Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition exhibited by difficulty maintaining attention, as well as hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD symptoms can lead to a number of problems, including unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, and low self-esteem.
ADHD always starts in early childhood, but in some cases it’s not diagnosed until later in life. It was once thought that ADHD was limited to childhood. But symptoms frequently persist into adulthood. For some people, adult ADHD causes significant problems that improve with treatment.
Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.
Current treatments typically involve medication, psychological counseling or both. A combination of therapy and medication is often the most effective treatment.
Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed.
Stimulants appear to boost and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Examples include methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, Ritalin, others), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall XR), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse). These ADHD medications help treat the signs and symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity — sometimes dramatically. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. One long-acting form is available as a patch that can be worn on the hip.
Other medications used to treat ADHD include atomoxetine (Strattera) and antidepressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin). Atomoxetine and antidepressants work slower than stimulants and may take several weeks before they take full effect. These may be good options if you can’t take stimulants because of health problems, because of a history of substance abuse or because of a tic disorder or if stimulants cause severe side effects.
The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.
Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. Psychotherapy may help you:
- Improve your time management and organizational skills
- Learn how to reduce your impulsive behavior
- Develop better problem-solving skills
- Cope with past academic and social failures
- Improve your self-esteem
- Learn ways to improve relationships with your family, co-workers and friends
- Develop strategies for controlling your temper
- Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy. This structured type of counseling teaches specific skills to manage your behavior and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones. It can help you deal with life challenges, such as school, work or relationship problems, and help address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance abuse. This therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group.
Marital counseling and family therapy. This type of therapy can help loved ones cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD and learn what they can do to help. Such counseling can improve communication and problem-solving skills.