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The Prevalence of Adult ADHD and its Emotional Consequences

It is a common misperception that ADHD affects only children. However, research has demonstrated that about 60% of children with ADHD continue to experience significant attention problems well into adulthood, and currently it is estimated that about 8 million adults in the United States have the disorder. Our awareness of this fact is growing, and for the first time the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes examples of how ADHD can appear in adults as well as children. Although millions of adults struggle with this disorder, only a small portion of these individuals are seeking treatment for their symptoms, which can have devastating effects on their emotional health, self-esteem, relationships, and professional and financial achievement.

According to the DSM-V, ADHD is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, present in multiple settings, that can result in decreased performance in social, educational, and work settings. For adults, this may present itself in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Overlooking or missing details, causing work to suffer

  • Difficulty remaining focused on boring jobs; dislike of reading for extended periods

  • Recurrent lateness, missed deadlines

  • Frequently losing items such as keys, wallet, household items, etc.

  • Feeling restless when forced to wait

  • Procrastination, resulting in long delays in responding to emails, bills, etc.

  • Discomfort with low amounts of stimulation; excessive devotion to work; talks during movies; unable to relax

  • Often impatient and irritated with others who are perceived to be too slow

The personal costs of ADHD are high. Many adults with ADHD have other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The symptoms of ADHD can directly cause these issues. For example, the frequent procrastination and anticipation of failure and disappointment that accompany ADHD can lead to chronic anxiety. The experience of falling short of one’s potential and the frustration of being unable to complete tasks on time can damage one’s self-esteem and bring on feelings of depression. Also, individuals with ADHD often believe they don’t have control over their level of achievement and financial success, and a lack of control and the experience of helplessness are hallmarks of depression. In regards to substance abuse, adults with ADHD are more prone to abuse drugs and alcohol than the general population because they are more likely to be impulsive and not consider the consequences of their consumption and because of their desire to self-medicate the depression and anxiety that often accompany ADHD.

The good news is that adults with ADHD can learn to effectively manage their symptoms and any accompanying emotional issues. A combination of counseling and medication management has been proven to be an effective treatment for the disorder. Counseling consists of helping individuals learn specific strategies that they can use to regulate their attention while also addressing the emotional consequences of living with ADHD. A primary goal of the counseling is to help clients increase their confidence in themselves to overcome and correct their deficiencies. Education is also involved in this process to increase their understanding of ADHD, which can also reduce self-blame and help them create their own strategies for dealing with their attention problems. Ideally, the counseling process helps individuals gain more control of their symptoms, which in turn gives them greater control of their success in their personal and professional lives.

For more information on adult ADHD, go to or if you are interested in treatment give me a call at 512-329-8222.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Feigel, D. (2007). ADHD in Adults – The Invisible Rhinoceros. Psychiatry, 4(12), 60-62

Tuckman, A. (2007). Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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