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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Hyperactivity May Be Underdiagnosed in Adults


Adults with ADHD are often people with a history of losing jobs, impulsive actions, and often substance abuse. Additionally, left untreated, the disorder can have a devastating effect on marriage. Indeed, Schubiner says, "We have been able to save a lot of marriages, but we can't save them all."

When a patient is referred to Schubiner, he says he has little trouble with diagnosis. "I just run through the list of attention symptoms such as difficulty listening, easily distracted, careless, difficulty organizing tasks, and the activity symptoms such as fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, restlessness. And most patients will say, 'That's me.'"

The good news for patients, he says, is that once the diagnosis is made, treatment is very effective. Adults, just as children, are treated with stimulant medications such as Ritalin. It usually takes about a month or so to regulate the dose so that you will notice differences in your behavior and thinking, he says.

Additionally, adults with ADHD frequently also meet diagnostic criteria for depression. Fortunately, antidepressants such as Prozac can be safely given along with Ritalin or other stimulants, Schubiner says.

Although many adults may wait years or even decades for the right diagnosis, once they are properly diagnosed and medicated, the results can be almost miraculous.

"I had a patient who was an engineer. He actually had been diagnosed as a child and was taking his medication all the way through school but when he graduated he stopped because he reasoned, wrongly, that once he was an adult he wouldn't need the medication," Schubiner says. For 10 years after this man graduated from college, "he couldn't hold a job, he was a failure. After we got his medication adjusted he went on to great success and actually became the president of a national environmental organization."

Similarly, he tells of a third-grade teacher who "broke down and cried in my office -- thanking me for allowing him to be able to be in control and to teach his students."

Vital Information:

  • ADHD often goes undiagnosed if not caught at an early age, and it affects many adults who may not be aware of their condition.
  • Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty listening, being easily distracted, carelessness, difficulty organizing tasks, fidgeting, and restlessness.
  • Adults often discover the disorder when their own children are diagnosed; these parents can be treated with stimulant medications in the same way their children are.
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