What is Adult ADHD?

Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD or Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, Adult ADD) is the common term used to describe the neuropsychiatric condition attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when it is present in adults. Individuals with ADHD essentially have problems with self-regulation and self-motivation, predominantly due to problems with distractibility, procrastination, organisation and prioritisation. The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be categorised into two broad groups of behavioural problems - symptoms of inattentiveness, and symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It is important to note that the individual's learning potential and overall intelligence are no different from those without the disorder.

Adults with ADHD are often perceived as chaotic and disorganised and for those with hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, have a tendency to require high levels of stimulation. Many adults are aware that "something is wrong", but are often unable to find effective solutions. A formal diagnosis of ADHD offers insight into ones own behaviour and helps one effect the changes needed to build on ones strengths and make accommodations for ones weaknesses, and to understand the disorder as it applies to oneself.

Until the 1970’s ADHD was generally thought to be a childhood disorder. However, today, it is increasingly recognised as a medical condition that starts in childhood and in many cases, continues to affect the brain’s chemistry and anatomy in adulthood.

How common is Adult ADHD?

ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK. ADHD can be a life-long condition, and many children who have it continue to have symptoms in adolescence and adulthood. A recent 2009 research publication suggested a prevalence of 2.5% of the adult population (see reference 1 below). There is a wide range of prevalence rates cited in the literature, with differences between North America and Europe. Estimates of rates in the US are cited as being nearer 5% (see reference 2 below). Some of this variation is due to the different interpretations of the definitions of ADHD. It is estimated that currently only about 10% of those who suffer from Adult ADHD have received a formal diagnosis. In the context of the World Health Organisation World Mental Health Survey Initiative, researchers screened more than 11 thousand people aged 18-44 years in ten countries in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. They said that adult ADHD often co-occurs with other disorders and is associated with considerable role disability (see reference 3 below).

Why is it important to identify?

ADHD can lead to a significant impact on education, employment and interpersonal relationships. An inability to effectively structure ones life, plan simple daily tasks or think of consequences, results in various difficulties. Poor performance in school & work leading to academic underachievement or getting fired are common. Poor driving record with traffic offences and accidents, other problems with the law, multiple relationships or marriages, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, smoking, misuse of alcohol and use of illegal substances can all complicate the lives of those with Adult ADHD. As problems accumulate, a negative self-view becomes established and a vicious circle of failure is set up. The difficulty may be significantly contributed to by characteristic ADHD behaviours. For example, the impulsive types, who may have difficulty obeying orders and may be rude to their boss for instance, resulting in dismissal. Often, the ADHD person will miss detail that someone with similar experience would see. These lapses can lead others to label the individuals with ADHD as "lazy" or "stupid" or "inconsiderate". Many adults may have some other form of psychiatric illness, i.e. also suffer from an additional mental illness such as depression or anxiety.


Reference 1
Simon V, Czobor P, Bálint S et al Prevalence and correlates of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: meta-analysis The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009) 194: 204-211

Reference 2
The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Am J Psychiatry 163:716-723, April 2006 

Reference 3
The prevalence and effects of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on the performance of workers: results from the WHO World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Graff et al Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2008;65:835-842  http://oem.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/65/12/835

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