4 Myths About Adult ADHD

4 Myths About Adult ADHD

ADHD myths can get in the way of people seeking treatment and contribute to the stigma against people with ADHD. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 4.4% of US adults have ADHD although less than 11% receive treatment. Myths and stigma play a role in the huge discrepancy between the number of people with ADHD and the number that receive treatment. ADHD can cause significant challenges in relationships, employment, and self-esteem for people who are not adequately treated.

Adult ADHD Myth #1: Most adults grow out of ADHD

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Conventional wisdom used to say the majority of people with childhood ADHD will outgrow it. However, the truth is that up to 85% of children with ADHD continue to experience significant symptoms into adulthood. Hyperactive and impulsive behaviors may decrease with age; but restlessness, distractibility, and inattention often continue into adulthood.

Executive functioning (the ability to plan, get organized, and manage time) is often impaired in adults with ADHD who frequently struggle with prioritizing and managing daily activities. Executive functioning deficits can significantly impair academic and career success.

ADDitude magazine describes executive functioning deficits in adult ADHD as:

"When a person’s executive functions fail, he has trouble analyzing, planning, organizing, scheduling, and completing tasks. People with EFD commonly lack the ability to handle frustration, start and finish tasks, recall and follow multi-step directions, stay on track, self monitor, and balance priorities. Fixing the area of deficit is key to fixing academic or occupational difficulties. Common signs and symptoms of EFD in adults include:

  • Forgetting to complete tasks
  • Inability to keep track of personal items like keys and cell phones
  • Trouble following conversations
  • Losing train of thought
  • Difficulty remembering steps in a multi-step processes
  • Inability to remember names
  • Often late
  • Problems breaking big projects into steps
  • Trouble meeting deadlines
  • Unable to multitask
  • Difficulty remembering abbreviations and acronyms".

Individuals with ADHD can develop coping and organizing strategies that help manage and control symptoms. Some people are able to compensate for their ADHD by using coping strategies and don't need medication. Others need medication in order to be organized enough to use the strategies that will help them.

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Adult ADHD Myth #2: Adult ADHD isn't a big deal. Get over it! 

Many adults with ADHD struggle in work and relationships. ADHD can cause significant dysfunction in peoples live's. This dysfunction can be minimized with treatment.

People with Adult ADHD can struggle with:

  • Paying their bills on time,
  • Procrastination of tasks that aren't engaging,
  • Talking over people,
  • Not being a good listener,
  • Being forgetful,
  • Impulsivity,
  • Poor self-esteem resulting from a lifetime of feeling they can't measure up or that they are "stupid",
  • Frequent feelings of shame and frustration,
  • Emotional volatility and defensiveness,
  • Chronic underachievement,
  • Insecurity and depression.

The divorce rate with ADHD is higher than in the general population. The tendency for the partner with ADHD to become distracted is a constant source of conflict in relationships. Studies have shown a high level of distress in 60% of marriages where one spouse has ADHD. Adults with ADHD are twice as likely to get divorced.

As an aside: there is a great book written about the effect of ADHD on a marriage. This book not only explains what happens when a spouse has ADHD but also gives helpful tools necessary for the relationship to thrive. Here is an excerpt and explanation from the author of this book. You can find this book and others on my post: Top 10 Books About ADHD

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This article
 talks about ADHD's effect on parenting. A parent with ADHD may have challenges with self-regulation, motivation, and various cognitive processes. This can lead to issues where the parent has difficulty modeling effective behavioral control and emotional responsiveness to their children.

Adult ADHD Myth #3: ADHD is over-diagnosed 

Many adults with ADHD never received the diagnosis as children. In the past, ADHD wasn't identified unless people were disruptive enough to necessitate an evaluation. Parents, whose children get diagnosed with ADHD, often then recognize the signs in themselves.

The inattentive type of ADD is likely underdiagnosed. Often people with the inattentive form of ADD escape identification. They are generally not disruptive or hyperactive. Because they don't call attention to themselves people may not notice they are underperforming. Also, if they are academically gifted, they may be able to get away with their disorganization and lack of executive functioning skills while in school. Sometimes ADHD isn't identified until the person is struggling to get their work done in college, in their career, or having conflicts in their relationship.

People often think of ADHD as a male problem. This can lead to females with ADHD not being noticed. Females with ADHD are almost 2x as likely to have the inattentive form which makes it easier to miss.

ADHD Myth #4: ADHD isn't real

ADD is a genetically inherited neurodevelopmental disorder. Family and genetic studies have shown ADHD to be the most heritable of psychiatric disorders. There are specific data that must be met for the diagnosis to be made. It is a brain-based condition that involves the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.

ADHD isn't moral failing, laziness, or caused by poor parenting and too much sugar. Chaotic and critical parenting can make it worse but it isn't the cause of ADHD. ADHD is not created by an over-demanding and over-scheduled society however these can certainly make it more challenging.

Attention and focus exist on a spectrum 

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Attention and focus exist on a spectrum. Anyone can experience problems with attention and focus to some degree. However, in people with ADHD, the symptoms are so significant that they impair daily functioning.

These days, adult ADHD is accepted as a disorder which appears across the lifespan. There is a greater awareness of its existence and the challenges that can occur when it is not adequately treated.

Don't fall for the myths surrounding ADHD. If you think you may be struggling with symptoms related to ADHD read more about the condition and go get evaluated.

A version of this article first appeared here.

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  • Ross Wallace

    What a fantastic article !!! ADHD is often associated with depression, mood disorders, substance abuse and memories' difficulties.

  • Thank you!! You are right there is a high correlation with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Sometimes the ADHD is missed while treating the others until people just can't seem to get better until we treat both.

  • Maksim Popovic

    Patients with ADHD are struggling socially and are more likely to divorce

  • Yes, there are high rates of "distress" in marriages with an ADHD partner

  • Adrian Salerno

    It has become the most common behavioural disorder in children.

  • Grant Baines

    Thanks for demystifying all these myths

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Melissa (Wheelock) Welby, MD

Healthcare Expert

Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist that participates in people’s process of discovery, empowerment, and search for satisfaction and happiness. She treats a variety of illnesses including depression, anxiety & panic attacks, adult ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorders), bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and borderline personality disorder. She is also the current president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association.She completed her Internship & Residency at Cambridge Hospital, affiliate of Harvard Medical School, 2000 to 2004. Dr. Melissa Welby is Board Certified in General Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 2005 to present. 


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