If you didn’t grow up hearing about ADHD, chances are you know about it now. In the 1980s, around one in every 20 children in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD, but today that number is one in 9. There is a global rise in ADHD, including a 123% increase in the number of adults with ADHD between 2007 and 2016.
So, chances are if you don’t personally have or suspect you have ADHD, someone you love probably does. Many of us probably know ADHD as having an impact on someone’s ability to focus or pay attention. We may imagine the person who can’t sit still for long periods of time and can never finish what they start. Only, there is a lot more to ADHD and the impacts can be seen and felt across many aspects of someone’s life.
Below are some of the impacts of ADHD on the lives of adults as outlined in the Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 4th Ed: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment:
This one is perhaps not surprising, given many of us probably heard of ADHD in our classrooms growing up as a way to explain why certain students (typically boys) had a difficult time sitting still and focusing on their schoolwork. Has school always been a challenge for you? You may be incredibly smart, even gifted in certain areas, but if you are living with ADHD chances are no matter how hard you tried, school was just never your thing.
Research shows individuals with ADHD are more likely to have been held back a grade, expelled from school, or to have been diagnosed with a learning disorder. They are also more likely to have received poor grades in school and lower rankings in their classes.
2. Occupational Functioning
Many adults with ADHD have experienced significant problems in their work lives. Maybe you’ve been job hopping since the start of your career, or you just never feel like you’ve found your place in the world of work. You might love elements of your job and be talented at what you do, but something about work itself—office politics, your boss, the coworkers who you don’t click with, the hours, the expectations—have always gotten in the way of career satisfation and/or success.
Research shows that these individuals are more likely to have problems getting along with coworkers, to be fired more frequently, and to exhibit behaviours that are considered problematic in work environments. They are also more likely to impulsively quit their jobs out of boredom and to be formally disciplined by their supervisors.
3. Money Management
Many of us are bad with money. I don’t remember ever being taught how to save money and budget when I was in school. A lot of us also inherit our parents issues with money—whether that be adopting their habits or rebelling against them. If you have ADHD, though, this can be an area of your life where financial difficulties get in the way of finding financial security and freedom.
When it comes to money, reserach shows adults with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty saving money and to have more impulsive buying habits. Perhaps related, they are also more likely to exceed their credit card limits and have worse credit ratings.
This one surprised me. I never thought that there was a reason for one’s bad driving—you are either a bad driver or you aren’t. Yet, this one makes a lot of sense. For many of us, we drive daily and some of us may even spend hours in the car. Driving, though automatic after we’ve learned how to do it, still requires a high degree of focus and attention.
Research shows adults with ADHD are more likely to have had their licenses suspended, to have crashed while driving, and to have been at fault in crashes they were involved in. They are also more likely to have driven without a driver’s license, to have received citations for speeding and reckless driving, have a greater number of license suspensions/revocations, and be involved in more crashes.
5. Health and Lifestyle Risks
At this point you might be feeling exasperated and thinking—wait, there’s more? Just remember that not every individual with ADHD is going to notice each of these areas of their lives being impacted. It’s also a lot more complicated than ADHD is the direct cause of all of these things. However, for some, it can be a relief to know that there is a reason that their lives look a certain way—including even these daily lifestyle factors.
Research shows there is a higher percentage of people reporting problems with sleep, social relationships, family interactions, tobacco use, drug use, seeking medical and dental care, and emotional health than adults in the community control of the studies examined. In summary, when compared to the community control (a sample of individuals without ADHD), adults with ADHD are more likely to face a number of health and lifestyle risks.
6. Sexual Behaviour
Turns out ADHD can also have an impact on our sex lives. Obviously our sex lives are influenced by a plethora of factors, including our values, religion, use of substances (or abstinence from those substanes), our sexual identity, and more. Sex is complicated and there is by no means a rule that says if you have ADHD, your sex life is going to look a certain way.
When compared against a control group, though, research has shown that adults with ADHD are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours, more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age, and more likely to engage impulsively when it comes to sex.
One of the reasons that it can be difficult to receive an ADHD diagnosis is because sometimes it is not ADHD, but something else. For the majority of individuals who receive an ADHD diagnosis, there is also something else at play when it comes to their mental health.
Research shows more than 80% of ADHD groups in the studies examined had at least one other disorder, more than 50% had two other disorders, and 33% had at least three additional disorders. The most common co-morbidities are major depression, dysthymia, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.
That is not to say that if you or someone you care for has ADHD that they are going to experience all of the above impacts. Every individual is different and will be impacted differently by ADHD, with a number of other factors playing a role into how ADHD does or does not show up in someone’s day-to-day.
For many individuals impacted by ADHD, a useful first step is to develop an understanding of what ADHD is, how it shows up, and how it is treated. Next steps can also be explored here. This is really just the tip of the iceberg and a very high-level, introductory explanation of the impacts of ADHD on adult functioning. In the words of Gabor Maté in his book Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder:
“Judgment or blaming is not the point. Understanding is.”Gabor Maté