April 15, 2013 at 6:45 PM ET
Life was chaotic for Alyson English. “My mind constantly raced from one thing to the next. I assumed that’s how it was for everyone,” says the 33-year-old mom from Huntsville, Ala. Indeed, that’s how it was for English’s son, too, when he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 6. “While researching his diagnosis, I realized I had the same symptoms when I was a child, and I still had them,” says English, who was finally diagnosed with ADHD when she was 31.
An estimated 9 million adults have ADHD, and that number is expected to grow thanks to better diagnostic tools and a heightened awareness about the disorder in both kids and adults. “We weren’t as aware of ADHD decades ago, which means many adults were never properly diagnosed when they were children,” says Zinia Thomas, M.D., a psychiatrist in St. Louis. While kids with the disorder are thought of as fidgety, hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive, ADHD looks different in adults.
Signs of Adult ADHD
“The lives of adults with untreated ADHD are littered with half-finished tasks,” says Dr. Thomas. That’s because they procrastinate, underestimate a project’s scope or get easily sidetracked.
Adults with ADHD have rooms and work spaces that are strewn with papers; their keys and important documents “vanish;” and bills and appointments often get overlooked.
Poor impulse controls manifest as interruptions, excessive talking and inappropriate, sometimes volatile, reactions.
Adults with ADHD are four times more likely to be in a car crash because they’re easily distracted.
Adults with untreated ADHD are twice as likely to be divorced or separated.
Frequent job changes and poor performance reviews are common because it’s difficult to manage tasks and stay organized.
One-fourth of kids diagnosed with ADHD have a parent with the disorder.
If these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your primary doctor who can refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. Medication is a treatment option—for some it can be a life-changer—but it isn't always necessary. Therapists, life coaches and professional organizers can help adults with ADHD develop better time management and organizational skills with or without meds. The result? “What I thought was anxiety was actually ADHD,” says English. “Once I had the right diagnosis and treatment, my life got a complete organizational makeover, which made everyone in my family happier.”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.