There really is not a lot of information available for adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), so we thought we would put together a little information page about what ADHD feels like, some of the help that is available and how you can help yourself. We also have a top-tip guide too, which you can read here.
What is ADHD?
It is a pattern of behaviours which usually appear in childhood. Behaviours include the child being distracted, impulsive, unable to concentrate and over-active. To many this sounds like the typical behaviours of a child, so in order to diagnose them with ADHD, the medical professional must be convinced that their behaviours significantly interfere with how they get on with others or at school.
With the right treatment and support, the extent to which these behaviours impact life tends to decrease with age. With that being said, the over-activity usually gets less, but the other behaviours, such as impulsivity, poor concentration and risk-taking, can get worse. These can make it hard to work, learn and get on with other people. Therefore it is not surprising that adults with ADHD are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, feelings of low self-esteem and drug misuse and can feel overwhelmed and struggle in less structured environments.
What causes ADHD?
Genes do seem to be involved – one-third of those with ADHD have at least one parent with similar symptoms. There is increasing evidence that negative early life experiences such as maternal smoking and other toxins (both before and after birth) can result in genetic changes which can make it more likely for people to develop ill health, including ADHD.
If you have these difficulties as a child or teenager, you would usually see either a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or a Paediatric Service. You will usually be offered an assessment, which can last up to 2 hours. It usually involves input from teachers and parents to gauge the extent of the symptoms.
ADHD is remarkably common. Around 3-6 in every 100 school-aged children have ADHD. As a result, getting an assessment through the NHS can be quite difficult. Some parents opt to have an assessment privately, but this can be costly (if you want to enquire about this option, click here). For other parents this is not an option, so the child is not assessed or diagnosed – this is part of the reason why an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood often occurs.
For those children diagnosed with ADHD, 1 in 7 will continue to have ADHD into adulthood. About half will have some problems as adults, although not full ADHD. If you have become aware of problems that you think may be ADHD in adulthood, you should contact your GP who will refer you to the Community Mental Health Team for an assessment, but waiting times can be lengthy. You can also opt to see a psychiatrist with expertise in ADHD privately (for more information, you can click here)
What is it like to have ADHD as an adult?
As I mentioned earlier, part of the reason that ADHD is diagnosed in adulthood is because an assessment in childhood did not occur. Another reason is because these behaviours do not ‘come to light’ until there is some life change (with specific attention paid to the way you cope with it) or someone brings it to your attention (for example someone asking you why you have never got that promotion or someone actually telling you that you that you exhibit certain behaviours).
So with that in mind, what are the typical characteristics/behaviours that you might see in someone who has ADHD?
- They are forgetful and tend to lose or misplace things.
- They tend to do things on the spur of the moment, without thinking, which gets you into trouble.
- They find it hard to wait or when there’s nothing much going on – you fidget and can’t sit still.
- It’s hard to listen to other people – they may find yourself finishing their sentences for them or interrupting them, or just saying things at the wrong time.
- It’s hard to follow instructions.
- They get easily distracted and find it hard to take notice of details, particularly with things they find boring.
- They find it hard to organise themselves – they start a lot of things without ever finishing them.
- They easily get irritable, impatient or frustrated and lose their temper quickly.
- They feel restless or edgy, have difficulty turning their thoughts off, and find stress hard to handle.
Treatment for adult ADHD:
After an assessment for ADHD, you and the psychiatrist (or mental health professional) will discuss the treatment options and a recommendation will be made.
These are mostly ‘stimulant’ medications, related to amphetamines. They work quickly, but the effect wears off during the night. There will be a discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of this and if you choose this option there will be a number of follow-ups for monitoring. These drugs can be misused so, in the UK, they are legally ‘controlled’ drugs. Side-effects include weight loss and occasionally, psychosis.
This can be used on its own or in combination with medication. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness technique have been considered helpful because they help the individual find ways to make sure they do important tasks, organise their life better, reduce feelings of anxiety and get self-critical thoughts into perspective.
There will be a discussion at the assessment about life adjustments that can be made to support your progress. You may cope better or be affected less by the symptoms of ADHD if your environment suits you. Since ADHD is considered a disability in the UK, your educational establishment or workplace must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you. It is important that you discuss this with them to see what can be done.
There are also support groups that you can join and online forums. Here are two to start with: AADD-UK, Adders.org.
What can you do to help yourself?
- Reflect on how your ADHD affects how you think and feel and others around you.
- Research, research, research – increased knowledge can’t hurt.
- Speak to others – would this even be our blog post if that did not somehow sneak in there?
- Manage your symptoms – try to make a diary of what helps and what doesn’t. A lot of this can come in handy during an assessment.
- Continue to do the things that help you.
- Ask for medical help – tell your GP, who can refer you, or seek a private assessment. When ADHD is treated and monitored, it can be life-changing.
- Read our top-tips guide to managing ADHD.