Sometimes I’ll see a patient who comes in complaining of having feelings like their mind is racing, they’re forgetful, distracted, have difficulty concentrating, lose patience with their jobs, or other projects. It may even occur to the point that they impulsively quit, are frequently disorganized and misplace things.
These patients tell me they’ve always felt “faster” than everyone else as a kid, they talk fast, seem to think fast, always had a lot of energy and couldn’t seem to sit still or pay attention in class for very long. Now, however, as an older adult, the “speed” they always had is showing up more like impatience, or doing things on a whim. They become frustrated with people and things that just don’t move fast enough for them or causes them to think too long. In short, their “speed” always seems to be causing a problem in their lives. They wonder if they have some kind of nervous disorder and ask if I can give them something to slow down.
After I ask them a few questions, and listen to them talk about themselves, it becomes clear that they do not have a true physiological nervous disorder. Rather, it seems more likely that they’re experiencing symptoms of adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a biologic, frequently inherited, condition that affects about 2% to 4% of the population, mostly males.
Do any of the above symptoms sound like you? If so, there’s no need to worry, adult ADHD is a successfully treatable condition once it’s been accurately diagnosed. Those who have it can lead successful, productive, and very happy lives. Let me explain what ADHD is and how it’s treated.
What Is ADHD?
As I mentioned above, ADHD is a biologic disorder that seems to be genetically inherited. It has many of the symptoms listed above, in addition to the following:
• Restlessness/cannot seem to sit still, fidgeting.
• Excessive impulsiveness – saying or doing things without thinking of the consequences.
• Chronic procrastination – putting off tasks with trouble starting and finishing them.
• Lack of attention – doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to. Easily stimulated by external things like colors, music. Can become irritable, out of sorts.
There are 3 major types of ADHD which govern what treatment for symptoms will be:
• Combined (symptoms of both)
How Is ADHD Treated?
As I tell my patients, treatment for ADHD is very successful. It basically consists of 2 aspects:
• Medication – psychostimulants include methylphenidate (MPH) and amphetamines (Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall). Dose regulation is done on a response basis, i.e., how are the person’s symptoms at a given dose, too little of a dose may not be effective.
• Behavior management/modification – used in conjunction with medications, ADHD patients learn how to control/change impulsivity, frustration, task completion, verbal outbursts, how to better organize their job and daily lives to minimize frustration, and losing things. ADHD patients also learn to sleep better, the lack of which can greatly intensify their symptoms and make treatment much more difficult.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do For ADHD?
In addition to taking prescribed medications and attending therapy sessions to learn behavior modification techniques, people with ADHD can help themselves by doing the following:
• Make lists of tasks to complete. Schedule enough time to complete them so that frustration and impatience don’t sabotage you.
• Create easy-to-remember reminders, like perhaps a color-coded system for keys, etc.
• Reduce or eliminate sugar consumption. Sugar aggravates ADHD symptoms, namely hyperactivity and creates an inability to concentrate.
• Food allergy? It may be useful to have food allergy testing to determine if you are sensitive to any additives in your food which could be aggravating symptoms.
• Get Adequate Sun Exposure. ADHD can sometimes be mistaken for SAD, seasonal affective disorder.
• Supplements: A good multi-vitamin packed with the proper levels of nutrients, adequate levels of omega-3 fats, zinc, B vitamins, especially B12, and melatonin can greatly reduce symptoms of ADHD.
As I tell my patients who have ADHD, they didn’t do anything that caused their condition. It’s caused by a disorder in neurotransmitters, nervous system chemicals, like norepinephrine, that regulate mental energy and thought processes. Read/learn as much as you can about the condition and stay connected to a good therapist who can help you with behavioral therapy and, if you desire, refer you to a support group of others with ADHD.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.