Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
In the 1970s, experts began using the term "Attention Deficit Disorder" to describe the
condition. While the condition is most often associated with children, there has been a
more recent understanding the Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD, ADHD) continue into
adulthood for many individuals. Symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and
overactivity are now known to continue into adulthood for a significant percentage of
children with ADD. Unfortunately, relatively few adults are diagnosed or treated for
What Causes ADD?
The exact cause or causes of ADD are not conclusively known. Scientific evidence
suggests that in many cases the disorder is genetically transmitted and is caused by an
imbalance or deficiency in certain chemicals that regulate the efficiency with which
the brain controls behavior. A 1990 study at the National Institute of Mental Health
correlated ADD with a series of metabolic abnormalities in the brain, providing further
evidence that ADD is a neurobiological disorder.
While heredity is often indicated, problems in prenatal development, birth
complications, or later neurological damage can contribute to ADD. There is little
scientific evidence to suggest that environmental factors, dietary factors such as food
dyes or sugar, inner-ear problems or "visual motor" difficulties are the underlying
cause of ADD.
The Prevalence Of ADD In Adults
The prevalence of ADD in adults is unknown; very few have been studied. In the few
treatment studies of adults, there does not appear to be a significant sex difference.
About two-thirds of the children who are diagnosed in or before elementary school with
ADD continue to have behavioral symptoms in adolescence. During this time period,
associated behavioral, learning, and emotional problems also manifest themselves.
Approximately one-third to one-half of these adolescents continue to have symptoms of
ADD during their adult years.
The Diagnosis Of ADD In Adults
A multifactored evaluation of an individual is important in the diagnosis of ADD.
Diagnostic assessment of adults should be made by a clinician or a team of clinicians
with expertise in the area of attentional dysfunction and related conditions.
The assessment is designed to look for the presence of lifelong patterns of behavior
that indicate underlying attention and impulse problems. An evaluation should make use
of information from a variety of sources. These may include:
Various symptoms of ADD may reflect developmental differences in some individuals while
in others, they may indicate that other conditions co-exist with ADD, including
specific learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, affective disorders, Tourettes
syndrome, borderline personality disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
ADD With Hyperactivity
ADD with hyperactivity is characterized by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and
hyperactivity which have an onset before age seven, which persist for at least six
months, and which are not due primarily to other psychiatric disorders or environmental
circumstance, such as reaction to family stresses.
ADD Without Hyperactivity
The primary characteristic of ADD without hyperactivity is significant inattentiveness.
Studies of children with this diagnosis indicate that they show more signs of anxiety
and learning problems, and qualitatively different inattention. Although there have
been no adult follow-up studies, it is projected that children who have ADD without
hyperactivity may have different outcomes than the hyperactive group, who show more
externalizing behavior problems associated with oppositional and conduct disorders.
Characteristics Of Adults With ADD
Adults who are living with the condition, and especially those who are undiagnosed and
untreated, may be experiencing a number of problems, some of which stem directly from
the disorder and others that are the result of associated adjustment patterns.
Current symptoms of an adult with ADD may include:
The symptoms of ADD can be variable and situational, or constant. Some people with ADD
can concentrate if they are interested or excited, while others have difficulty
concentrating under any circumstances. Some avidly seek stimulation, while others avoid
it. Some become oppositional, ill-behaved and, later, antisocial; others may become
ardent people-pleasers. Some are outgoing, and other, withdrawn.
Why Identify ADD In Adults?
Identification of adults who have ADD and appropriate management of their educational,
personal, and social development improves their chances for a successful outcome.
Effective intervention can improve self-esteem, work performance and skills, and
A proper diagnosis of ADD can help an adult put his or her difficulties into
perspective. These individuals have often developed low self-esteem and negative
perceptions of themselves as a result of cumulative academic, social, and vocational
failures. Many have been labeled as "having a bad attitude," "a slow learner," "lacking
motivation", "immature," "lazy," "spacey," or "self-centered." Rather than viewing
their difficulties as the result of an inherited or acquired neurobiological disorder,
many have come to accept the unsubstantiated belief that they themselves are to blame
for their problems.
The methods of treatment supported by professionals may include a combination of
education for the adult and his or her family and close friends, educational/employment
accommodations, medication, and counseling. Appropriate treatment is determined
according to the severity of an individual's disorder and the type and number of
Many people have benefited from a treatment plan that includes medication. Used in
conjunction with education and counseling, it can provide a base from which adults can
build new successes. The purpose of medication is to help the adult to help him or
herself. It provides the biological support needed for self-control. As such, the
individual is not controlled by medication; the efforts to succeed are his or her own.
Some tips that adults with ADD have found useful include:
For more information:
Contact your local Mental Health Association, community mental health center, or for
additional resources, please call 1-800-969-NMHA.
National Mental Health Association
2001 N. Beauregard Street, 12th Floor
Alexandria, VA 22311
Mental Health Resource Center 800/969-NMHA
TTY Line 800/433-5959
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders (CHADD)
8181 Professional Place
Landover, MD 20785
Information Obtained From The C.H.A.D.D Fact Sheet: Attention Deficit Disorders Not
Just For Children