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Everything You Need to Know About ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can cause unusual levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.

Many people experience inattention and changes in energy levels. For a person with ADHD, this happens more often and to a greater extent compared with people who don’t have the condition. It can have a significant effect on their studies, work, and home life.

Both adults and children can have ADHD. It’s a diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

ADHD symptoms

A wide range of behaviors are associated with ADHD. Some of the more common ones include:

  • having trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks
  • being forgetful about completing tasks
  • being easily distracted
  • having difficulty sitting still
  • interrupting people while they’re talking

Signs and symptoms can be specific to different aspects of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, or difficulty focusing.

A person who is experiencing hyperactivity and impulsivity may:

  • find it difficult to sit still or remain seated, for example, in class
  • have trouble playing or carrying out tasks quietly
  • talk excessively
  • find it hard to wait their turn
  • interrupt others when they’re speaking, playing, or carrying out a task

Someone who is having difficulty focusing might:

  • make frequent mistakes or miss details when studying or working
  • find it hard to maintain focus when listening, reading, or holding a conversation
  • have trouble organizing their daily tasks
  • lose items frequently
  • be easily distracted by small things happening around them

If you or your child has ADHD, you may have some or all of these symptoms. The symptoms you have will depend on the type of ADHD you have.

Types of ADHD

To make ADHD diagnoses more consistent, the APA has grouped the condition into three categories, or types. These types are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactivity-impulsive, and a combination of both.

Predominantly inattentive

As the name suggests, people with this type of ADHD have extreme difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions.

Experts also think that many children with the inattentive type of ADHD may not receive a proper diagnosis because they don’t tend to disrupt the classroom. Source suggests this is more common among girls with ADHD.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type

People with this type of ADHD primarily show hyperactive and impulsive behavior. This can include:

  • fidgeting
  • interrupting people while they’re talking
  • not being able to wait their turn

Although inattention is less of a concern with this type of ADHD, people with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may still find it difficult to focus on tasks.

Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type

This is the most common type of ADHD. People with this combined type of ADHD display both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. These include an inability to pay attention, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and above-average levels of activity and energy.

The type of ADHD you or your child has will determine how it’s treated. The type you have can change over time, so your treatment may change, too.

What causes ADHD?

Despite how common ADHD is, doctors and researchers still aren’t sure what causes the condition. It’s believed to have neurological origins. Genetics may also play a role.

Research suggests that a reduction in dopamine is a factor in ADHD. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that helps move signals from one nerve to another. It plays a role in triggering emotional responses and movements.

Other research suggests a structural difference in the brain. Findings indicate that people with ADHD have less gray matter volume. Gray matter includes the brain areas that help with:

  • speech
  • self-control
  • decision making
  • muscle control

Researchers are still studying potential causes of ADHD, such as smoking during pregnancy.

ADHD diagnosis and testing

There’s no single test that can tell if you or your child has ADHD. A 2017 study highlighted the benefits of a new test to diagnose adult ADHD, but many clinicians believe an ADHD diagnosis can’t be made based on one test.

To make a diagnosis, a doctor will assess any symptoms you or your child has had over the previous 6 months.

Your doctor will likely gather information from teachers or family members and may use checklists and rating scales to review symptoms. They’ll also do a physical exam to check for other health problems.

If you suspect that you or your child has ADHD, talk with a doctor about getting an evaluation. For your child, you can also talk with their school counselor. Schools regularly assess children for conditions that may be affecting their educational performance.

For the assessment, provide your doctor or counselor with notes and observations about you or your child’s behavior.

If they suspect ADHD, they may refer you or your child to an ADHD specialist. Depending on the diagnosis, they may also suggest making an appointment with a psychiatrist or neurologist.

ADHD treatment

Treatment for ADHD typically includes behavioral therapies, medication, or both.

Types of therapy include psychotherapy, or talk therapy. With talk therapy, you or your child will discuss how ADHD affects your life and ways to help you manage it.

Another therapy type is behavioral therapy. This therapy can help you or your child learn how to monitor and manage your behavior.

Medication can also be very helpful when you’re living with ADHD. ADHD medications are designed to affect brain chemicals in a way that enables you to better control your impulses and actions.

ADHD medication

The two main types of medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants and nonstimulants.

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are the most commonly prescribed ADHD medications. These drugs work by increasing the amounts of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine.

Examples of these drugs include methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine-based stimulants (Adderall).

If stimulants don’t work well or cause troublesome side effects for you or your child, your doctor may suggest a nonstimulant medication. Certain nonstimulant medications work by increasing levels of norepinephrine in the brain.

These medications include atomoxetine (Strattera) and some antidepressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin).

ADHD medications can have many benefits, as well as side effects.

Natural remedies for ADHD

In addition to — or instead of — medication, several remedies have been suggested to help improve ADHD symptoms.

For starters, making lifestyle changes may help you or your child manage ADHD symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:

  • eating a nutritious, balanced diet
  • getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • limiting daily screen time from phones, computers, and TV

Studies have also shown that yoga, tai chi, and spending time outdoors can help calm overactive minds and may ease ADHD symptoms.

Mindfulness meditation is another option. Research from 2015 has suggested meditation might improve attention in people with ADHD.

Avoiding certain allergens and food additives are also potential ways to help reduce ADHD symptoms.

ADD vs. ADHD

You may have heard the terms “ADD” and “ADHD” and wondered what the difference is between them.

ADD, or attention deficit disorder, is an outdated term. It was previously used to describe people who have problems paying attention but are not hyperactive. The type of ADHD called “predominantly inattentive” is now used in place of ADD.

ADHD is the current overarching name of the condition. The term ADHD became official in May 2013 when the APA released the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).”

This manual is what doctors refer to when making diagnoses for mental health conditions.

Adult ADHD

More than 60 percent of children with ADHD still show symptoms as adults. For many people, hyperactivity symptoms often decrease with age, but inattentiveness and impulsivity may continue.

That said, treatment is important. Untreated ADHD in adults can have a negative impact on many aspects of life. Symptoms such as trouble managing time, forgetfulness, and impatience can cause problems at work, home, and in all types of relationships.

ADHD in children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 8.8 percent of people aged 3 to 17 years in the United States have had a diagnosis of ADHD at some time. This includes 11.7 percent of males and 5.7 percent of females.

For children, ADHD is generally associated with problems at school. Children with ADHD often have difficulties in a controlled classroom setting.

Boys are more than twice as likelyTrusted Source as girls to receive an ADHD diagnosis. This may be because boys tend to exhibit hallmark symptoms of hyperactivity. Although some girls with ADHD may have the classic symptoms of hyperactivity, many do not.

In many cases, girls with ADHD may:

  • daydream frequently
  • be hyper-talkative rather than hyperactive

Many symptoms of ADHD can be typical childhood behaviors, so it can be hard to know what’s ADHD-related and what’s not.

Is ADHD a learning disability?

While ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it’s not considered a learning disability. However, ADHD symptoms can make it harder for you to learn. Also, it’s possible for ADHD to occur in some people who also have learning disabilities.

To help relieve any impact on learning for children, teachers can map out individual guidelines for a student with ADHD. This may include allowing extra time for assignments and tests or developing a personal reward system.

Although it’s not technically a learning disability, ADHD can have lifelong effects.

Coexisting conditions

People with ADHD sometimes have other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Some of these conditions result from the challenges of living with ADHD.

Anxiety

People with ADHD can find it hard to keep up with daily tasks, maintain relationships, and so on. This can increase the risk of anxiety.

People with ADHD are also more likely to experience an anxiety disorder than those without ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Anxiety disorders include:

  • separation anxiety, when you are afraid of being away from loved ones
  • social anxiety, which can make you afraid of going to school or other places where people socialize
  • generalized anxiety, when you’re afraid of bad things happening, of the future, and so on

Depression

If you or your child has ADHD, you’re more likely to have depression as well. In one study, around 50 percent of adolescents had major depression or an anxiety disorder, compared with 35 percent of those without ADHD. Studies suggest that up to 53.3 percent of adults with ADHD may also have depression.

This may feel like an unfair double whammy, but know that treatments are available for both conditions. In fact, the treatments often overlap. Talk therapy can help treat both conditions. Also, certain antidepressants, such as bupropion, can sometimes help ease ADHD symptoms.

Of course, having ADHD doesn’t guarantee you’ll have depression, but it’s important to know it’s a possibility. 

Conduct and behavior disorders

Behavior and conduct problems are more common among children with ADHD than those without. These disorders can arise when a person does not feel understood by those around them.

Someone who doesn’t feel understood may argue a lot, lose their temper, or purposely annoy others. These may be signs of oppositional defiant disorder.

Some people find they cannot help breaking rules or behaving aggressively toward others, maybe fighting, bullying, or perhaps taking things that do not belong to them. This is called conduct disorder.

Treatment is available for people who face these challenges, but experts recommend starting early and making sure the treatment fits the needs of the person and their family.

Learning disorder

Some children with ADHD have a learning disorder that makes it additionally hard to carry out their study tasks. Examples include dyslexia, which makes reading difficult, or problems with numbers or writing.

These challenges can make it very hard for a child to manage at school, and they can worsen feelings of anxiety and depression. Getting help early is essential to try to minimize the impact of these challenges.

Tips for coping with ADHD

If you or your child has ADHD, a consistent schedule with structure and regular expectations may be helpful. For adults, some ways to help you stay organized are:

  • making lists
  • keeping a calendar
  • setting reminders

For children, it can be helpful to focus on writing down homework assignments and keeping everyday items, such as toys and backpacks, in assigned spots.

Learning more about the disorder in general can also help you learn how to manage it. Organizations like Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or the Attention Deficit Disorder Association provide tips for management as well as the latest research.

Your doctor can provide more guidance in ways to manage your ADHD symptoms. Here are tips for helping your child with ADHD.

Outlook

For children and adults, untreated ADHD can have a serious impact on your life. It can affect school, work, and relationships. Treatment is important to lessen the effects of the condition.

It’s still important to keep in mind that many people with ADHD enjoy fulfilling and successful lives.

If you think you or your child may have ADHD, your first step should be talking with a doctor if possible. They can help determine if ADHD is a factor for you or your child. Your doctor can help you create a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and live well with ADHD.

Debunking 5 Common Misconceptions About ADHD

Myth 1: Girls don’t get ADHD

In general, young girls aren’t as likely to be as hyperactive as young boys or display as many behavioral issues compared to boys, so people often don’t recognize ADHD in girls.

As a result, girls are less likely to be referred for an evaluation of ADHD.

The problem with this myth is that, because girls with ADHD often go untreated, their condition can progress, increasing issues with:

  • mood
  • anxiety
  • antisocial personality
  • other comorbid disorders in adulthood

It’s for this reason that it’s really important to improve our ability to identify girls with ADHD and provide them with the support they need.

Myth 2: Poor parenting causes ADHD

Some of my adult patients with ADHD will bring their parents into their appointments. During these sessions, I often find that the parents will share their guilt of wishing they could’ve done more to help their kid succeed and control their symptoms.

This often stems from the myth that “poor parenting” causes ADHD.

But the fact is, this is not the case. Though structure is important for a person with ADHD, constant punishing for symptoms such as blurting out words, restlessness, hyperactivity, or impulsivity can be more detrimental in the long run.

But because many would view this type of behavior as the child simply being “poorly mannered,” parents often find themselves being judged for not being able to control their child.

This is why professional interventions such as psychotherapy and medications are often required.

Myth 3: People with ADHD are lazy

Many of my patients with ADHD explain that they’re often accused of being lazy, which leaves them feeling guilty for not being as productive and motivated as others expect them to be.

Folks with ADHD tend to need more structure and reminders to get things done — especially activities that require sustained mental effort.

But because symptoms of ADHD may manifest as disinterest, disorganization, and a lack of motivation unless it’s related to an activity they truly enjoy, this may be mistaken for laziness.

However, the reality is that people with ADHD truly want to succeed but may struggle to initiate and complete what others may consider “simple” tasks.

Even sorting through mail or answering an email can be daunting because it requires a lot more sustained mental energy for someone with this condition.

This myth can be especially harmful as these judgments can leave people with a sense of failure, which can progress to poor self-esteem and lacking confidence to pursue ventures in life.

Myth 4: Having ADHD ‘isn’t that serious’

While ADHD isn’t life-threatening, it can have serious implications on a person’s overall quality of life. Compared to the general population, people with ADHD are more likely to have:

  • anxiety
  • mood and substance use disorders

Meanwhile, one common experience among my patients with ADHD is that it’s difficult to keep up with work responsibilities, and they’re constantly monitored or on probation.

This means they live in continual fear of losing their jobs and not being able to keep up financially, which can take a toll on their personal life.

Folks with ADHD may require more time to complete tasks in order to thrive. Unfortunately, while these sorts of accommodations may be available in educational settings — think longer test-taking time or quiet exam rooms — employers may not be as willing to accommodate.

Myth 5: ADHD isn’t a real medical disorder

Research has demonstrated differences between a brain with ADHD and one without it, in addition to differences in how brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and glutamate operate.

The parts of the brain involved in ADHD play an important part in our “executive functions,” such as:

  • planning
  • organizing
  • initiating tasks

Twin studies also suggest that ADHD has a genetic component, where in identical twins, if one twin has ADHD, the other is likely to have it as well.

The bottom line

As it stands, individuals with ADHD are often judged and unfairly labelled. Moreover, they often find:

  • accommodations aren’t made in order for them to be successful
  • they aren’t diagnosed early enough
  • they come up against those in society who don’t believe ADHD is even a condition

For these reasons and more, the myths that surround ADHD need dispelling if we’re to raise awareness about this condition and provide folks within the community with what they need to succeed in all aspects of their lives.

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/adhd-myths-debunked?utm_source=ReadNext#The-bottom-line

https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15950004/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4694553/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5237364/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26748338/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074363/

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