It is perfectly normal to have trouble focusing, concentrating on a task, or even sitting still at times; however, sometimes both children and adults alike suffer from an actual brain disorder that makes these struggles the norm instead of the exception. When an inability to concentrate and impulsivity are uncontrollable and affect daily tasks and functioning, a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, or ADD, may be in order.
ADD was first included in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) as a specific disorder in 1980, and it has since been modified as a subtype of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder. ADHD is thought to have three main subtypes: predominantly inattentive (which is the category into which ADD falls), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or combined type including both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. The newest diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, refers to the ADHD subtypes as “presentations,” and these presentations can change throughout someone’s lifetime as they grow and change as well. The National Institute of Mental Health states that ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders that is diagnosed on average around age 7; however, it can be diagnosed earlier and can continue throughout adulthood.
- Trouble staying on task
- Bored quickly
- Difficulty competing a task
- Frequent daydreams
- Trouble keeping track of things necessary to complete tasks or assignments
- Does not appear to be listening
In years past, this subtype or manifestation of ADHD was considered to be ADD since it usually doesn’t include as many of the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms as the other subtypes. It can be easily overlooked, as someone suffering from this type may be quiet, shy, reserved, and in their own world as opposed to the more energy-filled and disruptive types of ADHD.
- Rapid speech patterns
- Trouble sitting still
- Constant movement
- Difficulty with quiet activities
- Constantly interrupting others
- Inability to wait their turn
- Acting without regard to consequences
- Risk-taking behavior
- Feelings of inadequacy
A person who falls under the combined ADHD presentation is usually equally hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive.
There is no specific test for ADD or ADHD that can diagnose the disorder without fail. Other disorders have some of the same symptoms, and sometimes ADHD is incorrectly believed to be anxiety, depression, or a learning disability instead. Those suffering from ADD or ADHD may have trouble in school, at jobs, and with relationships, and often the disorder is noticed by a teacher or loved one first.
Most often the process to obtaining a proper diagnosis will start with a medical exam and sometimes a checklist to rate symptoms. In order to obtain an official diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, one must have symptoms that are considered beyond the normal range for a person’s age. These symptoms must also be present across more than one setting or environment, like at home and work or at school and social events, and continue for at least six months.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates that around 5 percent of children in the United States have ADHD, with boys being more likely than girls to be diagnosed. ADHD is not only a childhood disorder, however; the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 4.1 percent of American adults also have the disorder. Oftentimes, the disorder begins in childhood and persists into adulthood.
ADHD can be much harder to diagnose in adults, and when left untreated, it can lead to substance abuse and addiction. The Oxford University Press published a research paper indicating that of adults suffering from ADHD, 15 percent had been dependent or abused drugs or alcohol in the previous year; this is almost three times the rate among adults without the disorder. Many undiagnosed adults may turn to substance abuse as a form of self-medication or relief since many stimulant drugs even act the same way as prescribed medication for ADHD.
Causes of ADD and ADHD
There is much speculation into the exact cause of ADHD. As with many mental health disorders, most researchers agree on a variety of contributing factors. The British Journal of Psychiatry published the results of identical twin studies indicating a strong genetic link for ADHD with a heritability of between 70 and 80 percent. These results may be slightly skewed, however, since most twins also share the same environment.
Environmental factors, such as a prevalence of lead, can play a role in the development of ADHD as can brain injuries and complications with pregnancy and delivery. For example, there may be a link between premature delivery, low birth weight, and/or alcohol or tobacco consumption during pregnancy and ADHD.
Previously held views that too much television or sugar consumption could lead to someone developing ADHD have been unsupported by research. Social and emotional factors also previously thought to promote development of ADHD are now more widely accepted as factors more likely to exacerbate symptoms rather than cause them. Research on the underlying causes and the manner in which the brain is affected in those suffering from ADHD continues to advance.
When ADD or ADHD needs treatment
No matter the initial cause of ADHD or the presentation, it will generally only worsen without proper treatment. ADHD is highly treatable, and the symptoms can be managed successfully.
ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. A proper diagnosis is the first step toward recovery. ADHD complicates relationships, school performance, and job production, and it can lead to substance abuse and other complications and risk factors if left unmanaged. If you suspect that you or someone you love may be suffering from ADHD, seek professional help immediately.
Tips for managing ADHD symptoms
Along with seeking professional help and treatment, there are some everyday things that can help manage symptoms of ADHD in children and adults alike. Some tips to lessen the severity of symptoms include:
- Keep a strict schedule and routine that is predictable.
- Make sure directions and instructions are clear and break them up into smaller steps.
- Be consistent.
- Set small and attainable goals.
- Keep things organized and neat, making sure everything has a proper place.
- Use an organizer.
- Praise small accomplishments.
- Research and understand the disorder.
- Try to list any upcoming changes in advance.
How to treat ADD and ADHD
Many treatments exist to help manage the symptoms of ADD and ADHD, including medications and psychotherapy. ADHD medications are generally stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin that serve to improve focus and concentration, generally slowing down hyperactive and impulsive tendencies. ADHD medications come in several types; they can be short-term, long-term, immediate, or extended-release forms.
These medications should be prescribed and monitored by a medical professional as they do carry potential side effects as well as risks of addiction and abuse. Someone suffering from ADHD and a substance abuse disorder may not be the best candidate for a stimulant medication, but rather a non-stimulant option, such as Strattera or Intuniv, may be more effective. Medication, under the guidance of a medical professional, can be a useful tool in managing ADHD.
Another important component of ADHD treatment is psychotherapy. Behavioral therapy in which patients learn to take responsibility for their actions, learn how to manage their symptoms, and learn the life skills necessary to handle certain emotional, social and environmental triggers can be highly successful. When ADHD and addiction co-occur, specialized treatment is necessary to treat both disorders simultaneously for the best results. Integrated treatment in which medical and mental health professionals work together to achieve common goals can help to prevent relapse and ensure success in recovery.
Here at The Recovery Village, we offer progressive treatment overseen by highly credentialed professionals. Support groups, individual and group therapy, medication therapy, and evidence-based treatments are available as part of our specialized care plans. Contact us today for a comprehensive assessment. We are here 24/7 to take your call.