When ADHD grows up

Disorder often goes undiagnosed in adults, but it’s quite common and can cause big lifestyle problems

Special to The TribuneApril 9, 2013 

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to have symptoms into adulthood. A problem that was once thought to disappear with maturity not only interferes with adult sufferers’ functioning but is often accompanied by other serious psychiatric illnesses.

This information may be startling to the general public. But it’s old news to the estimated 8 million men and women already grappling with the disorder.

Adult ADHD often flies under the diagnostic radar because it presents itself differently at different stages of life. For instance, children diagnosed with ADHD may be easily distracted or have difficulty following directions. They may have trouble sitting still, find it hard to wait their turn or blurt out answers in the classroom. On the other hand, adults with ADHD might put things off until the last minute or fail to follow through on work or family commitments. They report feeling restless and impatient, always needing to be on the go, even when they’re on vacation. They frequently interrupt others’ sentences and have problems maintaining relationships.

Other symptoms of adult ADHD include poor listening skills, difficulty starting a task, chronic lateness, angry outbursts and an inability to establish priorities. Adults with ADHD are also apt to have problems managing money, be involved in frequent traffic violations and impulsively change jobs.

Research conducted by Dr. William Barbaresi, director of the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, found that adults with ADHD were five times more likely to commit suicide. More than 25 percent of those who had ADHD and another mental disorder abused alcohol; 16 percent abused other substances. Personality disorders and mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, were also common.

Treatment for adult ADHD involves a multifaceted approach. Stimulant medications, such Ritalin, Adderal and Vyvanse, are commonly prescribed. Anti-depressants such as Wellbutrin and Effexor are also used. Equally important are behavioral and environmental changes as well as counseling and marital therapy.


• Follow a routine. Your life is inherently chaotic. You need to impose structure and control from the outside. Eat meals at regular times. Develop a regular sleep routine. Exercise at set times throughout the week.

• Purchase a date book. Write down every activity you perform during your week. Carry it with you wherever you go so you can add and refer to it often.

• Make lists. Write down everything you need to accomplish each day. Put the most important items at the top. Check tasks off as they’re completed.

• Keep a notepad handy. Details are apt to slip your mind. So it’s helpful to jot notes to jog your memory. For instance, write down where you parked your car or that you drive the carpool at 2:45.

• Avoid clutter. Prevent clutter by throwing away items you’re not using and tidying your desk at the end of each day. If clutter is already a problem, designate time to tackle one specific area. Or ask help from a friend or loved one to help you stay on track.

• Put things in the same place. Avoid the stress of looking for lost items by creating a home in which everything lives. Put your keys in a bowl on your dresser. Hang your purse on the back of the chair.

• Break tasks down to a manageable size. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and then avoid those chores that feel daunting. Instead, decide on a first step that you can accomplish. When that’s completed, move on to step two.

• Use an alarm clock, watch or timer. Punctuality is not your strong suit. Timers ensure you’re always on time or don’t get distracted. Set your alarm clock to get up in the morning. Program your cellphone to alert you of impending meetings. Set a timer to ring when you’ve spent 20 minutes on the Internet.

• Avoid credit card debt. Credit cards can entice you to spend money that you don’t have. If you do use credit cards, pay your full balance every month. If you’re frequently in financial trouble because of your cards, pay off your debt as quickly as possible, then cut up the cards and pay cash.

• Exercise. Exercise decreases stress and anxiety and enhances your mood. It improves impulse control and reduces compulsive behavior.

• Get counseling. Knowledgeable therapists can help you create personal structure and devise strategies for decreasing your symptoms. They’ll also hold you accountable for the changes you’ve committed to making.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://indalewisgriffith.com.

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