Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in children. However, symptoms of ADHD can continue throughout the teen and adult years. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 4.4% of adults have a current diagnosis. Managing this disorder as an adult presents challenges, especially for women whose behaviors present differently than men.
Adult Symptoms of ADHD
Recognizing ADHD in adults is more challenging than in children due to how this disorder presents at different ages. For example, children are more likely to exhibit outward signs such as an inability to sit still, interrupting conversations, difficulty focusing on tasks, and excessive movements when not appropriate. In contrast, adults have more subtle manifestations of this diagnosis due to both a greater understanding of cultural norms and general maturity. Adult symptoms* include:
- Difficulty organizing tasks at home or work
- Frequent changes of interest in hobbies
- Being easily distracted by noises/other stimuli
- Excessive talking, talking over others
- General forgetfulness
*This is not a replacement for medical advice. Any concerns about behavior should be discussed with a medical or mental health professional.
How ADHD Appears in Adult Women
Women are less likely than men to be diagnosed with ADHD. 5.4% of adult men have a current diagnosis while only 3.2% of females survey respondents have. But why is there such a discrepancy in these numbers? Often, women learn to mask their behaviors, resulting in missed diagnoses. “Masking” is a term used to describe a person’s ability to change their behavior to better align with societal norms or pressures. This makes it more challenging for women to receive an accurate assessment of their symptoms.
Similarly, women may have their challenges dismissed for various reasons. For example, a woman who talks excessively may be labeled as overbearing or a gossip. Lack of organization and forgetfulness might be attributed to laziness or “mom brain” for those who are parents. A noticeable deficit in motivation followed by hyperfixation on a task could lead providers to consider bipolar disorder, thus delaying accurate treatment.
Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis
As an adult, it can be more challenging to receive an ADHD diagnosis, but it’s not impossible. Providers can be wary of this disorder specifically due to the abuse of medication used to treat it. However, people are diagnosed in adulthood if certain criteria are met. Generally speaking, a person must exhibit:
- Five or more symptoms of inattention for six months or longer
- Five or more symptoms of hyperactivity for six months or longer
- Several symptoms must have been present before age 12
These must significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function in work, home, or school settings. Either a medical or licensed mental health provider can provide or refer someone for a diagnosis. The process usually involves both formal and informal assessments.
Women with ADHD and Substance Use Disorders
Adult women who are living with undiagnosed ADHD may turn to alternative methods in order to cope with their symptoms like alcohol and drug use. This often complicates the treatment of both disorders, especially if a provider is considering treating ADHD with medication. Similarly, it’s also possible that a woman who has been on medication for could develop a dependence, resulting in a substance use disorder. However the two have come to co-occur, this combination of diagnoses requires specialized treatment.
At Canyon Crossing, we offer dual diagnosis treatment that fully addresses all of your presenting concerns. Through our therapeutic services, you will develop coping skills to better manage symptoms both individually and in group settings. Our mental health treatment utilizes multiple modalities to provide comprehensive support for every woman in our center. We know that substance use disorders don’t exist in a vacuum, so our goal is to address every concern. Whether you need long-term rehab or intensive outpatient treatment, our Arizona center is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our services.