Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a well-known affliction that is characterized by difficulties in impulse control, hyperactivity, and a reduced capacity to concentrate for extended periods of time. While it is typically considered to be an issue afflicting children and young adults, a growing body of research has revealed that ADHD does not disappear when one reaches adulthood. It is now estimated that symptoms persist into adulthood for as many as 60 percent of those who are diagnosed with the disorder during childhood.

While the neurophysiological causes of ADHD are not fully understood, medical researchers have been able to recognize key differences in the brains of people who have ADHD and the brains of people who do not. One such difference is that people suffering from ADHD have a deficiency of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine and a difficult time processing dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering feelings of pleasure.

Because of these difficulties processing dopamine, some researchers have placed ADHD under the umbrella disorder known as reward deficiency syndrome (RDS). RDS is directly linked, in part, to a defect in a gene that regulates how dopamine receptors operate in the brain. A paper published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment observed that when this defect occurs, “The brain lacks sufficient numbers of dopamine receptor sites to use the normal amount of dopamine in reward centers and thus reduces the amount of dopamine produced in this area.” Consequently, “This defect drives individuals to engage in activities that will increase brain dopamine function.”

ADHD is also known to impair four specific parts of the brain:

  • Frontal cortex, which allows us to plan and organize tasks while focusing on and identifying internal and external stimuli;
  • Limbic system, which regulates our emotions;
  • Basal ganglia, which regulates communication between different parts of the brain;
  • Reticular activating system, which is the gateway to our consciousness and the part of the brain that allows us to determine what to focus on and what to tune out as white noise.

For those whose ADHD persists into adulthood, these neurochemical imbalances continue, as well. However, interestingly, the symptoms manifest themselves slightly differently. While children who have ADHD are known to be easily distracted and to have problems following rules at home or at school, which can lead to underachievement and underutilized potential, the symptoms of ADHD in adults are subtler, though they can be just as pernicious.

In most instances, ADHD in adults is less about hyperactivity and more about the restlessness, impulsive behavior (often leading to problems with addiction), and the inability plan or manage things like time, finances, and even emotions. These symptoms can make sedentary activities difficult and have a negative impact on relationships with coworkers, friends, and loved ones. More extreme symptoms can lead to the additional fraying of these relationships, financial difficulties, employment troubles, and severe substance abuse problems. An increase in these stressors can trigger additional disorders like anxiety and depression.

The good news is that there are both accurate instruments to test for adult ADHD and highly effective medications. At the Integrative Center for Wellness, we combine testing and the psychopharmacological approach with psychotherapy. The combination of these types of treatment has proven effective in not only managing the symptoms of ADHD, but also increasing patients’ self-esteem and social skills.