You may think of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as something that energetic little kids have. TV shows and movies often show young boys who can’t stay in one place or talk incessantly. While this is one version of what ADHD can be, it can also look very different depending on the person. ADHD affects people of all ages and backgrounds. As people with ADHD get older, the disorder can shape how they view their own success in life.
What Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?
ADHD is a relatively common mental health disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life. The disorder is characterized by difficulty concentrating, poor time management, and impulsive behavior. These issues can lead to unstable relationships, difficulty holding a job, and low self-esteem.
Because we live in a world that values production, especially in work environments, people with ADHD often find themselves unable to effectively work within the system. They may be chronically late to work, turn in assignments past their due dates, forget about important meetings, and perform at a lower level than their neurotypical colleagues. This has nothing to do with their intelligence or personal work ethic; a person with ADHD may be incredibly smart and hard-working, but their disorder makes it difficult to show those attributes.
ADHD is caused by abnormally low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine and noradrenaline. These neurotransmitters move electrical signals between neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia. The prefrontal cortex controls thoughts and behaviors, while the basal ganglia is in charge of executive function (your ability to think flexibly, have self-control, and complete tasks in an efficient manner). Your basal ganglia is also a key part of your brain’s reward system.
In people with ADHD, low dopamine levels in the reward system mean that the brain is not being stimulated most of the time. On the other hand, in a neurotypical brain, completing simple tasks such as cleaning your room may set off the reward system, making you feel accomplished and mentally stimulated.
However, in someone with ADHD, the reward system is not so easily activated. Even tasks that interest them, like their hobbies, may not hold their attention for long because their brain does not receive an adequate amount of pleasure and stimulation while doing it. This lack of neurotransmitters is what causes all of the symptoms of ADHD and makes it extremely difficult for them to focus, plan, and control their impulses.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of ADHD in adults are different than symptoms in children. They may be harder to spot because people with ADHD who have gone undiagnosed into adulthood have often adapted to appear “normal.” Additionally, adult symptoms are not talked about as much because most people are diagnosed in childhood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “People with ADHD experience an ongoing pattern of the following types of symptoms:
- Inattention–having difficulty paying attention
- Hyperactivity–having too much energy or moving and talking too much
- Impulsivity–acting without thinking or having difficulty with self-control”
Signs of inattention in adults may look like:
- Paying close attention to details or making seemingly careless mistakes at work or during other activities
- Sustaining attention for long tasks, such as preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers
- Listening closely when spoken to directly
- Following instructions and finishing duties in the workplace
- Organizing tasks and activities and managing time
- Engaging in tasks that require sustained attention
- Losing things such as keys, wallets, and phones
- Being easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
- Forgetful in daily activities, such as paying bills, keeping appointments, or returning calls
Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity may include:
- Experiencing extreme restlessness, difficulty sitting still for extended periods, and/or wearing others out with one’s activity
- Fidgeting with or tapping hands or feet or squirming in seat
- Being unable to engage quietly in leisure activities
- Talking excessively
- Answering questions before they are asked completely
- Having difficulty waiting one’s turn, such as when waiting in line
- Interrupting or intruding on others
On the surface, a person with all or some of these symptoms may seem lazy, immature, and unreliable. People with ADHD are often viewed this way by employers, colleagues, and even family and friends. However, this is a shallow judgment that doesn’t take the nature of ADHD into account. Often, the person with ADHD is just as frustrated with their symptoms as others are, maybe even more so.
Adults with ADHD have often tried endless solutions to help them be on time and organized, and none of them have worked. This is an exhausting cycle of self-loathing, guilt, and frustration that wears down the individual over time. Any advice that you can think to tell them, they have already heard it: set multiple alarms, use noise-canceling headphones, utilize a calendar. While these small things can help a little bit, the problem of ADHD is much bigger than that. Often, the only thing that can truly help is prescribed medication.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women
Women with ADHD are more likely to go undiagnosed because ADHD has mostly been studied in men until recent years. Additionally, symptoms in men are usually more overt than the symptoms that commonly appear in women.
Men with ADHD tend to have more problems with impulse control and emotional regulation. This is the H in ADHD: hyperactivity. They may make impulsive purchases, overindulge in food or substances, lie frequently, or participate in risky sexual behavior. You may also notice mood swings and outbursts of anger or energy. These symptoms are usually very explicit and easy to spot, which leads to a quicker intervention and diagnosis.
In women, however, ADHD can be less obvious. Women with ADHD are more likely to struggle with organization, focus, and forgetfulness. They may frequently “zone out” during conversations, even important ones. Misplacing possessions such as their keys or their phone will happen frequently. They may perform poorly in school and at work because of their difficulty focusing on tasks.
Because these symptoms aren’t as obvious as the hyperactive symptoms of ADHD, they may be brushed off as character faults in the woman. She may be described as “ditzy” or “having her head in the clouds.” Women are often assumed to be less intelligent than men, especially in professional spaces, so male colleagues, friends, and family may label a woman with ADHD as “dumb.”
On the other hand, when a woman does show signs of the hyperactive symptoms of ADHD, people may be taken aback. A woman who is impulsive, brash, and says things seemingly “without thinking” may be seen as unfeminine. Characteristics of aggressiveness and assertiveness are usually associated with men. Because of these stereotypes, women with hyperactive symptoms are often villainized. They may be called “difficult,” “unpleasant,” or “unladylike.” These labels can bring feelings of shame or defensiveness, both of which discourage individuals from seeking help.
Creating Your Own Version of Success
If you struggle with ADHD, you may feel like you will never be successful. Because of your disorder, you may not be able to hold down a job or have a long-term relationship. Not being able to obtain these things can make them seem that much more important. However, it’s important to remember that these are standards and expectations set for you by our society. They are not inherently necessary. Your definition of success can be changed to something more personal, something that is attainable for you. Our goal in life as humans should be to feel happy and fulfilled, not to meet a made-up standard of success.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Chasing your own version of success will mean that other people may not see you as successful. Family and friends may view your life choices as strange and unconventional. Their thoughts and feelings are out of your control; however, you can control how you react to them.
It will be vital for you in your journey to let go of your attachment to other people’s validation. It’s normal to want your friends and family to approve of your choices and to even be proud of you. However, your own happiness and self-esteem are more important than that. If letting go of your need for external validation is what it takes for you to feel happy and successful in your own way, then that’s what you need to do. Clinging to their definition of success and the expectations they set for you will only leave you feeling worthless. You deserve to be proud of how you chose to live your life, whatever that looks like.
Non-Traditional Career Paths
Non-traditional career paths often present ideal opportunities for individuals with ADHD, capitalizing on their strengths and creative thinking. In creative fields like writing, music, or the visual arts, ADHD individuals often shine, benefiting from their natural propensity for outside-the-box thinking, leading to innovative and groundbreaking work. The dynamic and ever-evolving world of technology, including roles in IT, offers a natural fit due to its fast-paced nature and appreciation for creative, non-linear thinking.
Skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, or electrician work are excellent options as well, as they allow individuals to work with their hands, providing tangible, immediate results and potentially being more engaging for those with ADHD. These hands-on professions provide a satisfying blend of creativity and practicality.
Additionally, the rise of remote work has opened up new possibilities for people with ADHD. Many remote positions, often from the comfort of one’s home, allow for flexibility and autonomy in structuring one’s workday, which can be particularly beneficial for those with ADHD. This way, individuals can create a work environment that suits their needs, potentially increasing productivity and well-being.
While you may think of your ADHD as an obstacle to overcome or a disability that holds you back, in some ways, it can also be your superpower. The uniqueness of your brain and the way you think can actually give you a leg up in certain areas. Though these career paths may not be seen as traditional markers of success, they can be just as fulfilling for you, if not more so, than other career choices. You may be able to find your own version of success in these non-traditional routes that you wouldn’t be able to find following the prescribed path.
Alternative Living Situations
Some people who live with ADHD find it helpful to change their living arrangements to something less traditional. Alternative living situations can vary widely depending on what an individual needs from their housing.
Options like co-housing communities and communal living houses are intentional communities where residents have their private living spaces but also share common areas, meals, and responsibilities. The close-knit nature of these communities can provide support and a sense of belonging for those with ADHD. Routines maintained in these communities also provide structure and group organization. Being surrounded by other neurodivergent people can be an extremely freeing experience for people with ADHD.
On the other end of the alternative living spectrum, there are options that lessen your contact with other people, which can also be helpful. Housing such as tiny homes, off-grid cabins, RVs, and houseboats can offer you a sense of freedom and flexibility that you may not have in a traditional house.
Some of these options allow you to move location and travel across the country, which can be stimulating for people with ADHD and usually pair well with remote jobs. Additionally, some options offer a focus on sustainability and eco-friendly living, which can give you a sense of purpose. When you don’t live with or near other people, it’s easy to customize your living situation to meet your individual needs.
Treatment Options for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Options for treating ADHD vary based on the specific needs and preferences of the client. The goal of treatment is to help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their daily functioning. Here are some of the most common treatment approaches for ADHD:
- Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of ADHD treatment, especially for children. Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and parent training programs can help individuals and their families develop strategies to manage impulsive behaviors, improve attention, and set achievable goals. These therapies aim to teach individuals how to self-regulate and cope with their symptoms.
- Medication: Medications are often used to manage the core symptoms of ADHD. Both stimulant and non-stimulant options are available. Stimulants are drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall), which are among the most commonly prescribed medications. They work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, improving focus and attention. Non-stimulants may be better for individuals who do not respond well to stimulants or may experience adverse side effects. Non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine (Strattera) and guanfacine (Intuniv) can be alternative options.
- Lifestyle Modifications: Healthy lifestyle choices can significantly impact the management of ADHD symptoms. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can help reduce impulsivity and improve attention. Additionally, reducing exposure to environmental factors that exacerbate symptoms, such as excessive screen time, can be beneficial.
- Educational Support: Many individuals with ADHD who are still in school benefit from specialized educational interventions. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans in schools can provide accommodations, such as extended testing time or a quiet workspace, to help students succeed academically.
- Counseling and Support Groups: Emotional and psychological support can be crucial for individuals with ADHD. Therapy can help them manage the emotional challenges that often accompany the disorder, such as low self-esteem or anxiety. Support groups also offer a sense of community and understanding among peers with ADHD.
- Neurofeedback: This emerging treatment involves using technology to monitor and provide real-time feedback on brain activity. Through neurofeedback, individuals can learn to self-regulate their brain patterns, potentially reducing ADHD symptoms.
- Alternative Therapies: Some people explore alternative treatments, such as dietary changes, herbal supplements, or biofeedback. While the efficacy of these options isn’t well studied, anecdotal evidence shows that alternative treatments can be helpful to some people.
It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these treatment options can vary from person to person. The best approach often involves a combination of therapies tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Treatment plans should be developed in consultation with healthcare professionals, like your case management team at Avery Lane. They can help you consider factors like age, symptom severity, and the presence of any comorbid conditions. Regular monitoring and adjustment of treatment plans are also crucial to ensure the most effective management of ADHD symptoms and overall well-being. Avery Lane is dedicated to tailoring and altering treatment plans as needed to ensure your success during your time with us.
If you or someone you love struggles with symptoms of ADHD, we know that you are probably feeling frustrated and exhausted. Though you may feel like your life is unstable and unsuccessful, know that there is hope. Finding your own version of success is possible, and we want to help you do that. Avery Lane is a place for women with substance use issues and mental health disorders to come together and empower each other through community and group healing. Women with ADHD are often overlooked, but not here. We want to help put you on a path that leads to what you want and need out of life. Give us a call at (800) 270-2406.