FEATURE | Posted Jan. 8, 2014

Living with ADHD

ADHD challenges adults as well as children

ADHD facts
  • ADHD persists into adulthood for 60 to 70 percent of children.
  • The high school drop-out rate is 30 percent for students with ADHD and 7 percent in the general population.
  • Inattention symptoms at age 6 predict academic success in high school.
  • The regions of the brain responsible for good self-control develop last, at around 25 for typical adults. Evidence suggests this happens later for adults with ADHD.
  • Twenty-five percent of all college students receiving disability services have ADHD.
  • ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in boys during childhood but in adults it affects men and women equally.
  • Girls with ADHD are at higher risk for suicidal behavior.
  • Teens and adults with ADHD are at higher risk for substance abuse.
  • People with ADHD are overrepresented among those who have traffic accidents and emergency room visits.
  • Medication is highly effective in the short-term for the target symptoms of inattention and distractibility, but current research suggests that behavioral interventions in conjunction with medication support the greatest improvements.
  • There is a tremendous need for the development of new, better, long-lasting treatments to address the range of symptoms associated with ADHD.

Scott Adams © UC Regents
Scott Adams

Scott Adams has had a great deal of professional success. He has worked in advertising. He has worked for ESPN and the California Angels baseball team. He started his own business called Velocity Signs, designing and marketing mechanical sign spinners that are marketing in Panama, Puerto Rico and China.

He’s good at a lot of things – but he gets bored easily and frequently feels the need to move onto something new – in work, in love and in life.

Adams has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Growing up in Santa Rosa, Calif., he struggled in school. He would eventually receive a diagnosis, see therapists and be prescribed Ritalin. After completing high school, he would graduate from Sac State.

“Although I’ve always been successful professionally, I’ve had like 12 jobs in the past 15 years. I’ve lived in eight different cities. I love the flashy honeymoon phase of a relationship, but then I get bored. I’ve struggled with drugs and alcohol,” said Adams, now 37. “I developed coping mechanisms to deal with the problem, some good and some bad.”

Sharing to help others with ADHD

Adams agreed to discuss his ADHD, because he hopes that doing so might help others, particularly kids who wonder, as he did when he was younger, “What’s wrong with me?”

Frustrated with the peripatetic nature of his life, two years ago Adams decided to see whether there was a better way to cope with some of his challenges, so he reached out to the UC Davis MIND Institute and ADHD expert Julie Schweitzer. Adams said, “She understands its effects. Talking to her validated the frustrations and the problems that I have. ADHD kids don’t’ know what’s wrong with them. It creates depression, and it creates a lot of stress.”

Julie Schweitzer © UC Regents“Classic problems with self-control in adults with ADHD make it less likely that someone with ADHD will eat healthy foods and exercise, stop surfing the Internet to get work done or stop themselves from smoking cigarettes when they get stressed.”
— Julie Schweitzer

“Julie’s very patient. She can relate to people very well. I’ve gone to a lot of other counselors but they can’t connect. She’s able to really understand,” he said.

Adams said that, working with Schweitzer, he learned methods of coping with that stress, and behavioral training to help him organize his personal and professional life to help him reach his goals.

He did something that made evaluation and treatment easier – he shared test results and evaluations from his adolescence that confirmed he had been struggling with ADHD for years.

“Diagnosing ADHD in adults can be a challenge, particularly when there is no paper trail to confirm that the adult experienced significant symptoms in childhood, which is required to be diagnosed as an adult,” Schweitzer said.

Through the MIND Institute ADHD Program, Schweitzer and her colleagues work together to show adults with ADHD that they have potential but that they need to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and organize their environment to attain their goals.

“When Scott came in to see me, he was at that point where he was ready to address his concerns. He did not seek treatment because his mother or someone else told him to. He recognized that he could be accomplishing more in his life. He was ready to move forward to make that happen,” Schweitzer said.

About the MIND Institute ADHD Program

The goal of the ADHD program is to advance our understanding of the environmental, genetic and physiological causes of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); to study problems of self-control (i.e., impulsivity), how to measure it on a behavioral and physiological level and develop new ways to increase the self-control; use results of basic research to develop novel and enhanced non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatment options; individualize treatments for specific subtypes of ADHD based on genetic, brain imaging and behavioral data; improve families' ability to understand and follow-through with treatment recommendations. Click here to learn more.

That self-recognition and readiness to move forward is crucial in working with adults with ADHD, Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer said that the program at the MIND helps adults identify whether symptoms of ADHD — such as procrastination, inattention, boredom, attraction to immediately rewarding activities or substances create obstacles to achieving personal or professional success.

“For example, classic problems with self-control in ADHD make it less likely that someone with ADHD will eat healthy foods and exercise, stop surfing the Internet to get work done or stop themselves from smoking cigarettes when they get stressed,” Schweitzer said. “We try to help people recognize these issues of self-control and teach them ways to make healthier decisions and stick with them.”

Schweitzer said that many of her patients with ADHD go on to achieve personal and professional  success.

“The road often is bumpier than for people without ADHD, but there still is hope,” she said. And, while there are many excellent treatments for people with ADHD, more are needed.