ADHD in adulthood
Audio version of the blog.
Over 2021, I’ve noticed a trend among my private practice patients. There has been a rise in adults being diagnosed or looking for support with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) Little is known about adult ADHD in society. It is often associated with childhood and adolescence. It is common to hear people question its existence or severity. All of this is often enough to stop adults from getting the support they need.
ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse. Most cases are diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old. The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems. People with ADHD may also have additional issues, such as sleep and anxiety disorders. - NHS Website
Even when an adult does feel able to get help, it is often a struggle to get a diagnosis. According to ADHD Action, waiting lists for assessment can be seven years in some parts of the UK, with many areas having no services or support at all. Once a diagnosis is established, it can bring mixed feelings. A diagnosis can feel like a relief, explaining struggles with relationships or work. Many life experiences may suddenly make sense, but they might also highlight how a person has been misunderstood or neglected by people close.
ADHD can be experienced on a spectrum, meaning people can experience symptoms at different intensities or only a handful of symptoms. I have written this blog in part out of frustration that these patients I see still face so many misconceptions, myths, and stigma in society. Hopefully, this will go a small way to breaking some of that stigma. Below is a list of some common symptoms and how they can challenge people with ADHD. It is not a definitive list. The NHS breaks down symptoms and treatment on their website, should you want further reading HERE
Five common symptoms
Prioritising, stress and mental health challenges
You may find it a struggle to prioritise or finish tasks, both at work and in your personal life. This can often be linked to causes of stress. While everyone gets stressed, ADHD can make it hard to regulate your stress. In addition, being aware that your ADHD affects your day-to-day can be extremely stressful in itself. If stress is not managed, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and feeling overwhelmed emotionally.
While it may be challenging to start or finish tasks, you might find that you can intensely focus on one thing. This is often a passion project or a hobby that you choose to do (rather than mundane tasks.)
Short term memory
People with ADHD can often be forgetful or struggle in an academic setting. A lot of this can be to do with poor short term memory. You might experience this in different ways, such as not making it to appointments, being late, or forgetting dates. Alternatively, you may find that information just doesn’t stick in your head, meaning academic or learning environments are complex and feel incredibly inaccessible.
Energy and emotional levels
Emotions are often experienced intensely, the good times feeling really good and the low times feeling crushing. This can be connected to disordered sleep, feeling fatigued in the day and poor sleep at night.
Impulsivity, behaviour and sex
Impulsivity is commonly seen in young people with ADHD but can be harder to spot in adulthood. The impulsive behaviour can manifest sexually, with emotional decisions or financial. Sex particularly can be viewed on a spectrum. Either impulsively engaging in sex or unable to be switched off and relax into sex.
The biggest challenge?
Perhaps though, one of the biggest challenges for adults living with ADHD is society. Type ‘adult ADHD’ into a search engine, and you’ll see many articles about people going through the justice system, having difficulty in relationships, and with low employment opportunities. It can feel like having ADHD as an adult pre-determines some problematic outcomes.
It is essential to acknowledge that ADHD presents many significant challenges. Society has been designed with neurotypical* people in mind. A person with ADHD will experience extra struggle in a world not designed for them. Despite this, to say ADHD pre-determines a person’s path can be a dangerous and stigmatising statement.
My adult patients with ADHD come from a wealth of different backgrounds and experiences. Some have had difficulties with relationships or the justice system, while others have not. All of them are intuitive, articulate and creative. They have had to discover ways to live and thrive in a world not designed for them. They are extraordinary and resilient people.
If you have a diagnosis of ADHD, or if you suspect you might have it, I want to say that it does not pre-determine your opportunities, relationships, or anything else in life.
Talking to your GP or doctor can be a great starting point when managing ADHD, as can finding an experienced therapist.
*Neurotypical is a newer term that's used to describe individuals of typical developmental, intellectual, and cognitive abilities.