What Is Adult ADHD? Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
What is adult ADHD? Is adult attention deficit disorder the same as the condition commonly associated with children and adolescents? The medical and mental health community has long recognized this chronic biochemical disorder in children; recognition and diagnosis of adult ADD has steadily increased in recent years.The terminology and labels used to represent the group of childhood issues characterized by the condition have changed multiple times over the decades, but most medical and mental health practitioners use and recognize the terms attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What is ADHD in Adults?
Health care professionals began formally recognizing adult ADD/ADHD sometime around 1990. Research indicates that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder continues into adulthood in approximately 60 percent of children diagnosed with the condition. Experts estimate that approximately 4.5 percent of adults suffer from ADHD. Adult ADD symptoms resemble those of childhood ADD, but the intensity of symptoms, particularly hyperactivity, may diminish over time. A history of problems attributed to ADHD in childhood is required for clinicians to diagnose adults with ADD. However, if impairment exists in multiple environments, such as academic, relational, and professional, the individual need not meet the full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) criteria for ADD diagnosis in childhood.
Symptom Presentation in the ADHD Adult – Overview
Typically, ADHD adults first speak to their primary care physicians about a variety of attention-related complaints, including difficulty with organization, time management, task prioritization, task persistence, and simply beginning a task. Adult attention deficit disorder causes problems in relationships, work environments, and other social settings due to varying levels of impulsive behaviors and a low tolerance for frustration.
Adults with ADD have dealt with the condition and its impact on their quality of life since childhood, but often only receive a diagnosis and ADHD treatment as adults. Symptoms may occur in varying levels, but they are always present and never occur episodically. Frequently, the ADHD adult has co-existing psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, depression, antisocial personality disorder, or learning impairments. Often these adults have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or substance abuse, in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms.
Prior to publication of the new DSM-V, the DSM-IV criteria required that adult report that symptoms, causing impaired quality of life, were present before 7 years of age (even if the adult was never diagnosed as a child). The new DSM-V revision states that symptoms must have been present prior to 12 years of age with no requirement that they created impairment at that time. By increasing age of onset and taking away the impairment requirement, adults can more easily get the help they need.
Treatment Overview for Adult ADD
As in children with the disorder, ADHD drugs called stimulant medications represent the front line treatment protocol for the ADHD adult. These greatly improve the cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with the condition in the majority of adults. For adults with a potential for substance abuse, a non-stimulant drug such as Strattera has shown moderate efficacy in some adults, but stimulants still demonstrate the highest degree of efficacy in bringing significant relief to ADHD adults.
Last Updated: 10 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD