ADHD in adults

Testing for ADHD in Adults | ADHD and Addiction

by Pat Fontana

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a childhood condition. However, many adults also have ADHD although they may not recognize it. Individuals with ADHD typically display an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with their daily functioning. Testing for ADHD in adults is an important step to a diagnosis and treatment. Adults also need to be aware of the potential connection between ADHD and addiction.

ADHD Stigmas

Since ADHD is thought of as only affecting children, many adults may attribute their symptoms to other things, such as just being lazy or not trying hard enough to stay focused. There is a negative stigma associated with ADHD in adults. Years of research confirms, though, that adult ADHD is a serious issue and can diminish the individual’s quality of life if it is not diagnosed and treated properly.

When you receive an accurate diagnosis, you can explore treatment options with your health professional as well as coping strategies that may require a change in lifestyle for you. There are many factors to be considered when testing for ADHD in adults.

Getting Diagnosed

ADHD affects an estimated 2.5 percent of adults. The mental health condition can disrupt many aspects of your life unless it is properly diagnosed. While there is no single test for ADHD in adults, a mental health professional or physician can conduct a diagnostic evaluation based on information about you and your symptoms, gathered from multiple sources.

Most adults experience significant problems in one or more areas of living. If you recognize any of these in yourself, it is probably time to reach out for a diagnosis:

  • A history of underachieving on the job
  • Relationship problems because of not being able to complete tasks
  • Forgetting important things
  • Getting upset easily over minor problems
  • Poor ability to manage daily responsibilities, including paying bills or doing household chores
  • Chronic stress and worry because of a failure to meet responsibilities and accomplish goals
  • Chronic and intense feelings of guilt, blame, or frustration.

When you participate in testing for ADHD in adults, the healthcare professional will usually review these symptoms as well as take a detailed history of your past and current functioning, conduct standardized behavior rating scales, and gather information from your family members or significant others.

Lifestyle Changes

Your healthcare professional may prescribe certain medications after you are diagnosed with ADHD, but you can also make some lifestyle changes that will help to improve your symptoms. Staying organized can be a challenge, so when you find yourself being forgetful or “scatterbrained,” try writing daily reminders for tasks and deadlines. Designate a specific location for important items that you’ll need every day, such as your keys and wallet, so you’ll always know where to find them.

Limit potential distractions so you can pay closer attention to your daily tasks and responsibilities. If you work in a loud or hectic office, try using noise-canceling headphones. At home, turn off the television and put your cell phone in another room so you can concentrate.

Take a moment to think before you act. Impulsive speech and actions are prevalent in adults with ADHD. Teach yourself to take a minute to stop and consider the consequences before you blurt out something, overreact emotionally, or act inappropriately.

Get some exercise. When you get up and get moving, the exercise not only offers cardiovascular and other physical health benefits, but it can also be helpful for your concentration, attention, and learning capabilities. If you choose a physical activity that involves the brain, even better. Look into practicing karate, yoga, or dance, for example.

ADHD and Addiction

The connection between ADHD and addiction may be partially related to the medications that are often prescribed for treating the disorder. There has also been quite a bit of research done on the link between the disorder itself and addictive tendencies. About half of adults with ADHD have a substance abuse issue, including an addiction to drugs or alcohol, and as many as 30% have an anti-social personality disorder that carries the potential for drug-seeking behavior.

Researchers believe that the increased risk of substance abuse in individuals with ADHD may be related to their lack of response to normal positive and negative reinforcements. Adults with ADHD may have a reward system deficit and may gravitate more toward substance abuse as the drugs and alcohol provide stronger rewards for them than the usual, more subtle social interactions.

Treatment for ADHD in adults, as well as children, usually includes prescription medications. In the US, over 95% of medications prescribed for ADHD are stimulants. The stimulant use has increased significantly as more children and adults are diagnosed with ADHD.

Non-Addictive Medications

Alternatives to stimulants may be safer for adults with ADHD who are also prone to substance abuse. These non-stimulants affect the brain differently, affecting the neurotransmitters without increasing dopamine levels. Non-stimulants that can help treat the symptoms of ADHD include guanfacine (Intuniv) and Strattera. While it may take longer to see the results from these drugs, they can be effective without the side effects associated with stimulants.

Atomoxetine, known as Strattera, is prescribed as part of an overall treatment program with the goal of increasing your ability to pay attention and decreasing your hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Atomoxetine is part of a class of medications called selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, that work by increasing the levels of norepinephrine, a natural substance in your brain that is needed to control behavior.

Although primarily prescribed to treat high blood pressure, the time released version of guanfacine can also be part of a comprehensive treatment program for ADHD. The extended-release tablets, known as guanfacine ER or Intuniv, affect the part of the brain that controls attention and impulsivity, helping to treat the symptoms of ADHD that include difficulty focusing, controlling actions, and remaining still or quiet. 

Treatment for Managing ADHD in Adults

An appropriate combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and appropriate medications can help you manage your ADHD symptoms. When you have ADHD and an addiction, you will generally receive what is known as a dual diagnosis. Treating both conditions together will be the most effective approach.

Get Help for Your Dual Diagnosis at South Miami Recovery

At South Miami Recovery, we offer you a path to healing that is holistic, integrated, and evidence-based. We are here to help you get started on your recovery by addressing your mental health and your substance use together. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we want you to stay safe and healthy, so we offer HIPAA-compliant telehealth services to help you get the treatment you need now. To learn more and to sign up for telehealth substance abuse services, contact us today. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.