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Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment and How It Effects the Brain

With over two decades of experience in medicine, Melissa Flagg writes patient education articles, keeping you informed about your health.

Homeschooling is a good option for kids with ADHD. The one-on-one attention makes it easier for them to learn at their own pace.

Homeschooling is a good option for kids with ADHD. The one-on-one attention makes it easier for them to learn at their own pace.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder?

Typically, ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is associated with children.

However, recent research has shown that this disorder is actually hereditary and that most children do not outgrow it as previously thought.

There are three different types of this disorder:

  • ADHD combined type (meaning the person has both problems with attention and hyperactivity.)
  • Predominantly Inattentive ADD
  • Predominantly Hyperactive ADD
A pie chart indicating the 3 different types od ADHD and how diffuse they are among those with the disease. The combined type is the most prevalent.

A pie chart indicating the 3 different types od ADHD and how diffuse they are among those with the disease. The combined type is the most prevalent.

The name attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is actually quite misleading. It’s not so much a deficit as an inability to control and direct ones focus and impulses. There is, now, scientific proof that ADHD has physical indications. Certain areas of the ADHD brain are smaller than those of the normal brain:

  • Prefrontal cortex - handles making decisions and the ability to switch from one task to another
  • Corpus callosum - connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain
  • Basal ganglia - regulates mood
  • Cerebellar vermis - handles motor coordination and balance

All of these areas coincide with the symptoms of ADHD.

For example, the inability to focus on a task and see it through to completion has its roots in the prefrontal cortex as does impulse control, which is very difficult for most adults with the disorder.

Because impulsiveness is one of the symptoms of ADHD, many people with ADHD (myself included) have high credit card debt because of their inability to control their desire to buy something without thinking.

This also includes being tactful. They have no filter, what they say is exactly what they just thought. They take no time to formulate thoughts into sentences, or consider the consequences their words may have. Many people are easily offended by this, which makes friendships and even intimate relationships difficult for someone with the disorder.

Attention Deficit Disorder and Dopamine

This brain scan shows dopamine activity in a normal brain (on the left) and an ADHD brain (on the right). Notice the normal brain's colors are brighter indicating more dopamine production vs the patient with ADHD and lower dopamine production.

This brain scan shows dopamine activity in a normal brain (on the left) and an ADHD brain (on the right). Notice the normal brain's colors are brighter indicating more dopamine production vs the patient with ADHD and lower dopamine production.

Symptoms and Intelligence

Adults with ADHD have the same symptoms as children, they just manifest differently.

For example, difficulty with staying focused long enough to finish homework might manifest in an adult as a difficulty in finishing a report for his CEO by the deadline. Absentmindedness, indecisiveness, impulsivity, and overlooking important details are all classic signs of ADHD in both adults and children.

These people are not dumb however. They typically have a high IQ, usually well over 120 (average IQ is 100), although they are usually diagnosed with a learning disability as well as ADHD.

This level of intelligence requires the brain to be able to process information almost inhumanly fast. Many of those with the disorder are wonderful in emergencies, they are able to react quickly and remain calm because this is how their mind works on a daily basis.

On the flip side, they are also capable of hyper-focusing on activities that offer intense stimulation such as video games. However, this hyper-focusing gives the illusion that the person can pay attention whenever he or she wants to and this leads to doubts about the reality of the condition.

Hyper-focusing is a defense mechanism used in an effort to relieve stress and anxiety. It is much like meditation. Focusing in on one thing allows them to block out ALL other stimuli.

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Symptoms ADHD

Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD and Creativity

These people have the uncanny ability to think outside the box. They see things from very different perspectives and are capable of understanding perspectives other than their own more easily than the rest of us.

They usually have a plethora of ideas, but lack the motivation and endurance to start something and see it through to completion. Self-discipline is not their forte, and the frustration they feel from not being “normal” can lead to even more intense mood swings and possible angry outbursts. Many times someone with ADHD will explode in anger only to forget why they were angry five minutes later.

Tactile Defensiveness

Many with ADHD suffer from a rather tortuous and less common symptom called tactile defensiveness. Because of their inability to block out background noise, smells, and sights, they’re senses are over-stimulated almost constantly.

Being touched, either in an intimate way, or through bumping into another person or any other physical contact, can be actually painful for this person. Although it may not be constant, it happens frequently enough to cause problems between spouses, family or friends.

It is frustrating for all of us who suffer from it. Humans are social beings and crave affection from one another. Feeling pain from something we need emotionally to survive is pure torture to all parties involved.

Generic Wellbutrin (bupropion)

Generic Wellbutrin (bupropion)

Traditional and Alternative Treatment Options

There is evidence to support ADHD as a chemical imbalance that causes the sufferer to be easily distracted when doing mundane tasks.Intense mood swings are also associated with the disorder.

The levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are not as high in adults and children with ADHD as in those without the disorder.

That is why narcotic stimulant medications such as Dexedrine, Vyvanse and Adderall along with newer, non-stimulant medications (Wellbutrin, Strattera) work so well. They increase the levels of these neurotransmitters enabling the person to focus and prioritize.

Wellbutrin, specifically, is an antidepressant originally designed to help with smoking cessation. It's a norepinephrine/dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) and has the added benefit of being non-narcotic. For adults, it also doesn't have the sexual side effects that stimulant medications may have.

Fish oil has been shown to benefit the symptoms of ADHD due to it’s high Omega-3 content, as well as niacin, a more natural, organic diet and plenty of exercise.

Exercise releases endorphins, which are not only the natural painkillers of the body, but also the brain’s reset button. Endorphins have been shown to help with focus, hyperactivity, depression and mood swings.

Meditation has been shown to improve focus, and self-control as well as improving over all mood, but tends to be difficult for most ADDers because of their inability to quiet their minds.

ADHD is still being studied, but progress has been made. Treatments help manage the symptoms in 90% of patients.

These patients are usually relieved once they start stimulant medication because they see improvement almost immediately (Wellbutrin and Straterra can take up to 2 weeks to take effect).

Those suffering from ADHD really don’t realize how they affect everyone around them, and how detrimental their actions are to relationships and life in general.

If you or someone you know has or might have ADHD, talk to them about it. Let them know there are options, and that you care enough to want to help. These people need patience and nurturing despite the annoying symptoms that drive the rest of us insane.

© 2012 Mel Flagg COA OSC


JaneR on June 07, 2017:

Most of my family has ADHD symptoms but my children were found to have PANDAS/Autoimmune Encephalitis. Their symptoms have responded well to treatment and things that lower glutamate levels. My spouse has ADHD and refuses to try to find the root cause of it. He is constantly involved in non stop activities in order to get the stimulation his brain needs, which means he is either not home or is busy with something and not available when home. He has a strong need to control people and things in his environment and has symptoms of megalomania now, thinking he is gong to be rich or famous and that he has special talents, etc. For example, he spent $2,000 to go on a 7 day trip to Scotland with his fraternity all because there is a connecting fratenrity out there having a 100 yr. anniversary. I demanded to know why he has to waste 2,000 dollars on this. He said he might meet scottish royalty and some of them might decide to invest in his small business he has been designing over the last two years. He was extremely hurt I could notbelieve and understand this. I finally told him I cannot take it anymore and he needs to find someone more suited towards his enormous ego, that can feed it 24/7.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on October 24, 2016:

That's a great idea. I too have ADHD and yes there are actually quite a few benefits like being calm in an emergency when most other people panic. The emergency triggers that release of dopamine that we need. :D I'd be very interested in guest blogging! Thank you!! :D

bziebarth from Columbia Missouri on July 14, 2015:

This is one of the most thorough hubs on ADHD that I have seen. I would make one suggestion. Add a section about the benefits of ADHD. Yes, as someone with ADHD, I can tell you there are benefits.

I also run a website for people with ADHD at If you are interested in guest blogging for some exposure then I would be happy to have you.

I also up voted your hub for useful, awesome, beautiful, and interesting.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 27, 2012:

I agree donnah75, I think nutrition really needs to be considered more seriously in many different conditions not just ADHD. The American diet is horrendously deficient in a plethora of different vitamins and minerals. We can't expect out bodies to run at peak performance if we're giving them fuel that is subpar.

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on August 26, 2012:

I like that you consider the nutritional approach to treating ADHD. So many students are coming to school medicated beyond any level I thought was possible. When I ask them what they are eating (or see the breakfast they are consuming in my classroom before 1st period), I am shocked at the junk they are consuming. I wonder if doctors were forced to consider nutrition before drugs what the result would be. Voted up.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 12, 2012:

I agree, unfortunately it goes both ways. There are some doctors who don't take the time to actually diagnose correctly the one that DO have it. I'm a victim of that myself. I didn't find out I had it until I was 27, AFTER I had epically failed college, but at least now I know WHY I failed.

Of course it's a much smaller number of doctors who don't diagnose those of us who do have it, most doctors, like you said, just hand over a pill and say get out of my office. Medicine has really become a "pill for every ill." That's why I've been looking toward nutrition and vitamin therapy and trying to write about it to get the word out.

Suzie from Carson City on August 09, 2012:

It IS difficult to I rest my case. Often the EASY way is to hang a label on a child and write out a script......when in fact, this is not at all what the child's problem is.

9 out of 10 Drs. are too busy and too greedy to delve deeply enough into all the aspects of a child's life....and too often just go by what the parent says.......who are more often than not...ALSO too lazy and in denial to care what the kid's problem is. Let's just drug him/her to make MY life easier........This is a rampant and serious problem today. I've seen far too much of it.....

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 09, 2012:

@Paula, I agree, I think many kids these days are just not disciplined, or their parents don't know how to discipline them and so actually do it incorrectly causing more inappropriate behavior and a vicious cycle is perpetuated. I'm a huge believer in vitamin therapy. I think many ADHD kids are simply Niacin deficient. Most kids are vitamin C deficient which can cause mental problems as well.

I had to go back and read lucybell's comment, and I agree, with you. She could easily transfer that so called problem to the kids.

I know what you mean about the over-diagnosis, it drives me nuts as well! I hope this hub helped clear up some of the confusion associated with the symptoms, but I think it's still a difficult disorder to diagnose!

Suzie from Carson City on August 09, 2012:

ADHD......and all disorders like them and/or associated with them, although REAL, actual disorders of the brain and/or brain chemistry....can and are very safely and effectively treated in several ways. Medication is only one of course and there is behavioral therapy, diet and homeopathic methods....exercise, lifestyle in runs the whole gamut....which I realize you are well-informed and up-to-date on all of this.......but I say this because I know of numerous children who have been misdiagnosed with one or more of these disorders, when, in fact......excuse me for saying this....but.......

The first comment above by lucybell, speaks volumes. Whether she realized it or not, she actually described her daughter as having bipolar disorder. An undiagnosed bipolar parent, can easily cause such havoc in her home and possible emotional issues with her children....that she transfers the "problem" to her kids.

How can a child NOT display some hyperactivity and/or attention difficulties when Mom is all over the map from one hour to the next?

I'm sure you understand what I'm saying DOM.....It has always caused me much frustration....(more so when I was still working B-4 I retired)

when I experience a perfectly normal, happy and intelligent child being "labeled," medicated and focused upon, for a disorder that is not one at all...but a result of and reaction to his/her home life, upbringing and interaction with an effected parent.

THIS fries my butt!

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 29, 2012:

@GarnetBird Thank you! I know how you feel, both my husband and I have the same problem and sometimes it's a real pain in the rear. But sometimes understanding why it happens can be enough to diffuse the situation. I wish you and your hubby all the best!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on July 29, 2012:

My spouse has this disorder and it makes communication very difficult. The way he talks to me at times is so blunt and so harsh--as you pointed out, he has no filter. Usually he is nice and loving but his communication style suffers due to this disorder. Thanks for writing this.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 07, 2012:

lol I hear that a lot actually. My hubby will call me from work with a question the medical staff can't answer! (Sad...) I'm happy to help though, anytime! Let me know how the niacin works, email me if you need anything!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 06, 2012:

I guess it's a case of trial and error. OK then, next time I visit the health store I be sure to pick some up. Thanks again. Your quickly becoming my 'go-to girl' when it come to health issues.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 06, 2012:

lmao, I totally understand, you should see the handfuls I take every day. Unfortunately, you'd have to take so much b complex it would end up making you sick. I found 1,000mg niacin on amazon, so that helped. You can usually only find 500mg at the drug store. Although, on the bright side, if you take enough of the niacin, you may not need the other medications. Niacin also helps with arthritis pain. :D

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 06, 2012:

Interesting. So do I need to take niacin and a b-complex or can I get away with loads of b-complex alone. It's just that I'm taking so many supplements and meds for different reasons I'm already rattling when I walk. lol

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 06, 2012:

The body turns niacin into NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) which is required for over 450 biochemical reactions in the body. It is also required in the neuronal signaling reactions in the brain. In fact, niacin deficiency causes pellagra which has the same symptoms as both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Bipolar and schizophrenia are symptoms of chronic and severe pellagra according to Andrew Saul, PhD.

Interestingly, niacin is also a treatment for ADHD. The problem is for all of these diseases, the required dosage is in the thousands of milligrams and the RDA is like 18mg. I started giving my daughter 3,000 mg of niacin a day (slipped it in her drink lol) and she's a new kid! She can sit still, she doesn't cry at the drop of a hat, and she's eager to learn. My hubby requires about 8,000 mg or more per day to treat his ADHD.

I say b complex vitamins with niacin because all of the b vitamins are made to work together. Taking a B complex supplement with high doses of niacin increases niacin's efficacy. If you're wondering how much niacin to take, Saul would say "takes as much as needed to make you better." Keep in mind, high doses of any vitamin should be monitored by a doctor if you have liver or kidney disease (that's my disclaimer lol)

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 06, 2012:

Actually I did have a go at biphasic sleep and...yes it was a really bad idea, ha-ha. I didn't go into full-blown mania but I did experience the early signs of a manic episode: rapid thinking, inability to focus, urge to spends loads of money I don't have and the ever popular 'I can take on the world' feeling of megalomania. I quickly switched back to my normal sleep patterns with a feeling of a disaster barely avoided. Live and learn, eh.

How would niacin and b-complex help?

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 06, 2012:

I agree, unfortunately too many people are going either un-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed, and are unable to reach their full protential because of it. Most drop out of college because they can't focus long enough to study, many job hop either from boredom, or chronic lateness. It's really a shame. Especially since we do know what chemicals cause the problems, and what medications fix it.

Michelle Taylor from New Jersey on July 06, 2012:

Extremely informational hub as always. I never knew there was an actual measurable chemical difference in the brain of a non ADHD and ADHD person. It is unfortunate that many people are mis-diagnosed and don't get the proper treatment.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 06, 2012:

Actually, if you are bipolar, attempting to switch to biphasic sleep would be a really bad idea. Have you tried taking niacin and a b complex vitamin?

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 06, 2012:

Sounds like I am bipolar then; and biphasic sleep may not be an option for me. I appreciate your very thorough response. I've learned something new about my illness. Cool.

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 06, 2012:

That's a tough one, the symptoms are so similar! Typically the main difference is the mania state. While bipolar disorder has a "mania" state that is full blown and usually disrupts the life of the sufferer, ADHD has a "hypomania" state. It is very similar to mania, but the symptoms are not as pronounced and the person usually remains fully functioning. However, fully functioning is difficult to assess because ADHD causes problems with everyday activities because of they lack the ability to direct their focus. Also, bipolar disorder tends to be episodic, while ADHD is chronic.

Bipolar is a mood disorder, and both mood and sleep are regulated by serotonin. Typically, with bipolar, the circadian rhythm is the trigger. Staying on a consistent schedule is the key, not necessarily how much sleep you get. With ADHD, it doesn't matter how hard you try, you can get your 8 hours, but usually the ADHD body wants that sleep from about 4 am to 12, or even later. Attempting to regulate a sleep schedule with ADHD is futile. The body just won't have it. However, with medication, this symptom usually resolves. This isn't usually the case with bipolar disorder.

From my own personal experience, my symptoms and (my husband's) seem to be much better with the biphasic sleep pattern. I think that's why I didn't have any trouble switching to the routine, my body just slid right into it. My hubby also noticed he has much more energy and isn't as groggy as he was with the monophasic sleep pattern. Diet and exercise also make a huge difference in my symptoms, especially juicing. If I don't get my juice everyday, my focus isn't worth a s@$t. I'm not entirely sure why that is however. lol

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 05, 2012:

I see. My reason for asking is I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1994. I took lithium for a bit but couldn't cope with the side effects so I took myself off it. I try to eat well and exercise but I notice sufficient sleep seems to be the key to keeping it under control.

I've had issues with depression all my life and in fact currently on antidepressants again as this winter has been a rough one.

So how can you be sure which diagnosis is the correct one?

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on July 05, 2012:

Absolutely, Phoenix. And it happens quite often actually. Usually the error is those with ADHD being diagnosed with bipolar. When the bipolar meds turn them into zombies it's taken as a evidence for the correct diagnosis. Many times ADHD is mistaken for depression as well.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 05, 2012:

Good hub, as usual. I noticed quite a few of these symptoms are similar to those found in people who have been diagnosed as bipolar. Is it possible for misdiagnoses to occur?

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on May 01, 2012:

I agree! My hubby is plagued by people who assume he's stupid simply because he can't focus on one thing, or finish a task. It's actually quite the opposite! He's brilliant and has interests of all different kinds. I have the same "problem," I have a broad range of interests, so he and I always have something to talk about. Life is never boring with us, and, like you said, he's so worth it! :D

Amethystraven from California on May 01, 2012:

Oh, my goodness!!! You have just answered a whole bunch of questions for me!!! My boyfriend has Adult ADHD. Now I understand more about him than I ever did. I thank you so much for this information. This has been a great help. I hope this hub helps more people to understand one another. Things take patients and time, and he's worth it!

Mel Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on January 29, 2012:

Thanks for commenting Rhys. I have found that exercise and a vegan diet have substantially alleviated my ADHD symptoms. I do still take Wellbutrin, but I take it for migraine prophylaxis now. I know without it, prior to changing my diet and exercising, I was the same way, although I think my husband would say b^%&h instead!

Rhys on January 29, 2012:

I have been diagnosed with ADHD since I was six. I am now 16 and I am taking 7 pills a day to treat my condition. I have tried taking short periods of time without or with reduce doses. I don't feel any differences until I concentrate on what I just did and why I did it. Mind my language but when I am of it i act like a right little shit. I find that sugar and any rubbish food is partly to blame for this behaviour but I cannot blame that alone. I now do not eat that stuf. Do regular exercise to burn of the exces energy. And I have noticed considerable behavioral differences.

Bonny OBrien from Troy, N.Y. on January 25, 2012:

Wow, well. My grandson is said to be ADHD. His dad and his grandma are supposed to be Bipolar. I don't think my grandson is either one. I think it is my daughters fault. He acts up because of her, and she does not realize her behavior is what spurred him on. If anything I think it is her that has a problem, what with all her eratic mean mood swings. He is a very smart and loving boy, and all kids grow up, as are my other grandkids. It is not like back in the day, when kids were told what to do, and they did. Now if you act out at all you go to the Doctor and get a condition. So it gives a parent a reason to say it was not their fault. Just saying my thought on this. I used to drive a schoolbus that was for handicaped kids, so I do know some things, and a lot of kids where misjudged.

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