Treating Adult ADHD

Having an attention disorder (ADHD or ADD) can feel a lot like being trapped in a turbocharged video game, with little chance to win. Your enemies and obstacles (e.g., distraction, absentmindedness, impulsiveness, forgetfulness, and other symptoms of ADHD) are powerful, constantly blocking your progress. You see the next level, you just can't get there. Frustration, exhaustion, and even hopelessness and depression can follow. But what if you had a plan to help you cope with ADHD symptoms and get to the next level? ADHD treatment can offer you that path to success.

ADHD, says Russell Barkley, PhD, clinical neuropsychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, "is the most treatable disorder in psychiatry, bar none." While no single treatment approach is right for everyone with ADHD, the right combination of medication, counseling (individual, marriage/family, or behavioral), and education can minimize ADHD symptoms and teach you to work around them. Here are five benefits ADHD treatment can bring:

Focus and clarity.
Medication is the most common treatment option for ADHD. It's also the most effective. It works for more than three-quarters of people with ADHD who take it by increasing mental focus and making them less prone to distractions. "When medication works, it's as dramatic and as effective as eyeglasses," says Edward Hallowell, MD, EdD, author of Delivered From Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder . Keep in mind that subtle adjustments in your ADHD meds can make a big difference, so there might be some back and forth between you and your doctor to find the most effective drug and dosage for you.

Self-awareness and self-esteem.
If your talents and strengths have been overshadowed by symptoms and side effects of ADHD, psychotherapy and counseling can help change that. Therapy for ADHD can help you let go of bad feelings about yourself, shift your focus to your strengths, and find ways to capitalize on the things you do best. "Try to get rid of the negativity that may have infested your system if you have lived for years without knowing what you had was ADHD," says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of Delivered from Distraction . "A good psychotherapist may help in this regard."

Stronger relationships.
Troubled relationships are common among adults with unmanaged ADHD, says Kevin R. Murphy, PhD, president of the Adult ADHD Clinic of Central Massachusetts and psychiatry professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Many spouses of ADHD sufferers become exasperated by their mates' inability to focus, plan, and follow through. Couples may try to work out their issues, but until the ADHD is identified and effectively managed, problems persist. Once ADHD diagnosis and treatment happens, couples can begin working through the issues to rebuild their relationship. "There needs to be a shared responsibility and an understanding that this is a family issue, not just the patient's issue," Murphy says.

Better physical and mental health.
Left untreated, ADHD can pose threats to your health. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are three conditions ADHD treatment can help you avoid. Psychiatrists believe that the mounting frustrations and disappointments of living with untreated adult ADHD raise your risk of these mental health problems as well as antisocial personality disorder. Better impulse control -- another benefit of ADHD treatment -- can also contribute to your health and well-being by making you less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as reckless driving and substance abuse.

Better financial health.
Impulsiveness -- a classic ADHD symptom -- can lead to overspending and debt, and inattention and forgetfulness can lead to lost bills and late payments. Adult ADHD symptoms can also wreak havoc on your job or career. Getting a handle on your symptoms through coaching and behavior management strategies can help you gain control of your financial life and find work that allows you to capitalize on your intellectual or creative potential.

Creating the right attention disorder treatment plan can take time, so be sure to find a healthcare team that is experienced in adult ADHD. Working with people you like, trust, and can communicate with will give you the power to be a winner in your own real-life video game. As Robert Jergen, author of The Little Monster: Growing Up With ADHD , says, "ADHD is like being a superhero, but somebody needs to teach you how to fly, much like Superman."

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