Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a mental health condition that has become cultural shorthand inappropriately. The phrase “I’m ADHD” is not even grammatically accurate, but using it to describe distraction casually or disinterest dilutes the true meaning behind this disorder. It can also further isolate those with ADHD because they’re already misunderstood. We’ve debunked some common myths about ADHD and explained what it’s not.
Here are ten facts about ADHD. ADHD is a brain disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard set of guidelines psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illness, lists ADHD as a neurodevelopmental condition. Although the cause of ADHD has not been determined, a popular theory suggests that people with ADHD have an imbalance in neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are crucial for thinking and concentration.
A study published in The Lancet in April 2017 concluded that people who have ADHD have brains that are structurally different from those without the disorder. This study used MRIs to compare the brains of 1,713 people living with ADHD and 1,529 people who did not have ADHD. It found that those with ADHD had smaller brain volumes in five regions regulating motivation and emotions. The differences were more evident in children but also existed in adults.
ADHD can affect children as well as adults.
ADHD is often associated with children who are energetic and full of life. While children may have ADHD, the disorder can persist well into adulthood. It may not be diagnosed until later in life.
According to the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 11 percent of U.S. kids between the ages of 4 and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. This is equivalent to 6.4 million children in this age group.
In addition to that, approximately 10 million people 18 and over in the United States have ADHD, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a CDC-sponsored resource. 2016 Census Data shows that this is about 4 percent of U.S. adults. ADHD is not a condition that goes away when someone reaches adulthood.
You can be diagnosed with three different types of ADHD, and they do not all include hyperactivity.
ADD, and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) were considered separate disorders because symptoms of hyperactivity were absent in every patient. Lenard A. Adler, M.D. is a professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and the director of the Adult ADHD program. He tells HIMSELF that doctors now refer to ADHD as encompassing both.
You may be diagnosed with ADHD based on your symptoms.
- Presenting a Presentation that is Mostly Inattentive
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation
- Combination Presentation
“In the past, ADD was used as a term for what we now call ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, where the inattentive symptoms are more prominent than the hyperactive/impulsive ones,” Dr. Adler explains.
ADHD is more than hyperactivity and inattention.
It’s unlikely that ADHD is the cause of your lack of motivation at work. To be diagnosed with ADHD, an adult must experience five symptoms of inattention – i.e., problems maintaining focus – and five of hyperactivity – constant restlessness – and impulsivity – acting without thinking. A child would have to exhibit at least six symptoms of each. The symptoms below must also have been experienced for at least six months.
- Many people fail to pay close attention to details or make mistakes
- Has difficulty maintaining attention on tasks or activities
- When spoken to directly, he does not always seem to be listening
- The child does not always follow instructions and often fails to complete schoolwork or work duties
- It may be challenging to organize your tasks and activities.
- Loses of items necessary for activities or tasks
- Is easily distracted from the task at hand by external stimuli
- Do you need to be more careful in your daily activities?
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity symptoms:
- Fidgets or taps feet and hands or squirms when in a seat
- When expected to remain seated, the person leaves their seat.
- Runs and climbs are often done in inappropriate situations (in adults or adolescents, it may only be a feeling of restlessness).
- Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
- He acts as if he is “driven by a motor.”
- Often talks excessively
- Answers are often blurted out before the question is completed.
- Many people need help with waiting for their turn.
- Interrupts or invades others frequently.
“If there were only symptoms and no problems from them, then it would not be a disorder,” says Dr. Adler. This is why another part of the diagnostic criteria states that symptoms must affect you in two domains. For example, at home, work, school, and social settings.
ADHD is difficult to diagnose and requires a thorough assessment because of the many different ways it can manifest.
Some people may think that being diagnosed with ADHD involves:
- Walking into your primary physician’s office.
- Complaining about an inability to focus.
- Leaving with a prescription for Adderall.
To be correctly diagnosed, you must undergo a thorough evaluation that takes a long time.
According to the Mayo Clinic, no specific test can be used to diagnose ADHD in adults.
- Medical examination to rule out other possible causes of symptoms
- Gathering information, such as asking about your family history, other medical conditions, and signs, is essential.
- Use psychological tests or ADHD rating scales to collect data and evaluate your symptoms.
According to Mayo Clinic, this assessment for kids could include questionnaires to parents, teachers, and coaches, evaluating student records, and using DSM-5 diagnostic criteria.
It’s easy to diagnose ADHD as another mental health condition mistakenly.
Some mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and Bipolar disorder, can share some symptoms with ADHD. These include the inability to concentrate and impulsivity. So can learning disabilities.
Stephen Hinshaw, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and psychiatry, respectively, at UC Berkeley. He told SELF that if you don’t do a complete evaluation, it’s easy to mistake ADHD for other psychiatric disorders. A doctor might see someone in the waiting area and immediately rule out ADHD without assessing the rest of the person’s 23-hour day.
ADHD can begin in childhood, even if not diagnosed until adulthood.
If you were not officially diagnosed with ADHD as a child but want to be diagnosed now as an adult, you must have had symptoms before you turned 12. Dr. Adler explains that the roots of ADHD must be found in childhood. You don’t need to meet the full childhood criteria but must have significant symptoms.
The problem with adults needing to remember their childhoods is that they often seek treatment at an older age. Hinshaw says that people may not remember their youth well if they were never diagnosed. To get documentation of some of these symptoms occurring during childhood or adolescence, you may need to ask a parent or informant, even if the person is not home. You can also use school report cards to confirm this history.
ADHD can manifest differently in men and women.
The DSM-5 does not differentiate between men and women, but the symptoms of ADHD tend to be different in both genders. This begins in childhood.
Dr. Adler says that little boys tend to show more hyperactivity and impulsivity than girls, but this can be overlooked as they do not fit the ADHD stereotype. This can also continue into adulthood.
The disorder is often inherited, but environmental factors could also be involved.
Scientists know that ADHD is mainly genetic but are still trying to understand the environmental factors’ role. Hinshaw says that genes play a significant role, but it doesn’t mean you will develop ADHD if your family has it. People without a lot of family history may also be affected by ADHD.
ADHD can be treated with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
People who are diagnosed with ADHD often feel that it is a lifelong burden. There are many ways to manage ADHD and have a wonderful life. “There is a lot of help available,” says Dr. Adler.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an effective treatment plan may include psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy. CBT involves changing negative emotions, behaviors, or thoughts. Dr. Adler says CBT can be beneficial as a standalone treatment or with medication.
While it may seem counterintuitive to treat ADHD with stimulants, they can increase the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine to boost cognition and attention. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is counterintuitive to use stimulants to treat ADHD. However, these drugs can increase norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters to improve cognition and focus.
This can be helpful if stimulants aren’t practical for someone or if they also have a mood disorder like depression, says the NIMH. NIMH says this can be useful if stimulants don’t work for someone or if the person has a mood disorder such as depression.
Hinshaw says there may be other ways to live a life, making it easier for people with ADHD to succeed. You may be able to reduce ADHD symptoms if, in addition to proper treatment, you learn your strengths and choose a career that suits them. Or, you become your employer so that you can define success more freely.
Here are a few things that ADHD is not. ADHD isn’t just being distracted by your mobile phone.
It’s easy to get distracted in our tech-obsessed society. You might lose focus when you’re telling a story because an Instagram message appears, or you walk into a space while texting and then need to remember what you wanted to do. Hinshaw says that a screen-dominated lifestyle can cause anyone to be less attentive. However, it does not mean that you have ADHD.
According to Dr. Adler, technology can exacerbate ADHD. If technology is making your ADHD symptoms worse, then you should consult a doctor.
ADHD does not mean that you are entirely unfocused.
The inability to concentrate is a common sign of ADHD. However, this does not mean those with ADHD cannot pay attention. Hinshaw says that they can become hyper-focused when interested in an activity. This can make it harder to detect ADHD.
A child who plays video games all day may have no trouble paying attention. But there is a vast difference between being immersed in what you enjoy and being able to pay attention even when you’re not feeling like it. “Life is more complicated than just doing what you want,” says Dr. Adler.
ADHD isn’t just an excuse for taking Adderall.
Adderall is a drug that can be effective for some people. These stimulants are stimulants for people who don’t have a prescription. It is safe to take these stimulants under medical supervision. However, if they are born without a prescription, the situation changes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, taking stimulants without a prescription can cause anxiety, increased blood pressure, and an elevated heart rate.
According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the number of emergency department visits involving the misuse of ADHD stimulant medication is increasing. The study’s authors examined data from three surveys that looked at stimulant prescriptions and emergency room visits related to stimulants. The study found that between 2006 and 2011, the non-medical use and emergency department visits of Adderall, its generic version, and other stimulants increased by 67 percent among adults 18 years and older.
Since these medications may only be as effective as you believe if you need them, Hinshaw says that if you do not have ADHD, these medications might help you stay up later or finish your work, but they won’t help you with your cognitive abilities. “They only make you think that your cognitive abilities are better.”