Can Adults Have A.D.D.?

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We’ve all had those moments. You walk into a room and immediately forget why you’re in there.

You’re multitasking — reading text messages while your partner is telling you a story, and you’re both watching T.V. — and you can’t focus on any of it.

Are you always running late to appointments?

Or do you miss some deadlines at work because you bounce from one project to the next without completing any of them? Moments like these are frustrating, confusing, and can stand between you and your professional and personal goals.

What if you have undiagnosed attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) that’s gone untreated since you were a child? About 4 - 5% of adults in the U.S. are living with these conditions.

“A.D.H.D. is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder which, by definition, has onset before age 18,” says Barbara Coffey, M.D., M.S., child and adult psychiatrist with the University of Miami Health System. “There is some controversy currently over whether A.D.H.D. can begin in adulthood. Some research suggests that it can, whereas other research does not support this concept. What is possible, if not likely, is that some adults with A.D.H.D. had minimal or mild symptoms in childhood, so these individuals never received an evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment.” Children with A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. are often misdiagnosed with another condition, such as a learning or anxiety disorder.

What does adult ADD/ADHD look like?

adults A.D.D.“In the majority of cases, A.D.H.D. persists into adulthood,” says Dr. Coffey, who serves as division chief of UHealth’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “But, how patients experience it typically changes over time.” The condition’s hyperactivity and physical restlessness usually reduce with age. But, adolescents and adults with A.D.H.D. continue to experience challenges with concentration, organization, and the decision-making functions of the brain.

What are signs and symptoms of adults A.D.D. or A.D.H.D.?

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble controlling anger
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Impulsiveness
  • Persistent boredom
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Emotional dysregulation (poorly regulated emotions)
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Procrastination
  • Consistent lateness
  • Relationship problems
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Low motivation

Thinking and feeling this way can make it challenging for adults with this condition to follow directions, remember information, organize tasks and working/living spaces, and complete obligations on time.

“Many adults with A.D.H.D. will come into treatment for one of the other common co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety, only to discover with careful diagnostic evaluation the underlying A.D.H.D.,” she says. “They are often surprised to receive the diagnosis because they are not familiar with it, or assume it indicates behavioral or conduct problems in childhood.”

If any combination of these symptoms is a burden in your daily life, see a psychiatrist for an exam. Your primary care physician can refer you to a specialist. An accurate diagnosis paired with the right treatment program can help you manage attention deficit and hyperactivity symptoms, which can improve your quality of life at home and work.

“Many adults with A.D.H.D. are very relieved and actually grateful for the diagnosis, as they can now explain their difficulties with a medical diagnosis,” Dr. Coffey says.

How is A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. treated in adults?

“When offered treatment, most adults, at least in my experience, are interested in receiving an intervention. They’re eager to learn about evidence-based treatments for A.D.H.D. in adults,” she says.

Prescription medications (stimulants and non-stimulants) are one of the primary treatment interventions for adults. You can work with a psychiatrist to determine the most effective medication or combination of medicines for you and your needs.

Psychosocial treatments also can be effective. “Studies of both pharmacotherapy and psychosocial treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and coaching, have been conducted in adults,” says Dr. Coffey. “So, there is a decent scientific evidence base.”

She also refers patients to organizations with support groups, such as C.H.A.D.D. (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Connecting with other adults can help you learn management strategies and find support.

“Through UHealth’s Brain Health initiative, we are in the process of establishing a new clinical program for adults with A.D.H.D.,” Dr. Coffey says. More information on this multidisciplinary program will be available soon, as UHealth providers in various specialties collaborate to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.


Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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