ADHD: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A differentiation is made between ADHD with hyperactivity (ADHD) and without hyperactivity (ADD). In the seventies, scientists began to use the term attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder to describe various symptoms (see below). Although most complaints are often noticed in children and adolescents, it is known that symptoms such as lack of concentration, impulsiveness and hyperactivity persist into adulthood. Relatively few of adults are diagnosed or treated although they may benefit from psychostimulant medication (e.g. Ritalin, Concerta or Strattera) and / or Neurofeedback.

ADHD (with hyperactivity)

ADHD is indicated by a lack of concentration, impulsiveness and over-activity which usually begins before the age of seven, persists at least six months and is not due to other psychiatric disorders or environmental influences, (e.g. reaction to problems in the family environment). Behavioral problems and conduct disorders are more associated with ADHD than ADD.

ADD (without hyperactivity)

The main characteristic of ADD without hyperactivity is difficulty in concentration. Studies show that children with this diagnosis often suffer from anxiety and learning difficulties. Although there are no studies conducted on adults with this disorder, it is expected that ADD without hyperactivity has a different effect than ADD with hyperactivity.

Adults with ADHD

Adults with this disorder, especially those who have not been diagnosed and treated, can suffer from a number of problems, some of which are directly caused by ADHD and other compensatory behavior associated with ADHD. These symptoms may of course also be seen in children with ADHD.

Symptoms or experiences in adults with ADHD may include:

  • being easily distracted
  • being chaotic
  • forgetfulness
  • procrastination
  • repeatedly being late
  • persistent boredom
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • low self-esteem
  • difficulties finding employment
  • restlessness
  • excessive abuse of drugs/alcohol or addiction
  • relationship problems

The symptoms of ADHD in adults may be constant or situation dependent. Some people with ADHD can concentrate if they are interested or excited, while others find concentration difficult. Adults with ADHD may actively seek stimulation or by contrast avoid it as much as possible. Whilst antisocial and bad-mannered behavior is sometimes noticeable in adults with ADHD, the opposite may be also be an indication as some may seek attention and acceptance by overtly pleasing others. Targeted Neurofeedback is a treatment method which can help people with ADHD adapt and control these behaviors.

What causes ADHD​?

The cause or causes of ADHD are not exactly known. Scientific research shows that the disorder is often genetically transmitted but ADHD is most likely caused by a combination of neurochemical and genetic factors. Studies often highlight problems during prenatal development, complications at birth or neurological damage as factors which lead to ADHD. Scientific research has little evidence so far that ADHD is caused by environmental factors, excessive intake of sugar or dyes, middle ear problems or visual motor problems.

Recent studies show there may be a relationship between ADHD and sleeping difficulties. Although sleeping problems may not necessarily be an indicator of ADHD, studies see a correlation in around 70-80% of cases. You can read more on the relationship between ADHD and sleep problems following the link below.

How common is ADHD in adults?

Although little is known on the prevalence of ADHD in adults, the research that has been done shows that ADHD occurs equally in adult men and women. Two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD before puberty will still show behavioral problems during adolescence, when emotional problems related to ADHD manifest. Up to one half of these adolescents will still have symptoms of ADHD lasting into adulthood.

Isn't it too late to diagnose in adults?

The effects of ADHD into adulthood can have a serious negative impact on self-esteem and personal development. Adults suffering from ADHD often benefit from a correct diagnosis and intervention by a trained therapist. It allows patients to put ongoing behavioral and social difficulties into a proper perspective, whereas before they may have felt misunderstood.

With good management of personal and social development, people diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood can still achieve positive outcomes with correct intervention by a trained therapist. Therapies such as Neurofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy can improve self-esteem, work and learning skills in adults as well as in children.

ADHD: After Diagnosis

With the support of a professional there are a number of treatment options available to treat ADHD. A diagnosis should be seen as a step in the right direction, providing relief for patients to know that they are on a path forward to alleviating daily personal struggles and other behavioral or relationship issues. A professional may suggest counseling and coaching for the adult or child, their family and close friends as well as asking for support from employers or educators.  A professional may also prescribe medication (such as Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera), as well as neuromodulation therapies such as Neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback. A trained therapist will recommend one or more of these treatments depending on the severity of the disorder and how much it impacts on the daily life and well-being of the person.​

Many people benefit from a treatment plan which includes medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and neurofeedback. Medication, such as Ritalin, Concerta, Strattera, is a way to provide the biological support needed for self-control. A common misconception is that people are "controlled" by the medication, but it should be remembered success is dependent on the effort of the individual. However, symptoms may quickly return if medication is stopped. Neurofeedback is therefore a beneficial treatment, capable of permanently improving brain function as a result of learned changes in brain activity.

Tips that patients with AD(H)D found useful:

  • Allow yourself internal structure. These include calendars, lists, notes to yourself, color coding, routines to help you remember things.
  • Take on a "good addiction." Find an exercise or other healthy and fun activities for regular and structured "blow-off" periods.
  • Create a rewarding environment. Design projects, tasks, etc., in order to minimize frustration. Break large tasks into smaller steps and set priorities.
  • Allow yourself a break. Take time to calm down and regain perspective when you feel angry or overwhelmed. Walk away from the situation if necessary.
  • Use humor! It helps if partners and colleagues remind you to keep busy with your job, as long as it is done with humor and respect. Learn about symptoms of ADHD with humor. Make jokes with friends and family about symptoms such as getting lost and forgetting things.
  • Be pupil and teacher. Read books. Talk to professionals about medication, neurofeedback and behavior. Talk to other adults who have ADHD. Let the people who matter know what the pros and cons of your ADHD. Inform others​
  • Make sure you get enough hours of sleep and have a regular sleep-wake rhythm.
  • Make sure to get as much natural daylight (or sunlight) during the day, and prevent exposure to computers and tablets in the evening, before bedtime. If you would still like to use tablets and computers, consider installing the free software F.Lux which reduces the amount of blue light as a function of the time-of-day.

More on ADHD and Neurofeedback