As 2013 winds down, many of us are thinking about our resolutions. Ways that we want to change. A little less junk food perhaps, more regular exercise, or finding that special someone.
For adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this New Year’s ritual might include a few other things too. Adults with ADHD that I work with often express desires to be more “there” for their partners and/or children; to better organize themselves; to focus and take in more details; to be more productive at work; and to help share home tasks more evenly.
Thankfully, there are a number of resources available to help make these changes possible. It is interesting to note first though that the concept of adult ADHD is relatively recent phenomenon. For decades it had been considered a challenge that happened in childhood and adolescence. Only recently have we realized that it can continue to impact individuals into adulthood. Also, within ADHD there are different types of problems that can occur. Some individuals struggle with impulsivity and hyperactivity. Others are more inattentive and disorganized. This latter variety of symptoms used to be officially termed ADD (for “attention deficit disorder”), and while that label is still used as a handy reference, it officially became a subtype of ADHD for diagnosis in 1994. Still, the ADD-ADHD distinction remains helpful in part because most adult have the ADD form of the condition, rather than the ADHD type.
So ADD symptoms usually persist longer, and can cause all sort of problems for adults in their relationships and work responsibilities. But whether you call it ADD or ADHD, this condition challenges not only the individual who has it, but also his/her friends, family members, romantic partners, bosses, coworkers, and even pets. The rub is that the kinds of problems that come from ADD and ADHD – like forgetting to do the laundry, running so late that the dog can’t be taken out, or continuously avoiding a complicated, difficult, and overdue work project – are extremely persistent. In fact, they often don’t change very much without some form of intervention. They also typically lead to problems in close relationships, parenting skills, and work productivity over time.
In addition to these symptoms of ADD or ADHD, many adults that I have worked with clinically experience a relentless sense of personal shame. They often have feelings of depression, despair, and pessimism. Many individuals have a lot of stress and anxiety related to their trials and tribulations. Some question the validity of ADHD, and attribute their history of problems to personality flaws.
Their shame, depression, and anxiety largely stem from having untreated or only partially treated ADHD. These co-occurring conditions make it harder for individuals to address their problems on their own, but fortunately, as Melissa Orlov points out in her September 18, 2013 Psychology Today blog, “ADHD that is diagnosed is one of the most manageable mental health issues there is.”
So what can be done? Well, with 2014 resolutions in hand, there are a number of available resources for those impacted by adult ADHD who want to change. The options broadly speaking include involvement in national ADHD-related organizations; getting the full picture of what is going on; and a variety of treatment options.
There is hope for change in 2014. First, many adults with ADHD have found it helpful to become involved in a national organization related to the condition. Organizations such as CHADD and ADDA provide a wealth of information on ADHD, ranging from recent books and coping strategies, to legal considerations and local group contacts. The acceptance and support in these organizations often help challenge long-standing feelings of shame. The organizations also provide personal experiences of support, belonging, personal identification with others, and learning from the struggles of others in a way that is difficult to attain elsewhere.
Second, to fully understand what is happening and what other problems beyond ADHD might be present, a thorough, detailed evaluation should be completed by a knowledgeable clinician. These evaluations are usually recommended if it is the first one being done, an evaluation has not been completed in the past 3-5 years, or if there have been recent significant changes in mood, behavior, or cognitive skills. From this evaluation a helpful, individualized intervention plan can be developed and implemented. Qualified evaluators in your area may often be found through other treatment providers knowledgeable about ADHD and via national organizations like CHADD.
Third, a wide variety of treatments and interventions are available for adults with ADHD. These involve a range of methods, including certain types of medication that help with focus and distractibility; education about adult ADHD; individual behavioral and cognitive skill-focused therapy; professional coaching; and couples therapy. All of these interventions are being used to help with the symptoms of adult ADHD and other co-occurring issues. In later postings we’ll look more at them. For now though, realize that much can be done to help minimize the negative effects of ADHD and related problems.
In summary, adult ADHD can persistently and negatively impact the quality of relationships. It frequently undermines one’s sense of self-esteem, and sometimes occurs along with other mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, and substance use. The good news is that adult ADHD is highly treatable, can be managed with a variety of interventions and tools, and is amenable to change. If you’re ready to turn over a new leaf in 2014 and challenge your adult ADHD, suspected adult ADHD, and/or related concerns, there are plenty of resources to help you out.