Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment and How It Effects the Brain
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder?
Typically, ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is associated with children.
However, recent research has shown that this disorder is actually hereditary and that most children do not outgrow it as previously thought.
There are three different types of this disorder:
- ADHD combined type (meaning the person has both problems with attention and hyperactivity.)
- Predominantly Inattentive ADD
- Predominantly Hyperactive ADD
The name attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is actually quite misleading. It’s not so much a deficit as an inability to control and direct ones focus and impulses. There is, now, scientific proof that ADHD has physical indications. Certain areas of the ADHD brain are smaller than those of the normal brain:
- Prefrontal cortex - handles making decisions and the ability to switch from one task to another
- Corpus callosum - connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- Basal ganglia - regulates mood
- Cerebellar vermis - handles motor coordination and balance
All of these areas coincide with the symptoms of ADHD.
For example, the inability to focus on a task and see it through to completion has its roots in the prefrontal cortex as does impulse control, which is very difficult for most adults with the disorder.
Because impulsiveness is one of the symptoms of ADHD, many people with ADHD (myself included) have high credit card debt because of their inability to control their desire to buy something without thinking.
This also includes being tactful. They have no filter, what they say is exactly what they just thought. They take no time to formulate thoughts into sentences, or consider the consequences their words may have. Many people are easily offended by this, which makes friendships and even intimate relationships difficult for someone with the disorder.
Attention Deficit Disorder and Dopamine
Do you, or someone you know have ADHD?
Symptoms and Intelligence
Adults with ADHD have the same symptoms as children, they just manifest differently.
For example, difficulty with staying focused long enough to finish homework might manifest in an adult as a difficulty in finishing a report for his CEO by the deadline. Absentmindedness, indecisiveness, impulsivity, and overlooking important details are all classic signs of ADHD in both adults and children.
These people are not dumb however. They typically have a high IQ, usually well over 120 (average IQ is 100), although they are usually diagnosed with a learning disability as well as ADHD.
This level of intelligence requires the brain to be able to process information almost inhumanly fast. Many of those with the disorder are wonderful in emergencies, they are able to react quickly and remain calm because this is how their mind works on a daily basis.
On the flip side, they are also capable of hyper-focusing on activities that offer intense stimulation such as video games. However, this hyper-focusing gives the illusion that the person can pay attention whenever he or she wants to and this leads to doubts about the reality of the condition.
Hyper-focusing is a defense mechanism used in an effort to relieve stress and anxiety. It is much like meditation. Focusing in on one thing allows them to block out ALL other stimuli.
ADHD and Creativity
These people have the uncanny ability to think outside the box. They see things from very different perspectives and are capable of understanding perspectives other than their own more easily than the rest of us.
They usually have a plethora of ideas, but lack the motivation and endurance to start something and see it through to completion. Self-discipline is not their forte, and the frustration they feel from not being “normal” can lead to even more intense mood swings and possible angry outbursts. Many times someone with ADHD will explode in anger only to forget why they were angry five minutes later.
Many with ADHD suffer from a rather tortuous and less common symptom called tactile defensiveness. Because of their inability to block out background noise, smells, and sights, they’re senses are over-stimulated almost constantly.
Being touched, either in an intimate way, or through bumping into another person or any other physical contact, can be actually painful for this person. Although it may not be constant, it happens frequently enough to cause problems between spouses, family or friends.
It is frustrating for all of us who suffer from it. Humans are social beings and crave affection from one another. Feeling pain from something we need emotionally to survive is pure torture to all parties involved.
Traditional and Alternative Treatment Options
There is evidence to support ADHD as a chemical imbalance that causes the sufferer to be easily distracted when doing mundane tasks.Intense mood swings are also associated with the disorder.
The levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are not as high in adults and children with ADHD as in those without the disorder.
That is why narcotic stimulant medications such as Dexedrine, Vyvanse and Adderall along with newer, non-stimulant medications (Wellbutrin, Strattera) work so well. They increase the levels of these neurotransmitters enabling the person to focus and prioritize.
Wellbutrin, specifically, is an antidepressant originally designed to help with smoking cessation. It's a norepinephrine/dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) and has the added benefit of being non-narcotic. For adults, it also doesn't have the sexual side effects that stimulant medications may have.
Fish oil has been shown to benefit the symptoms of ADHD due to it’s high Omega-3 content, as well as niacin, a more natural, organic diet and plenty of exercise.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are not only the natural painkillers of the body, but also the brain’s reset button. Endorphins have been shown to help with focus, hyperactivity, depression and mood swings.
Meditation has been shown to improve focus, and self-control as well as improving over all mood, but tends to be difficult for most ADDers because of their inability to quiet their minds.
ADHD is still being studied, but progress has been made. Treatments help manage the symptoms in 90% of patients.
These patients are usually relieved once they start stimulant medication because they see improvement almost immediately (Wellbutrin and Straterra can take up to 2 weeks to take effect).
Those suffering from ADHD really don’t realize how they affect everyone around them, and how detrimental their actions are to relationships and life in general.
If you or someone you know has or might have ADHD, talk to them about it. Let them know there are options, and that you care enough to want to help. These people need patience and nurturing despite the annoying symptoms that drive the rest of us insane.
- National Resource Center on ADHD: Home
This is the National Resource Center on ADHD, funded by CDC, with science-based information about ADHD and ADD.
© 2012 Melissa Flagg OSC