On February 22, 2014 I presented at a conference for CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD), and the topic was ADHD and Social Interactions. I talked about how ADHD affects people socially at different points in their life and gave strategies that people could use to manage symptoms and to improve interactions. I also talked about what others could do in order to help a person who has ADHD. I enjoyed doing the presentation, there was a large crowd, and I got a lot of questions about it afterward. I thought I would write a series of blogs about it. I’m starting with adult ADHD, since people seem to be less familiar with it, and because I know there are a lot of adults out there with ADHD- or ADHD symptoms, who have never had treatment and may, at least at times, struggle- socially and otherwise.
So what are some signs that an adult may have ADHD? Here are a few: academic or career underachievement; moving from job to job; reckless spending or debt; substance abuse; a poor driving record; legal problems; or relationship problems. The core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and definitely impulsivity tend to have these effects over time. To clarify, a sign is something others can observe, whereas a symptom is something that a person experiences. For example, having few friends is a sign, while difficulty focusing is a symptom of ADHD.
I won’t go over the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but you can find that here if you are interested. Instead, I’ll review some common ADHD signs and symptoms, which can affect adults at home, at work or school, and in their social lives. These affect not only the individual, but others in their life, like partners, roommates, friends, or bosses/supervisors.
Common signs and symptoms of ADHD at home: disorganization; forgetfulness; appearing lazy; chronic restlessness; not completing tasks; inequality in task completion (partners, roommates, or family may do more); anger/difficulty controlling emotions; difficulty listening or paying attention; difficulty following directions; or problems with attention to detail. If an adult has ADHD, or at least significant symptoms, a number of these are likely to be in play at any given time. If the person lives alone, then it may not affect others as much, but if he or she doesn’t, clearly others are going to have some difficulty in dealing with these behaviors. If nothing is done or if nothing improves, consequences may include: late bills; poor credit; relationship problems; divorce; and more.
Common signs and symptoms of ADHD at work or school: (and there is some overlap) lateness; disorganization; forgetfulness; losing things, not turning them in; appearing lazy; difficulty focusing; chronic restlessness; problems with attention to detail; not completing tasks or projects; trouble listening or paying attention; procrastination; inequality in work completion; trouble following directions; making inappropriate comments or jokes; and anger/difficulty controlling emotions. Consequences here could include: underachievement; embarrassment; failing courses or out of programs; demotion; being fired; poor relationships with peers or bosses/supervisors; and others.
Common signs and symptoms of ADHD in the social arena: lateness; difficulty listening or paying attention; trouble being serious, making inappropriate or poorly timed comments or jokes; anger/difficulty controlling emotions; making random or unrelated comments; poor or strained relationships; or few or no friends. Oftentimes people with ADHD struggle to make good impressions, to be reliable, and to do the things necessary to form and maintain positive, stable relationships.
And of course, ADHD often co-occurs with other conditions, like: low self-esteem; sadness; depression; social isolation; anxiety; substance abuse; and more. This is true in children and adults, and can suggest a need for professional intervention.
I said at the conference that now (2014) is a strange time. In my experience I would say that the majority of adults with symptoms of ADHD probably have not been diagnosed or treated, although many young adults have been. I have worked with individuals in their 60’s, just diagnosed with ADHD for the first time, and I have worked with others in their 20’s and 30’s who were diagnosed and treated from a relatively young age. ADHD is still a relatively new diagnosis, so it’s not always understood, and in some ways continues to be controversial. If you’re wondering whether you have ADHD, keep in mind that there has to be evidence of symptoms before age 12 (ADHD doesn’t just appear later in life). If you review the criteria and believe that you are struggling with ADHD symptoms, it may be time to seek out some information and/or speak to a professional.
The Internet has plenty of resources and information on ADHD, and there are a lot of books out there as well. If you think this is an issue for you, or it if might be for someone you love or care about, talk about it. Talk to one another, or talk with your primary care physician. If you have a psychologist or therapist, certainly speak with him or her- or you might get a referral for a mental health expert from a physician. Of course, they can be found online too, on sites like Psychology Today. With respect to treatment, some people prefer to talk, some prefer medication, and some would rather take an alternative approach. You can read about treatment for adult ADHD here. It has been shown that a combination of behavior therapy and medication typically brings about the best outcomes.
Educating yourself is always #1 for me, and seeking support/talking to others is #2. ADHD is a real, neurological condition and can have a lot of negative effects on a person if it is left untreated. In my next post I will review some strategies for managing ADHD symptoms as an adult, and in future posts I’ll talk about ADHD in children and adolescents and will give some strategies and tips for parents.
Dr. Jesse Matthews is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chester Springs, PA. He helps people of all ages to address many kinds of issues. You can view his Psychology Today profile here. For any questions or to arrange an appointment, please contact him at 610-482-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.