While ADHD is a condition more commonly associated with children, it’s a disorder that affects adults more often than you’d think. Some people go their whole lives with the illness, wondering what’s wrong with them, only to receive a diagnosis from a doctor that they have it. ADHD, known as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common childhood disorders that transcends adolescence and can linger into adulthood.
Although some children will outgrow the condition, others will experience it for the rest of their lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the prevalence of kids diagnosed with ADHD increased substantially from 2003 to 2011 from 7.8 percent to 11 percent. Males are more prone and showed higher levels than females in that same span.
According to a more recent study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children diagnosed with ADHD in the United States was 6.1 million, or 9.4 percent. When the numbers are broken down, 388,000 children between the ages of two and five were diagnosed, along with 2.4 million children aged six to 11 and 3.3 million children 12 to 17. Again, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls at 12.9 percent versus 5.6 percent.
The National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) released a study highlighting the prevalence of ADHD in adults from the ages of 18 to 44 with a current diagnosis. The overall prevalence in adults throughout the United States is 4.4 percent, while men had higher numbers than women with 5.4 percent to 3.2 percent, respectively. The estimated lifetime prevalence for adults 18 to 44 is 8.1 percent.
For those who might not be familiar with the condition and may have only seen how it’s portrayed on TV or in movies, it’s vital to understand what ADHD is, its symptoms, and the differences and similarities between children and adults with the disorder.
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered to be the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood but may fade as the person gets older. However, it can also linger into adulthood, which requires treatment. Children who are diagnosed with the condition report having trouble controlling their impulsive behaviors and act without thinking of the consequences have difficulty paying attention, and have unusually high energy levels.
It’s common for a child to have difficulty behaving and focusing. After all, they’re kids still finding their way. However, those with ADHD won’t grow out of these behaviors, and parents often mistake the condition for something more severe. The symptoms can often be severe and cause problems at school, home, or around friends.
Children with ADHD will exhibit the following:
ADHD is the primary diagnosis, but there are three different types, which depend on the symptoms that are most prominent in the person. These include:
Since symptoms may change over time, the presentation will change over time as well.
Without speaking to a medical professional, you’ll never be able to determine if what you’re experiencing is ADHD, depression, anxiety, or ADHD that’s causing these symptoms. When you visit a doctor, you have to be upfront about your symptoms and what you’re experiencing. Anxiety is a completely normal emotional response to uncomfortable and challenging situations. However, issues can arise when the fear or anxiety becomes irrational, excessive, or exaggerated to what’s happening or about to happen.
Anxiety may cause a substantial amount of debilitating psychological and physical symptoms, some of which can diminish the quality of your life, but is it ADHD? Let’s take a look at the physical symptoms of anxiety below.
The psychological effects of anxiety include:
With everything discussed above, it’s no wonder that mentioning ADHD will lead you to an image of a young child bouncing off the walls or staring out the window of their classroom into the abyss. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the adult population is affected by this condition, which is reflected in the numbers. With that said, there’s a large number of those who haven’t been diagnosed and experience symptoms without knowing what it is.
The hyperactivity you might find in children is less widespread in adults; therefore, it is more probable that an adult will be diagnosed with ADHD, primarily inattentive presentation. However, it can still cause significant problems in a person’s career, social interactions, and marriage. It can also lead to dangerous impulsive behavior like using drugs, alcohol, or gambling.
Since the symptoms of ADHD show up differently in adults than in children, it makes sense why a person is so often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Adult ADHD disrupts what is known as “executive functions” of our brain, including decision-making, judgment, the ability to complete complex tasks, and initiative. Impaired executive functions will cause serious issues for professional and academic achievement, as well as maintaining a stable relationship.
Adult ADHD is commonly diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, or depression can be overlooked as the source of these symptoms. Anxiety and depression usually accompany the illness because of challenges with executive brain functions that trigger both conditions.
Adult ADHD is distinguished by the inability to take on tasks that require prolonged concentration, poor listening skills, chronic lateness, and forgetting appointments. The disorder also shows itself in a person’s communication style. Adult ADHD will cause compulsive behaviors like interrupting people while they’re talking and finishing their sentences. A person who exhibits extreme impatience when standing in line or when stuck in traffic is a potential sign of adult ADHD. Those who might seem high-strung or nervous might actually have ADHD.
An adult with ADHD had the condition as a child, but it was likely misdiagnosed as a conduct disorder or learning disability if anything was diagnosed at all. The condition might have presented itself during childhood but was too minor to get recognized. Still, in any case, without a diagnosis or treatment, ADHD can lead to low self-esteem and depression and hold a person back from achieving their full potential.
If you fear you could have ADHD, help is available to you. Many people go through their entire lives not knowing what they’re experiencing, which has had catastrophic consequences or not allowed them to achieve what they’re capable of in life. Adult ADHD is usually treated with a combination of medication or psychotherapy, so speak to a doctor today for a diagnosis.
NIMH (April 2021) Anxiety Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
Healthline (September 2018) Adult ADHD. from https://www.healthline.com/health/adult-adhd
National Comorbidity Survey (N.D.) Lifetime and 12 Months Prevalence Estimates. from https://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/
NIMH (April 2021) Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd.shtml
CDC (April 2021) ADHD Statistics. from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html