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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

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What is ADHD?

If you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you either 1) have difficulty willfully controlling your attention, 2) exhibit troubling symptoms of impulsivity or physical restlessness, or both. ADHD is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning it starts in childhood, often persists into adulthood, and affects your brain and cognitive function. ADHD isn’t a learning disability. However, many people with ADHD also have learning disorders.

Types of ADHD  

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive type: You have more problems with paying attention and forgetfulness.
  • Hyperactivity type: You have more problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity.
  • Combined type: You have symptoms related to both inattentiveness and hyperactivity.


Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is an outdated term for ADHD that previously described the inattentive type of ADHD. Since the 1990s, mental health professionals have used the term ADHD for both conditions. You may have learned that you have ADD instead of ADHD because you experience more challenges with inattention than with hyperactivity. But these symptoms now refer to the inattentive type ADHD.

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD may cause symptoms related to inattentiveness or hyperactivity. Symptoms related to inattentiveness may include the following:

  • Getting bored easily
  • Forgetfulness
  • Becoming distracted easily
  • Being unable to sustain or pay attention

If you have hyperactivity, you may experience other symptoms:

  • Physical fidgeting and restlessness
  • Blurting out answers
  • Excessive talking
  • Interrupting
  • Trouble waiting your turn

ADHD Symptoms in Kids vs. Adults

Children with prominent hyperactive or impulsive symptoms of ADHD usually stand out. They are frequently diagnosed earlier than those with only inattentive symptoms. As they develop, children with ADHD-related hyperactivity may seem to “grow out of it” or show decreasing severity in their physical restlessness. Adults with ADHD often report struggling more with inattentiveness than with hyperactivity and impulsivity.

ADHD Paralysis

Some people with ADHD describe feelings of paralysis (feeling stuck or unable to progress) when trying to initiate or complete tasks. If you have ADHD, you may frequently procrastinate working on a task until the last minute. Then you may tend to cram or work overtime, ending up with late, incomplete, or subpar work. This can lead to a vicious cycle of unhelpful and self-defeating thought patterns that lead to further trouble initiating tasks.

Causes of ADHD

ADHD affects the functioning of your frontal lobe, the part of your brain that controls attention, decision-making, and impulse control, known as your directed attention skills. The chemical signals that control your directed attention tend not to work as well in people with ADHD. Researchers have also found evidence that people with ADHD tend to have brains that mature and develop later.

People with ADHD appear to have some irregularities in their brain’s functions, structures, and chemical signals. Some studies have shown differences in the size and shape of different parts of the brain in people with ADHD.

Experts don’t know exactly why some people have these brain differences that cause ADHD and others don’t. The biggest risk factor for ADHD is genetics. You’re more likely to have it if you have a strong family history of ADHD.

When to See an ADHD Specialist

It’s important to get an ADHD evaluation if you experience symptoms that affect your life and ability to function. Seek help if you have symptoms affecting close relationships or keeping you from completing important tasks at school, work, or home.

What to Expect During ADHD Diagnosis & Tests

Some primary care providers, including pediatrics experts, may diagnose ADHD. But you should consider seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist if you have more complex symptoms or factors that make diagnosis difficult. For example, if you have had a head injury that could cause focus and attention problems, you may need a more specialized expert. Or, if you have a long history of severe depression or anxiety, you may have trouble with concentration that isn’t necessarily related to ADHD.

The most important part of an ADHD screening is getting a thorough history of your symptoms. Your provider will ask multiple questions about your symptoms and may have you fill out questionnaires. You may also take tests that evaluate different aspects of thinking skills:

  • Intellectual functioning
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Executive function (problem-solving and planning skills)

Children often have more trouble self-reporting than adults. When diagnosing ADHD in children, providers will also rely on input from parents and teachers. 

ADHD Evaluation for Adults

During an ADHD evaluation as an adult, your provider will ask about what symptoms you experienced as a child and how those symptoms have changed over time. They may ask if you have any of these experiences:

  • You got in trouble for daydreaming during class.
  • You had difficulty completing chores.
  • You struggled to turn in homework on time.
  • You had problems with grades in school or in your relationships as a result of these symptoms.

Your provider will also ask whether any ADHD symptoms continue into your adulthood or cause problems with work, relationships, or your ability to complete tasks at home.

Are Cognitive Tests Needed for an ADHD Diagnosis?

Experts say there is no evidence that cognitive tests can be solely used to reliably diagnose patients with ADHD. There are many psychiatric and neurological disorders that have symptoms similar to ADHD, such as attention problems, physical restlessness, and impulsivity. Because of this, a patient demonstrating attention problems in a controlled test setting is not necessary. We may occasionally conduct neuropsychological tests for additional context; however, this type of test does not replace interview-based diagnostic evaluations.

ADHD and Mental Health Disorders

People with ADHD are more likely to have other mental health disorders. Children and adults with ADHD more frequently have depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, or other behavioral problems along with ADHD.

ADHD and Depression

Children or adults with ADHD may feel frustrated with their inability to manage their symptoms. This can affect their sense of self-worth and may lead to depressive thoughts.

Treating ADHD may help decrease symptoms of depression. Or you may need more targeted depression treatment.

Can ADHD Cause Anxiety?

People with ADHD often experience feelings of distress or worry about how their symptoms affect their life. In severe cases, this may develop into an anxiety disorder when they disrupt your daily functioning or relationships.

ADHD treatment may help relieve anxiety symptoms. Some people will need more specific anxiety treatments. 

ADHD Treatment

Most people with ADHD find that a combination of therapy and medication management effectively manages symptoms and improves quality of life. This treatment approach will include several options:

  • Stimulant or nonstimulant medications to improve focus and reduce hyperactivity
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to learn skills to better prioritize, organize, manage time, and cope with distractibility while also addressing unhelpful thinking patterns

Does Caffeine Help ADHD?

Experts don’t recommend caffeine to treat ADHD. Caffeine is a stimulant, so it may temporarily help improve concentration. However, it isn’t an effective substitute for ADHD medication.

Does ADHD Get Worse with Age?

ADHD does not necessarily worsen with age. However, you may experience more or less difficulty with different ADHD symptoms as you get older.

Sometimes, adults may feel like their ADHD symptoms have worsened because they tend to have more roles and responsibilities than when they were younger. This can make them more aware of and frustrated by ADHD symptoms.

Can You Develop ADHD Later in Life?

No, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, meaning it’s something you develop in early childhood. However, you may not get diagnosed until later in life.

Missing an ADHD diagnosis in childhood is not uncommon. For example, some people can mask ADHD symptoms in childhood if they’re able to do well in academics and other school evaluations. Others have schooling experiences or parents who provide a high degree of structure or significant help with homework and other responsibilities. These people may not notice ADHD symptoms until they are in college or start working more independently.

Why Choose Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI)?

When you choose HMHI, an entire team of experts works to provide your comprehensive care in a safe and healing environment. Your treatment may include psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals who collaborate to make accurate diagnoses and create effective treatment plans. You have easy access to other specialists throughout University of Utah Health as needed.

Mental Health Crisis Resources

We are here for you when you need us the most. Our team of professionals are trained in:

  • mental health crisis management,
  • suicide prevention, and
  • emotional wellness.

HMHI provides the following specialty programs and resources for you and your loved ones to prevent mental health crises and provide emotional support when needed.

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