Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

ADD & ADHD Health Center

Font Size

Treating Adult ADHD

When It's Not Just ADHD

Most adults with ADHD don't just have ADHD; 75% to 80% also have disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse, according to a study published in BMC Medicine.

Depression and anxiety are often what brings an adult with ADHD into a therapist's office, Tzelepis says.

"Honestly, most adults who are going to seek treatment aren't going to seek treatment for just ADHD," Tzelepis says. "My approach, and this is supported in the literature, is this is a neurobiological problem. The best treatment is going to involve a combination of medication and the therapy, or other nonpharmacologic interventions.''

For some people, the baggage that comes with ADHD is part of the problem.

"Some of the emotional issues you see have to do with not feeling good about themselves, feeling that they aren't capable and competent, because things they do take more effort and they internalize that," Tzelepis says. "The kind of feedback they get from others -- that they're lazy or if they worked harder they'd do better -- they constantly get the message they aren't good enough.''

Should I Try Psychotherapy?

Yes. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, seems especially helpful for adults with ADHD, mainly to help develop organizational skills. And if you have other mental health issues, you should think about trying talk therapy.

If ADHD seems to be the patient's primary disorder, Tzelepis says she'll help a patient focus on "executive functions" including time management and planning.

In one case, a young woman who had flunked out of her first year of university after a stellar high school run came to Tzelepis to get on track. She had never had a bedtime or much structure to her days, and that was her downfall as a college student.

"It became clear she did have ADHD and hadn't been diagnosed because she was bright and was able to do well academically," Tzelepis says. Aside from getting her a calendar, Tzelepis helped the patient gain more mastery over her reactions and emotions.

The young woman spent a year at community college and is heading back to the university.

"What you need is therapy with goals that are specific to the behaviors and symptoms that are problematic. If you have difficulty keeping a calendar, how are you going to keep a calendar, what are the barriers?'' Tzelepis says. "It's not, 'how do you feel about keeping this calendar?'"

But Adler says some patients may get better with ADHD medicine alone.

"They can make a change in their life, unlearn bad habits, use their organizers well, plan better, listen better. They don't need a psychosocial intervention," he says. "You can make a meaningful difference with these medicines.''

Today on WebMD

Post it notes
Symptoms and treatments.
Close up of eye
What's zapping your focus?
 
man driving car
How to manage your impulses.
Woman shopping for vitamins at drugstore
Should you take them?
 
concentration killers
SLIDESHOW
Woman taking a vitamin or supplement
Article
 
ADHD and Substance Abuse
Article
Reduce Side Effects ADHD Medications
Article
 

boy eating egg
Video
smiling man
Article
 
ADHD in Marriage and Romantic Relationships
Article
Adult man lying awake in bed
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections