Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often diagnosed in childhood but many still struggle with attention disorder symptoms well into adulthood. Some individuals may have never been assessed for ADHD, and so they managed as best they could through their academics and work, without fully understanding the reasons behind their struggles. Yet, they still may have sensed that they were different from their peers.
If you’ve had that persistent thought that things seem to be extra difficult for you, or have developed a whole host of habits just to allow you to complete the tasks assigned to you, this blog is for you. We’ll talk today about ADHD in adults and how that might show up in your life.
ADHD is categorized by a persistent delay of self-regulation skills, mainly in regard to executive function. Difficulty with time management and planning, disorganization, impulsivity, remembering important details, and trouble with motivation are some of the hallmark struggles that many with ADHD face. Those with ADHD usually struggle with self-esteem as well, as they know exactly what they should be doing but can’t seem to find a path forward. This often leads to feelings of shame and self-blame as they conclude that there must be a problem with their willpower, and that this is the cause of their shortcomings.
However, executive functioning is characterized not at all by willpower, but by the following traits:
The neurotransmitter, dopamine, is responsible for directing attention toward rewards. The ADHD brain has more dopamine receptors, which essentially means that the dopamine is taken in rather quickly without giving the brain enough time to simmer with it. Therefore, the dangling of the carrot is fleeting, making motivation feel like the gas pedal is being tapped when the foot really needs to be heavy on the gas to get uphill. Where consequences and goals might be easily held in the mind for others, those with ADHD struggle with this same kind of attention because rewards are not held long in their working memory.
While people with ADHD struggle with regulating their attention, most will tell you that they are able to direct their attention towards areas they find interesting. This is often described as a kind of tunnel vision where they are so enmeshed in the activity that they lose all sense of time, and may even become agitated if they are interrupted from the task.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD, you know that those with ADHD are very aware of the expectations others have of them, and they are aware that they often struggle with implementing structure to meet these demands. This frustration causes significant pressure, leaving many to feel burnt out or suffer low self-esteem.
Working with a cognitive-behavioral (CBT) therapist, along with medication, have been shown to be standard treatments for managing executive dysfunction. Practicing skills that help with executive function have been shown to improve procrastination, help limit distractions, and provide strategies for time management and planning. Medication may also be helpful for many, but it’s important to talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you.