Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition that occurs in roughly 8% of children in the United States. Though it was once primarily considered something that affects mostly just young people, ADHD is actually a condition that an estimated 4% of adults deal with. ADHD in children, teens, and adults alike can cause several challenges in life, including impulsive behavior and difficulty focusing or paying attention to the task at hand. For some, ADHD symptoms can also include hyperactivity.
When it’s not treated and managed, adult ADHD can result in work difficulties, impulsive ADHD behavior that disrupts relationships, low self-esteem, and other issues. While we don’t fully understand its cause, we do know which adult ADHD symptoms people should be aware of.
Understanding the signs of ADHD means you can finally get the diagnosis and intervention you need to get ADHD under control.
Signs of ADHD in Adults
ADHD adults typically have a very hard time concentrating and can find things like staying organized, prioritizing their days and weeks, and completing tasks incredibly overwhelming. They might feel fidgety or experience impulsivity. They can be perceived as careless, forgetful, or even ambivalent. The reality is they’re just struggling with a condition that, once diagnosed, can be successfully managed.
DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for different ADHD types
The first step in treating any mental (or physical) health condition is getting an accurate diagnosis. For attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, this can include determining which of the 3 types of ADHD someone might have: hyperactive and impulsive ADHD, distractible and inattentive ADHD, or ADHD combined type.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), has clear guidelines that healthcare providers use to diagnose ADHD. A doctor will look for consistent patterns of inattentiveness and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that interfere with the ability to function.
The DSM-5 states that for a diagnosis of adult ADHD to be made, symptoms must occur in multiple settings. They must clearly disrupt someone’s quality of work or social functioning skills. Most importantly, symptoms can’t be the result of another mental health condition like:
- An anxiety disorder
- A mood disorder
- A personality disorder
- Dissociative disorder
Symptoms of ADHD in Adults
ADHD symptoms in adults can have a substantial impact on the mental health and well-being of a person’s professional, personal, and social worlds. Symptoms are assessed based on the following subcategories of the condition.
Inattention symptoms: Adult ADHD symptoms must present with 5 or more of the following, for at least 6 months.
- Makes careless mistakes; doesn’t pay attention to minor details
- Seems to not listen when being spoken to
- Has difficulty paying attention to tasks
- Losses track of tasks
- Avoids or puts off doing things that require long periods of mental focus to complete
- Has difficulty getting and staying organized
- Loses things often
- Is forgetful about daily responsibilities
- Is easily distracted
- Gets up from their seat when they should remain seated
- Taps, fidgets, or squirms
- Feels restless
- Appears to be on the go
- Has a hard time taking part in leisure or quiet activities
- Answers questions before they’ve fully been asked
- Talks excessively
- Has difficulty waiting their turn
- Interrupts others often
Managing Symptoms of ADHD
While we don’t know exactly what causes ADHD, there is some good news if you’ve been diagnosed with adult ADHD. It’s a condition that’s highly treatable in a variety of ways. In addition to the potential use of medication and actively participating in therapy for ADHD, there are several other holistic and self-help techniques that have proven highly effective in treating ADHD.
“There are a variety of therapeutic and medication management options available for adults looking to get a better handle on their ADHD symptoms. There are even specifically designed evidence-based therapy protocols to help! Ask your therapist if they’re familiar with these so that they can help you begin to create a system that works with your brain vs against it.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
When it comes to how to treat ADHD, it’s important that you understand, however, that change won’t happen instantly. You’ll need to commit to your ADHD treatment plan and be patient with yourself and the techniques that you use. That said, implementing some of the skills below can greatly enhance life and help control ADHD symptoms in adults. With the right treatment, you can learn to:
- Focus on your strengths
- Use effective strategies to become more organized and efficient
- Interact more appropriately and establish healthy relationships with others
There are several ways to manage symptoms of ADHD.
Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy)
Several types of therapy have been found efficient and effective in treating ADHD. Some popular methods include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness-based therapy
- Family and couples therapy
- Play, music, and art therapy
“By the time a person with ADHD reaches adulthood, they have likely already developed several coping skills to navigate their symptoms. These things can include: excessive checklists, daily/weekly cleaning schedules, going to the store early in the day to avoid standing in long lines, etc. However, if the coping skills you’ve put into place are not as effective as you hoped, therapy can be incredibly helpful for treating ADHD in adults!”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
Several types of medication are known to be beneficial in treating ADHD. Stimulants are typically the first line of treatment for ADHD medication. Both long-acting/extended-release and short-acting/immediate-release stimulants might be helpful.
In addition to this class of drugs, non-stimulants are also sometimes used for ADHD. While non-stimulants might take longer to work, they generally don’t have some of the side effects, like sleep difficulty or agitation, that stimulants are known to cause.
Finally, antidepressants — specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — are occasionally used as an off-label treatment for ADHD. While they might be prescribed in combination with other ADHD medications, antidepressants are always used for ADHD with extreme caution. Research shows there’s a higher risk of suicide linked to the use of antidepressants for ADHD.
Managing stress is important for anyone, but it becomes especially critical when someone has signs of ADHD. Getting enough exercise and spending time outdoors are a couple of natural remedies for ADHD to effectively manage stress. Other tactics can include:
- Eating well
- Putting an emphasis on self-care
- Keeping a healthy sleep diet
Organization can be particularly difficult in people with ADHD. Several ways to focus on organization include:
- Dedicating a consistent time every day to focus on organization — this might mean having a set time to organize your desk, fold laundry, check and respond to emails, or clean up a specific area in your house.
- Prioritizing tasks can be a great way to ensure the most important things get done every day. Create a daily to-do list and keep essential tasks at the top of it.
- Color coding your lists and system can be really effective in tackling forgetfulness and organizing your days and weeks.
Learn to manage money and pay bills
Even people who don’t have ADHD can struggle with managing money and paying bills. Find a system that works for you, and then commit to it. This can mean setting aside 15 – 30 minutes every day, dedicating some time at the beginning of each week, or setting a specific day each month to:
- Organize bills
- Go through mail
- Check bank account balances
- Handle important housekeeping items related to your financial life
You can streamline processes by setting up online banking and bill pay, setting reminders so you’ll pay bills on time, creating (and following) a budget, or limiting impulse spending.
Focus on time management
Time management is challenging for so many people. You can improve your time management skills using a number of tips and tricks, including:
- Use timers
- Put a large clock above your desk
- Add appointments and calls to your calendar for 10-15 minutes earlier than they actually are
- Plan for more time than you think you’ll need for tasks, projects, and deadlines
Practice focus and productivity
Being productive can be especially challenging for people with ADHD. You can increase productivity and enhance your focus using just a few simple tricks, including:
- Playing classical music or gray noise while you work
- Setting up your workplace to be free from distractions
- Meditating before you sit down to work
When to Seek Help for ADHD
If you suspect you might have ADHD, or if you’ve recently been diagnosed, it’s OK to reach out for help. If your diagnosis or symptoms are interfering with your ability to function, be productive, or accomplish tasks and live up to responsibilities, it’s probably time to take the first steps.
Reach out to your family doctor or therapist or ask for a referral so you can begin an ADHD treatment plan focused on helping you overcome ADHD symptoms.
Get Professional Help with Talkspace
If you’re ready to get help but aren’t sure where to start, Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting therapy easier than ever. Our experienced and qualified therapists understand specific ways to treat ADHD, with the added bonus of therapy sessions from the convenience and comfort of anywhere you like. You can have therapy while sitting at home, relaxing at a park, or even resting in your bed.
Reach out today to learn more about how Talkspace can help you identify signs of ADHD in adults. You can begin to address and manage symptoms of ADHD that are interfering in your life, your relationships, and your overall sense of happiness. You don’t have to let an ADHD diagnosis control you, and Talkspace can show you exactly what that looks like.
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