By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW
Do your friends complain that you aren’t paying attention when they talk? Do you feel disorganized, find yourself procrastinating, losing things or missing appointments? Do you enthusiastically start projects, only to lose interest and abandon the project a short time later? Do you have a quick temper? Do you make rash decisions? Do you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? If this sounds like you, you may be one of the 4% of adults who have adult ADD.
“ADD” stands for attention deficit disorder. The terms ADD and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are often used interchangeably. Lynn Weiss, PhD, defines ADD as “a style of brain construction that affects the way people think, feel, create, process information, learn best, manage time, organize projects and materials, respond to our environment, communicate, act physically and relate to others.”
It never occurs to many people that an adult would have ADD. They consider ADD to be something that only affects children. Much is written about ADD in children and treatment of ADD. Many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD show up at school and are initially noticed by teachers. In the past, doctors believed ADD to be a condition that would be outgrown by adulthood. However, current research indicates that about half of children with ADD continue to experience symptoms in adulthood.
ADHD appears to have a genetic component. According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, when one member of the family has it, there's a 25% to 35% chance that someone else in the family does also. It is not uncommon for an undiagnosed adult to realize they too have ADD, after their child is diagnosed.
So what exactly are the symptoms of ADD?
Trouble concentrating and staying focused. Like children with ADD, adults with ADD have difficulty concentrating on routine, mundane everyday tasks. They may be easily distracted, bounce from one activity to another and become bored easily. Their minds often wander during conversations, while reading or watching TV. At work they may have difficulty recalling details, completing tasks and may make numerous errors.
Hyperfocus. Not only do people with ADD have difficulty concentrating on tasks that aren’t interesting to them, they also have the ability to “hyperfocus” on tasks that are rewarding or capture their attention. When hyperfocusing they block out all other stimuli, while focusing all of their attention on the tasks at hand. They may loose track of time or neglect other responsibilities. Hyperfocus can be an excellent coping mechanism if used properly, but left unchecked it can lead to other problems.
Disorganization and forgetfulness. Disorganization may lead to a messy and cluttered home, car or work space. Some people have trouble organizing their time and are chronically late or do not allow enough time to complete tasks. Some people procrastinate. Many people forget appointments and obligations. They may find themselves misplacing important items like cell phones and keys.
Impulsivity. Making rash decisions, acting without considering the consequences, thrill-seeking (like gambling, driving fast, engaging in extramarital affairs) are all examples of impulsivity. Some people with ADD find themselves drawn to addictive behaviors. About 40% of adults with ADHD smoke cigarettes, versus only 26% of the general population. Not only is nicotine highly addictive, but like other stimulants it helps relieve some of the symptoms of ADHD.
Emotional problems. Many people with ADD experience frustration, explosive anger, low self-esteem, irritability and mood swings.
Restlessness or hyperactivity. Examples of restlessness and hyperactivity in adults may include talking excessively, agitation, racing thoughts and fidgeting.
It is important to understand that having ADD is not all bad. In her book, Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults, Lynn Weiss delineates several positive attributes of adults with ADD. She contends that people with ADD have an ability to see the big picture and finding patterns within the big picture. They are empathetic, they are good at analyzing how things function and learn by doing. Their high levels of energy can be channeled into high levels of productivity which is a huge asset in the workplace.
Adult ADD is treated with medication, cognitive therapy and/or exercise. There are many different stimulant and non-stimulant medications that are used to treat ADD. You can learn more about this option from your primary care provider. Cognitive therapy is extremely effective in teaching people to manage their symptoms and transform them into strengths. Research has shown that exercise is another effective way to manage the symptoms of ADD.
To learn more about adult ADD, contact BJC EAP.