ADHD is present in adults as well as children, and it can your relationships, parenting skills, and your career. The good news is that anyone can get help.
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DO YOU HAVE ADULT ADHD?
by Lynn Schnurnberger
Tara Kennedy-Kline’s husband, Chris, loved her free spirit when they were high school sweethearts. But nearly 20 years later, he found her behavior alarming. The mother of two from Shoemakersville, Pa., was still careening from career to career and disappearing for hours without bothering to call. She took out a $7000 loan to start yet another new business—and blew all the money shopping. By the time a therapist diagnosed Kennedy–Kline with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) four years ago, the couple were on the brink of divorce. Like millions of Americans, they’d learned that ADHD, often thought of as a childhood disorder, can have devastating consequences for adults.
A Brain Like a Multiplex
“My mind is always jumping all over the place,” says Dr. Louis DeLuca, 45, a plastic surgeon and ADHD sufferer in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s like having 16 movies going on in your head, all at the same time.” In addition to a lack of focus, symptoms including disorganization, impulsiveness, bursts of anger, and difficulty finishing tasks are so severe that they impair performance at home, work, or in social settings.
“ADHD is a developmental nerve disorder affecting the part of the brain associated with planning, organization, and impulse control,” explains Dr. Lenard Adler, director of the Adult ADHD program at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Symptoms begin early in life, and while many children outgrow them, up to 50% don’t. Though ADHD is the most common psychological problem after depression, 75% of the estimated 8.8 million adult sufferers in the U.S. go their entire lives without being diagnosed.
Lost Jobs? Failing Marriages?
Left untreated, adult ADHD can wreak havoc. People with the disorder are eight times as likely as the general population to take dangerous risks and twice as likely to get into traffic wrecks; they are also more prone to drug and alcohol abuse. Adults with ADHD are 50% more likely to be unemployed, and those who do have jobs earn about $15,000 a year less than others who are equally educated, according to a recent Harvard study.
Kirk Martin, 44, of Nashville, Tenn., says he was sabotaged for years by symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD. Instead of finishing a report at work, he’d surf the Internet, lie about why he’d missed his deadline, and become defensive. “Heck, I’ll just quit,” he’d say—so many times that he dragged his family to five different states. “I’d spend money rashly, break promises. I was always screaming at my son, and I’d have meltdowns over the slightest little things. My wife didn’t feel like she had a partner. It was more like she had two children.”
How to Get Help
Martin, who has a degree in child psychology, now writes a newsletter and lectures nationwide about overcoming ADHD. Like many adults with the disorder, he is leading a satisfying and productive life. The key is to get a proper diagnosis. Because symptoms of ADHD may resemble those of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, it’s important to talk to a mental-health professional experienced in diagnosing and treating the condition, says Mary Solanto, director of the ADHD Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Heredity can be a tip-off: If a child has the disorder, there’s a 40% chance that one of his parents has it too.
Treatment may involve drugs, cognitive therapy, or both. Tara Kennedy-Kline says that therapy helped her and her husband form a stronger bond. “I’ll lose focus when we’re talking,” she says. “In the old days, Chris would feel hurt, like I wasn’t listening. Now he’ll just say, ‘Okay, ADHD lady. Let’s try to pay attention; come on back.’”
“The key to dealing with the disorder is for a patient to learn to harness the chaos and confusion,” says Sari Solden, a psychotherapist in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I tell my patients to think of the brain as an orchestra. The musicians are talented, and we’re going to find mechanisms to help make the conductor a little more stable.”
More Than Distracted
In adults with ADHD, these symptoms are so severe that they get in the way of daily life:
• Unstable relationships
• Trouble coping with stress
• Hot temper
• Mood swings
• Trouble concentrating
• Difficulty completing tasks