and are three times more likely to have substance abuse issues.
Because ADHD is thought to be hereditary, many adults with ADHD face the additional challenge of parenting children who have the same condition. Their struggle is to overcome their own symptoms and create an organized, supportive environment so their children can thrive and succeed. In other words, parents have to control ADHD so it doesn’t end up controlling them, recreating the same problems for another generation.
The good news is that many people with ADHD lead happy, successful lives – especially if they receive appropriate treatment. The vast majority of adults with ADHD symptoms respond well to treatment with stimulant drugs, and behavioral therapy (learning to change negative and destructive behavior patterns). Because adult ADHD is now widely recognized, there are also support groups and social networks in most communities and online so that ADHD adults – especially parents – can connect with others dealing with similar problems.