a mental health disorder characterized by long-standing patterns of impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractibility, and inattention.
These days it seems we all have a touch of ADHD. The impulsivity that our technology-saturated lives have gifted us has come at a cost. We want everything on-demand, get antsy when we have to wait more than a few minutes, and no longer have to be responsible for remembering things like phone numbers. But in ADHD, that edginess is at a whole other level.
ADHD is a disorder of thought brought about by an imbalance of norepinephrine in critical parts of the brain. With this condition, areas dedicated to impulse control, emotional regulation, sustained focus, and internal communication don't operate optimally for modern life. These short circuits are not well-suited to school, work, social settings, and home life, where people need to pay attention and accomplish tasks.
Although ADHD is a disorder, it's not necessarily a curse. Many people with ADHD are highly creative, energetic, and charismatic. With the right treatment, patients can harness their ADHD and exist in modern life with much less stress.
What causes ADHD?
Research is still ongoing to determine the exact cause of ADHD, but it is clear that genetics is a huge factor. Other possible contributing causes include:
- alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
- premature delivery
- low birthweight
- brain injury
- environmental exposure during pregnancy or in childhood
A few things are for sure not causes of ADHD. Eating too much sugar or watching too much television, for instance, do not cause ADHD. Neither does poverty or a chaotic family life.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
About 5% of adults in the United States have ADHD, and many are undiagnosed and untreated. That's likely because these adults have grown up thinking everyday tasks are always challenge and have devised systems to manage them well enough to get on with life.
Some symptoms of ADHD include difficulty focusing and prioritizing, forgetting meetings or social events, missing deadlines, and misplacing important items like keys or cellphones. Due to issues with impulse control inherent in ADHD, patients may seem fidgety, impatient, or rude, or their behavior could escalate into major mood swings and angry outbursts. ADHD can lead some people to develop substance issues, as they try to self medicate.
How is ADHD treated?
ADHD requires evaluation and diagnosis by a qualified provider. This assessment looks at how many inattentive, hyperactive, and/or impulsive symptoms a patient has, how long they have had them, how significant an impact they have on life, and what areas of life they disrupt. It also explores the patient's history to determine the age of onset and to ensure no other factors could be causing ADHD symptoms.
Once diagnosed, treatment for ADHD is usually some combination of medications and therapy. Stimulant medications such as Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin have been used to treat ADHD for decades. Non-stimulant medications such as Straterra and Clonidine may also be considered if there are unwanted side effects or ineffective results from stimulants. Antidepressants such as Wellbutrin can also be used off-label to manage ADHD symptoms.
Therapy is very useful to ADHD patients, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps rewrite the thought process of ADHD patients whose lifetime of self-criticism has formed cognitive distortions, unhealthy self-beliefs, and negative emotions. And, as with everything in life, a healthy diet, regular exercise, fresh air, meditation, and stress management with routines can be very useful in ADHD.