When you think about ADHD, you might imagine a young boy running around in circles, out of control. But the reality is, someone you know -- an office mate, a close friend, even your spouse -- may have it, even if you don't see the classic symptoms.
Whatever the cause, if you're one of the 17 million people in the U.S. with ADHD symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsive behavior, you know just how real it is.
Adults can have ADHD.
About 5% of adults have ADHD. You can have adult ADHD even though you weren't diagnosed as a child, but you had to have ADHD symptoms before age 12. Some people are able to overcome their symptoms as children, only to find that the demands of adulthood make it harder.
You might also have different symptoms as an adult than you did as a child. Grown-ups are less likely to have hyperactive symptoms than children, but that doesn't mean they don't have ADHD.
While some of them were diagnosed as kids and never "grew out of it," others didn't get the correct diagnosis until they were well into adulthood, and some are simply unaware that they have ADHD at all.
Regardless, they have one thing in common: They've probably heard plenty of theories from friends and family as to why they are the way they are. But these sorts of armchair analyses aren't helpful to someone having a hard time with ADHD, and can even hurt them.
People with ADHD aren't lazy.
It may seem to you that your co-worker who claims they have ADHD just wants an excuse to slack off. It looks like they are unmotivated and unwilling to work, but it's really that they have trouble staying focused enough to get their work done.
They can be easily distracted by sights or sounds. So when you're talking with another office mate nearby, it may be very hard for them to do the task at hand.
ADHD isn't a character flaw. It's a developmental disorder of the brain. Some of the symptoms of adults with ADHD are:
- Trouble completing and organizing tasks
- Frequently losing important belongings
- Forgetfulness and distraction
- Difficulty following details
Adults with ADHD often crave a lot of stimulation and excitement, so they can't stand doing ho-hum, routine tasks like filling out paperwork. They can take longer to do these kinds of projects or often avoid doing them entirely.
It's tough for them to stay on top of things. People with ADHD often describe their lives as feeling chaotic and out of control. They might seem careless because they're scrambling to find their phone or to pay that bill, but they're overwhelmed.
You can help by suggesting how to break a project into manageable parts, prioritizing tasks, providing clear instructions and complete information, and following up often.
Adult ADHD isn't just an excuse to get meds.
Some may think that adult ADHD doesn't exist, that it's something people grow out of once they get through their teen years. But about 3 out of 5 children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADHD. Less than 20% of them have been diagnosed and treated, and only about 1/4 of those seek help.
Adults with ADHD can end up getting fired or quitting jobs, struggling with substance abuse, or even landing in jail. It's estimated that up to 40% of prison inmates have ADHD.
The medicines that doctors typically suggest to tame the symptoms of ADHD are a class of drugs called stimulants. These medications can be life-changing. Studies show for people with ADHD, there's no connection between the medications and substance abuse, as long you take them the way your doctor tells you to.
Also, one study that followed a group of teenagers into young adulthood found they were no more likely to misuse drugs than other teens.
That's why someone with ADHD should get medical help. Most large hospitals and university medical centers have doctors who specialize in adult ADHD.
You can have ADHD and not seem hyper.
Your friend with ADHD may actually be the most mellow in the group. When you have inattentive type ADHD, you mainly have trouble paying attention and focusing.
People with this type of ADHD are more prone to making careless mistakes, losing things, and not being able to follow through. Which explains, say, why a spouse keeps forgetting to do something like fix a jammed window or leaky toilet.
They can have successful relationships.
Not helping around the house or with the kids doesn't mean they don't care about their family. As the partner of someone who has ADHD, it's important to remember that they really are trying and want to do better.
Since they can be easily distracted or zone out when you're talking to them, write down any important information. Let them feel comfortable asking for help from you, if they're worried they forgot something. When you feel responsible for everything, your relationship can seem more like a parent and child rather than partners, which can cause both of you to be angry with one another.
Stay involved with their treatment. You spend a lot of time with them, so you're in a great place to see whether or not a drug or therapy is working.
Someone with ADHD may feel insecure and depressed, so be their wingman. Help them interpret social cues -- something some folks with ADHD struggle with -- and have a visual signal to let them know if they're doing something inappropriate, such as interrupting. Practice for situations like parties ahead of time, imagining conversations and talking points to help ease their anxiety and maybe prevent blurting out something awkward.
There's reason behind their temper.
People with ADHD can lose their cool more easily. Seemingly minor things might set off major explosions -- being stuck in traffic, for example, or misplacing an important report for work.
More than half of people with ADHD have trouble controlling their emotions, a condition some call deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR). When they take stimulant medications, though, this brain activity goes back to normal. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help relieve these types of symptoms.
There's a silver lining to ADHD.
One study of college students found that those with ADHD scored better on tests that measured creativity, such as drama, music, visual arts, and scientific discovery. Another study in Germany found that some symptoms, such as being impulsive and able to hyperfocus, make folks with ADHD great entrepreneurs.
The key is to make sure the person you know with ADHD has access to the most up-to-date treatment, so they can get the more troublesome symptoms under control and let the more positive ones shine.