How do I know if I need treatment for adult ADHD?

You will know if you need to seek treatment for adult ADHD if you find that you just can't focus or get anything done, and your social and work relationships are suffering. Watch psychologist Jeffrey Gardere, PhD, discuss the red flags for ADHD.

Psychiatrist and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) expert Dr. Edward Hallowell explains how someone can tell if they need treatment for adult ADHD. Watch Dr. Hallowell's video for tips and information on mental health and ADHD.

Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can include many behaviors that affect daily functioning, such as restlessness, impulsiveness, unstable personal relationships, and an inability to focus and complete tasks. Treatment can help with many of these behaviors by improving concentration, mood swings, organization, and the ability to complete tasks.

First, be sure that you have ADHD. The most common mimics of attention disorders in adults are anxiety disorders and mood disorders, and these must be carefully ruled out to make the diagnosis.

The list of other mimics includes nutritional deficiencies, kryptopyroluria, eczema, mental retardation, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, lead poisoning, thyroid hormone dysregulation, seizure disorders, sleep apnea, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, and head trauma. Thorough evaluation is necessary to assess the possibility that one of these disorders is primarily responsible for an attention disturbance. Common comorbid disorders, such as conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, must be ruled out as well.

It is worth noting that anxiety (whether caused by family conflict, or inflammation or infection in the body, or other reasons), acts to ‘shut down’ the pre-frontal cortex in the brain. This is where our executive functions reside (planning, organizing, short-term memory, attention and focus). This means that if a child has activation of the emotional brain (e.g., fear, anxiety, learning disability, depression), or any other problem that shuts down the prefrontal cortex, they will appear to have ADD or ADHD, and receive Ritalin or some stimulant medication, even though the underlying cause lies elsewhere.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.