ADHD: symptoms, causes and treatments
Everything you need to know about ADHD, including how the disorder can be managed effectively.
Everything you need to know about ADHD, including how the disorder can be managed effectively.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder that can affect both children and adults. The condition is typically characterised by difficulties in concentrating, problems with speech and actions (known as hyperactivity), and impulsive behaviour.
While symptoms of ADHD usually start in early childhood, it's possible for an adult with ADHD to go undiagnosed for many years. Adults may experience subtler symptoms than children, some of which can be:
A person with ADHD can find it difficult to manage their responsibilities, so they may not keep to deadlines or pay their bills on time. They may also struggle to be punctual for diarised meetings or social plans. They are often late for appointments and in some cases, are too early for appointments due to worries of missing the appointment.
They may focus on smaller and easier tasks rather than important, lengthier projects. For example, they may spend a morning answering emails or voicemails rather than getting on with a longer, more significant piece of work.
Difficult and complex tasks are put off. At times, a person with ADHD will work all night to meet a deadline, while many tasks are never completed.
They may find it hard to concentrate in a busy or noisy environment and struggle to stay focused during long meetings or appointments. They may get easily distracted by sounds, moving objects and activities outside the window, and struggle to get their focus back to the task at hand.
A person with ADHD can have difficulties with their short term memory. They may forget social plans, overlook parts of a task or forget to run errands. They may also frequently misplace things like their car keys or house keys.
While an adult with ADHD may not be as hyperactive as a child, they might find it difficult to relax. They may struggle to sit in one place without being fidgety, or their mind racing with thoughts or other activities to do.
They may seem to have difficulties listening in conversations or engaging in meaningful conversation that requires focus and attention.
As they have difficulties controlling their emotions, a person’s mood can flare up and then subside rapidly.
The ongoing challenges of ADHD can be so overwhelming without the correct treatment that it can cause a person to suffer from constant stress.
These can range from showing up late to important appointments, to dangerous driving and substance abuse.
While most people will struggle with some of these symptoms, if they are ongoing, persistent, causing problems in everyday life and can be traced back to childhood, this could be a sign of ADHD.
The signs of ADHD in children can vary slightly compared to adults, which is why it's not always noticeable during childhood and why many people get an adult diagnosis.
While the exact cause of ADHD isn’t yet fully understood, there are a number of factors that are believed to contribute to someone developing the disorder. These include:
Studies have shown that family genetics may have a role to play in the development of ADHD, with patterns of the disorder sometimes found across generations. However, the complexity of the condition isn’t believed to be related to a specific genetic fault.
If your child has ADHD, it may be due to their brains operating differently to children without the condition, with research suggesting that it may take an average of 2 to 3 years longer for the brain to mature in children with the disorder than in children without ADHD.
Circumstances around your child’s birth may also have an impact, with low birthweight and premature birth suggested as being factors of ADHD development. Substance abuse during pregnancy may also increase the chances of your child developing the condition.
We understand that ADHD can have real consequences for people living with the disorder. Therefore, it's important to know that when symptoms are managed well, they have much less of an impact on daily life.
If you think that you or someone you care about has ADHD, and the symptoms are disrupting everyday life, an initial assessment with a specialist is recommended. Priory has numerous practitioners who are able to make diagnoses and offer treatment.
The specialist will carry out a full clinical assessment to determine whether ADHD is the correct diagnosis. They'll also look for other problems such as anxiety and depression.
As part of the assessment, they'll typically ask if symptoms have been apparent since childhood, as it's thought that ADHD can’t develop in adulthood for the first time. Discussing this with parents and other family members, while also looking at old school reports, can help a person to determine this.
Diagnosing ADHD can be a difficult and lengthy process, so only mental health professionals who are experienced and trained can assess and diagnose the symptoms.
To diagnose ADHD, you'll have to go through an ADHD assessment.
Before the assessment, you and a family member, partner or close friend will usually be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your behaviours, some things you may struggle with, and how you go about daily tasks.
A mental health professional will look at your questionnaire to understand a little bit about you and then do a psychiatric assessment. These can sometimes be done in two parts before they come to a conclusive diagnosis, but it's nothing to worry about.
The assessment will focus a lot on your school years, as well as adulthood. It will look at how you function and process things, and look at how symptoms impact you day-to-day.
While there's currently no cure for ADHD, Priory’s nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres offer specialist child, adolescent and adult outpatient services to help manage the symptoms of ADHD.
Highly experienced consultant psychiatrists and therapists can devise bespoke ADHD treatment, tailored to you. We will aim to reduce your symptoms through a variety of evidence-based treatment methods.
Treatment plans for ADHD will often include medication, group therapy, family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They can also include certain medications for other co-occurring conditions, depending on individual experiences and age. Children with ADHD may have slightly different treatment plans compared to adults.
Group therapy will involve a therapist and co-therapist working across groups of 6 to 12 people. The aim of group therapy is to provide valuable insight into the progress and coping mechanisms of others with the condition. This can help people to understand their own ADHD, within an open and supportive environment. Group therapy will encourage someone to work on more positive patterns of thinking that can help to alleviate unwanted symptoms of the disorder.
Group therapy is an appropriate method that can be used for both adults and children experiencing ADHD symptoms.
Depending on age, an ADHD treatment plan may include CBT, which is a problem-solving talking therapy that can help manage thoughts and behaviours more effectively.
CBT can help you, in simple terms, to ‘re-programme’ your brain and change the patterns of negative thinking that are associated with the disorder, helping you to manage the symptoms of ADHD better. This type of therapy is not often used with young children, but can be used with teens and adults.
Family therapy helps the whole family unit come together to understand ADHD and how symptoms can impact everyone’s lives. Family therapy will help explore ways in which you can support someone with ADHD as well as teach someone with ADHD about the thoughts and feelings of family members.
For adults, family therapy may also include marriage counselling, discussing relationships and responsibilities. The therapy will aim to open lines of communication and improve ways of dealing with challenges. Sometimes, the ADHD symptoms women experience may differ to what a man might experience, so opening these lines of communication helps one another understand the condition more.
This is an approach to supporting ADHD that's based on individual strengths and teaching people to use their strengths to overcome weaknesses. This is a highly practical approach to managing the challenges of ADHD in daily life.
Depending on a person's symptoms, medication could be recommended to help manage ADHD symptoms.
There are mainly two types of medications used in ADHD – stimulants and non-stimulants. Both types of medications work by increasing dopamine levels in the frontal lobes of the brain.
The following licensed medication can be used in treating ADHD:
Treatment for adult ADHD can include medication and counselling. The treatment that people receive will be based on their own circumstances, to make sure that it's as effective as possible.
A specialist will discuss the medications with you, explain how they work and tell you about adverse effects. They will also explain all treatment options, which can include ADHD coaching and CBT, so that you're able to choose the best for you.
At Priory, our therapy gives people the opportunity to develop skills related to organisation, time-management and problem solving. It also helps with managing impulsive behaviours and anger, while boosting self-esteem and improving relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
Couples and family therapy sessions can also be provided at Priory to help those living with someone who has ADHD.
All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:
All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in the field of mental health and addiction treatment. Whatever your needs, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.
We support people with ADHD throughout the country, meaning that you can access the support you need in a convenient location. To find your nearest ADHD treatment centre, please search below.