Adult ADHD: Getting Diagnosed, Treatment & Traits
ADHD is very, very, very often missed and something else might be diagnosed instead.
Have you asked yourself “Do I have ADHD?” before? This is the second in my series of posts on Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). If you’ve missed Part 1 in this series, you can find it here.
The point of this article is to help you figure out if you have adult ADHD and, if you do have adult ADHD, or you think you do, how to go about getting a diagnosis, including some tips on finding a doctor that will actually support you in finding that out.
My degree is in psychology and one of the interesting things with psychology and psychological diagnosis is that it’s always nuanced.
There’s a spectrum. We are all sometimes a little bit bipolar or a little bit ADHD.
So, for example, with one of the traits of ADHD, which is trouble focusing and controlling attention – we can all claim that we have that sometimes.
Some people have mood swings, a little bit from day to day. Some people have larger swings. Some people have enough that they could be diagnosed as bipolar.
I’m really simplifying things here but it’s important to understand that diagnosing something to do with our psychology is not as simple as being like:
You’re tall or You’re skinny.
Now, there are advances in using brain scans to diagnose ADHD, and it is awesome that we are getting there, but it’s something to know that it is nuanced.
And at least in theory, part of the diagnostic criteria in psychology is looking at:
Does this thing have a negative impact on your life?
So, for instance, if you go to see a psychologist, and you list five or six symptoms of a condition, and they ask how’s your life and you respond:
“It’s awesome, it is great. I have a wonderful job, things are great at home, I love my family, and I’m healthy.”
You’re probably not going to get diagnosed. It’s a little weird, but part of the criteria is, basically, that this is having an adverse effect on your life.
This is probably going to change moving forward as psychology opens up more to positive psychology and a holistic view of people, but traditionally this is how psychology looked at people.
What Does Culture Have To Do With ADHD Diagnosis
What I’ve just said probably plays a role in how ADHD is massively over-diagnosed.
In some places, cultures like America, which require people to work really long hours, and it’s all about how much you can do, they tend to diagnose it a lot more because probably people who have ADHD or – maybe even don’t, but just can’t keep up with some ridiculous workload – their doctor is more likely to say:
Hey, you’re obviously stupid!
Whereas someone may be living over in Spain, maybe they have ADHD, and they do struggle, but they’re able to find a balance. They have more family support and they have more time with friends, which, by the way, is one of the important lifestyle changes to make to be successful with ADHD.
So maybe someone who’s living in a place like Spain and has more of that positive interaction with people and a smaller workload ends up not being diagnosed because, even though they have the same issues with attention, when they go see a psychiatrist, they may say:
“You seem fine. Your life is functioning. You don’t have ADHD.”
Apart from that, some countries like America are very pro drugs. So if you go to a doctor, they will prescribe you pills.
Other countries are very pro lifestyle changes.
One of the great things about ADHD treatment, and you’re going to read about this in a future post where I’ll go through all the ways to really be at your best if you do have ADHD, is there are a ton of things you can do!
Yes, prescription drugs do play a role in ADHD treatment, but there is also ADHD treatment without drugs! You can make a ton of lifestyle changes, and a ton of life design changes that can have as significant or more significant of an impact as medication.
And what’s really cool is, in my experience, at least when you treat some of the more negative ADHD symptoms, when you follow some of these lifestyle changes, or even if you take medication, you usually eliminate or reduce some of the negative symptoms of ADHD, but you keep the positive.
So you don’t lose your spontaneity and your creativity if you’re treating ADHD properly.
I’m not saying take 8 million pills a day, but if you’re treating it properly, you actually keep all the good traits and reduce or eliminate the bad, which is really awesome for your mental health.
ADHD Traits, Symptoms, and Diagnosis Criteria
Here are some ADHD traits, symptoms and criteria for diagnosis:
- You thrive and probably do your best work at a deadline and if there is no kind of deadline or no kind of pressure, you feel it’s very difficult to get things done at least at the same rate you otherwise could
- You love to improvise. This is another sign of ADHD. You do things unscripted and you would much rather jump into a situation and find a solution than follow step by step instructions.
- You love to stay busy and move forward and get things done. Ultimately, you’re not someone who loves to sit still. If you’re out for dinner, and you’ve finished your food, you’re the person saying: “Hey, bring me the bill. We’re ready to go. Let’s go to the next bar. Let’s have some fun. We don’t want to sit here and chitchat when we could be doing more things.”
- You get impatient and frustrated easily, including trouble sitting still and getting frustrated if things aren’t moving along as well.
- You can often have trouble multitasking and switching focus.
- You can hyperfocus. This is an interesting ADHD trait which often leads to people being confused and thinking they don’t have ADHD. It is called hyperfocus, which means that when you really get into something, you can focus for hours!
ADHD Focus: Too Little or Too Much?!
When you don’t really understand what ADHD is, you think:
“Well, I can sit for hours, focus and get things done sometimes, so there’s no way I could have ADHD. That’s when you can’t focus, right?”
So, what ADHD generally is is an inability to control your focus and to switch focus on command. And yes, other people can apparently do it. I don’t know how they do it, but apparently they can.
Often people with ADHD get into hyperfocus. I can sit and write for hours. I put on big headphones. I like trance music personally and I can really get into things and focus for long periods.
But if someone comes and tries to interrupt me during that time – I’m like a vicious lizard that’s been poked from behind or an alligator turning around and yelling at them, because it’s really hard to get out of that focus!
ADHD people tend to have trouble multitasking, switching going back and forth all the time. When we are into something, we like to stay in something and not jump around a bunch.
Now, ultimately, no one is really great at multitasking. It’s not the way to get things done and really be productive, but it’s especially a no-no for us people with ADHD.
As you probably know, you find it very frustrating when people try to interrupt you when you’re in the middle of something.
Adult ADHD (Mis)Diagnosis
I know we’re talking about adult ADHD here, but this affects us whether or not we’ve been diagnosed as kids.
Boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, but actually boys and girls are just as likely to have it.
That means that sometimes boys are over-diagnosed and often girls are under-diagnosed.
Because of this girls are three times more likely than boys to be diagnosed with depression, when, in fact, what they really have is ADHD.
This brings me to another important point:
ADHD is very, very, very often missed and something else might be diagnosed instead.
This can be depression. This can be low self-esteem issues. This can be anxiety.
In many cases, the underlying condition is actually ADHD and ADHD causes behavior which can lead to more anxiety. It could lead to trouble with school or with finances, or with your job, which can lead to self-esteem issues or lead to depression.
The wrong doctor will diagnose a simple condition they see.
They might think “Oh, you’re feeling depressed, you must have depression” and not go deeper to see that, actually, the condition is ADHD and, when you treat ADHD, everything else goes away.
This is really common and this is why it’s really important to see the right kind of doctor.
How To Get ADHD Diagnosis: The Right Kind of Doctor
If by this point you’re wondering how to get ADHD or ADD diagnosis, I’ll share a few tips that may help you.
Ideally, you want to find an ADHD specialist.
These are going to be the doctors who will properly understand the condition and be able to determine the ADHD diagnosis in adults. The condition is now one of the most commonly studied conditions, but for many, many decades was very understudied, and there was very little information for doctors on it.
So you want to try to find an ADHD specialist. If you can, there’s often large waiting lists. If so, get on the waiting list. Wait it out – it will be worth it!
If there isn’t an ADHD specialist in your area, look first into a psychiatrist who specializes in children. I know this is adult ADHD we’re talking about, but generally, a psychiatrist who specializes in children will have a lot more experience with diagnosing ADHD and they’ll be able to diagnose it even in an adult as well.
When it comes to age for ADHD diagnosis, I should mention just because you’ve had ADHD as a child does not mean you will have it into adulthood.
A certain amount – I haven’t actually looked up the exact number – but I remember it was about 50% of people basically outgrow ADHD.
Adult ADHD Treatment: A Word of Caution
When you talk to friends or family about ADHD, you’re very likely to hear a lot of BS.
You’ll hear things about how you just need to focus or how “Yeah, everyone has ADHD!”, or whatever else…and when I hear this, now that I’m really educated on the subject itself, it is the same to me like when people tell me about how vaccines are grand conspiracy or that fluoride is put in the water as some way to poison all the people.
Come on, people!
People who actually have ADHD have a different wiring in their brain and there are lots of ways that shows up.
I’ll give you two examples.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and I’m not diagnosing anyone here. This is not medical advice.
But these are two situations where people with ADHD react very differently than people without ADHD.
The first is in the work environment.
Generally, people with ADHD do really well in busy environments. I can take my laptop, sit down in a busy bar with the middle of a football game going on, put on my headphones and I can work. And I will work better there than if I’m sitting in a library. Generally, a little chaos, a little movement helps people with ADHD actually relax, focus, and think.
The extreme cases are the stories of people with ADHD when they go and drive 150 miles an hour just so they can slow their brain down and actually think!
The second is the reaction to ADHD medication.
Unfortunately, especially in the drug capital of the world – America, medications are often abused by students just trying to get the best grades and push themselves to stupid limits in a ridiculously competitive academic environment.
When these students who don’t have ADHD take the medications intended for treatment for ADHD, the stimulant one specifically, they’re basically treating it like speed, so they get more energy, they think faster, they probably get a lot of anxiety from it, and it allows them to not sleep and just work like crazy.
When people who actually have ADHD take stimulants, it actually slows our minds down. What it does is it stimulates our prefrontal cortex, which allows us actually to slow down our thinking and relax.
So, in many cases, we actually feel calmer and less anxious with ADHD medication even though in normal people, a lot of these medications cause more stimulation and more anxiety because they are a stimulant.
That is a complete difference in how we are wired, so when you hear people say things like: “Oh yeah, I get that way sometimes!”
Yes, we all do.
Like I was explaining earlier – anything to do with our psychology is very nuanced and, if you pump someone full of sugar and deprive them of sleep, they will definitely act like someone with ADHD. They will have trouble focusing and all that, but that does not mean they have ADHD.
Let me know in the comments:
When and how did you get diagnosed with ADHD?
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