Mar 10 2010

Adult ADHD

When parents are discussing their child’s school difficulties and problems with inattention and distractibility and we review ADHD criteria for their child, a parent will often say “wait a minute…  that sounds a lot like me!”  As ADHD was not as well understood and less commonly treated a generation ago, many adults were never diagnosed or treated for ADHD as children.  They may have been called “spirited” or “ a chatterbox” or “a daredevil” if they had hyperactive traits, and may have been said to “not be working up to their potential” or be “daydreaming too much” or “not complete assignments” if they had inattentive traits.  Since ADHD tends to run in families, it is not unusual to find ADHD traits in a parent or grandparent of an ADHD child.

Many adults with ADHD have learned to adapt to ADHD traits and have found a niche where ADHD may even be an advantage professionally or socially.  Adults with ADHD are often fun and spontaneous, and do well with creative ideas and shifting task frequently.  Yet for some, disorganization, trouble listening in meetings, procrastinating, getting sidetracked, forgetting appointments, making careless mistakes or letting things slip through the cracks can have serious social implications or prevent advancement at work.

Not long ago I met with a very likeable and intelligent young father who was struggling with his marriage and facing divorce.  His wife had gotten frustrated with his not finishing school, bouncing from job to job, and not completing projects around the house.  Although he was well read, well spoken, and highly intelligent, he felt like a loser.  Nothing ever seemed to work out or go his way.   We were able to identify and treat ADHD with dramatic results.  He was then able to see tasks through to completion and began to thrive professionally.  Later, he wept that this had not been pointed out years sooner, as he felt earlier treatment would have saved a lot of stress in his marriage.

I have met several stay-at-home moms who were frustrated that they never seemed to be able to get caught up.  Somehow the laundry never got done, maybe started but not put away.  The bills would frequently seem to be paid late.  They would order and address the Christmas cards, but never get them mailed.  They would leave church services and ask themselves “what did they just talk about?”  They felt like they were always misplacing their car keys or cell phones, and running late or forgetting meetings.  Several moms who were evaluated and diagnosed and started medication have reported that “things seem to just run a lot smoother”  and  “I get things done now.”

I have worked with several professionals who reported doing pretty well, but noticing they struggled with sitting through meetings.  They couldn’t keep up with e-mails.  They had a hard time organizing several projects and making deadlines.  They put off the boring parts of their jobs and found that they made careless mistakes entering data.  They reported feeling like their minds were someplace else if they have to do a lot of technical reading.   Graduate students with ADHD often find that they are able to study and pay attention and their grades improve when diagnosed and treated with medication.

Adults who feel like they have difficulty staying focused, who get sidetracked and distracted easily, who struggle with staying organized, who feel forgetful, or find that they lose belongings frequently may want to explore the possibility of inattentive type ADHD (Previously called ADD).  If the difficulties are causing problems with work or school or family functioning, it may be useful to seek an evaluation or treatment.    A psychiatrist who is experienced with ADHD can evaluate symptoms and recommend treatment options.  Organizational strategies and medications often help reduce problems associated with ADHD.  For more information about adult ADHD and treatment or to schedule an evaluation, you may visit my website


Andrew M. Portteus, MD, MPH, PA



Dr. Andrew Portteus is a board certified psychiatrist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood and adult ADHD.

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