By Darrik Cheney
ADD, or attention deficit disorder, is a very common disorder that continues to grow in both numbers of sufferers and in its impact on everyday life and culture. Maybe you have noticed you have a hard time concentrating and maintaining focus at work. Maybe your child takes hours to complete a simple homework assignment. If you are noticing any of these issues with attention, concentration, memory or focus, it is likely that you have wondered whether it could be ADD. What exactly is ADD and how do you know if you have it? And how can you treat ADD without dealing with additional side effects that come with prescription medication? You do have options. Here are the facts you need to know about ADD.
What exactly is ADD?
ADD stands for attention deficit disorder. Attention deficit disorder is a syndrome of the brain that affects the way the brain functions. It can have an impact on concentration, memory, organization, motivation, learning and activity.
You have probably heard the terms ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) used interchangeably, but there are some distinctions. Most people use ADD to describe the condition without the “hyperactive” component. The definitive authority regarding terminology for psychiatric disorders is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This is what medical professionals use to define various conditions. The definition and terminology of ADD and ADHD has changed many times throughout the past 30 years. The current terminology groups ADD and ADHD both under the umbrella of ADHD, but further separates the diagnoses of ADHD into three types: Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation, or Combined Presentation. So when a person talks about having ADD, they are most likely referring to ADHD without the symptoms of hyperactivity.
So how prevalent is ADD? We hear a lot about it, but what are the real facts and numbers? According to statistics reported by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in the United States, 11% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD. That means that since medical professionals have recognized ADHD as a diagnosis, approximately 6.4 million children have been diagnosed. In the 2-5 year-old age group, the diagnosis has increased by 50% since last reported in 2008. Interestingly, the percentages vary by state, with Nevada having the fewest ADHD diagnoses (5.6%) and Kentucky with the most cases of ADHD (18.7%). About 4 in 10 children are being treated with medication for the condition, and this is the most common treatment. 1 in 10 children received behavior therapy, and even less received both medication and behavior therapy. Many children have been diagnosed but are not receiving treatment. The standard of care is that children over the age of six should be treated with behavior modification and medication, and children under the age of six should be treated with behavior modification before trying medication.
So that covers children, but what about adults? ADD doesn’t just go away when you get older, but as children diagnosed with ADD grow up, they learn coping skills that often give the impression of a “cure.” Despite great coping skills, diagnoses of ADD in adults is growing exponentially. Approximately 30 to 60% of adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as a child continue having symptoms as an adult. It is estimated that 4.4% of the adult population has ADHD, but less than 20% actually seek some kind of help for the condition. During their lifetimes, 12.9% of men will be diagnosed with ADHD, and 4.9% of women.
Why the increase in the number of people diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? The answer is unclear. Theories to explain the increase abound. Some researchers hypothesize that parents and physicians are getting better and recognizing the symptoms, while others believe that people are too willing to jump on the bandwagon and medicate their children–a case of over diagnosis. Still others theorize that the increase in ADD can be linked to preservatives or food additives, or environmental pollution. There is no definitive answer to this question, but the fallout from the increased number of diagnoses continues to impact everyday life for millions of people.
It is obvious that ADD is something that a large percentage of the population has to deal with, not just as a condition they suffer with themselves, but also as a condition suffered by loved ones, parents, children, employees, and students. ADD has a huge impact on the culture of our schools and workplaces.
The way teachers, administrators and students deal with ADHD in the school system has changed dramatically, reflecting the increased number of children diagnosed. They have no choice but to change the culture of the classroom to minimize the impact of the condition. Many classrooms include several children with an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD impacts learners in the classroom in many ways:
- Children have trouble staying on task, not finishing homework assignments and not following through with group projects. This can impact all the children in the group.
- Kids with ADHD may get frustrated easily, and have difficulty working with others in a group setting. Often they miss social cues, and especially in grade school, this can lead to altercations with other students.
- Some kids with ADHD have trouble being quiet in the classroom. Statistically, many kids with ADHD are extremely smart and have a high I.Q., but they still struggle in a classroom setting. They may want to share the amazing thoughts they are having, but this leads to talking too much, interrupting others, and distracting other students.
- Kids without the hyperactive component may appear to “space out” or not pay attention in the classroom, when in reality they are focusing very hard on one aspect of the lesson that may have been taught several minutes before.
All of these potential classroom behaviors also have an effect on the kids without ADHD, because the way the classroom functions can be disrupted. Educators have had to change classroom procedures to accommodate different learning styles.
Adults see a different type of impact with a diagnosis of ADHD. While working, adults who are diagnosed with ADHD may have trouble sitting at a desk for long periods of time, difficulty working in groups, trouble with maintaining concentration, or difficulty with time management or procrastination. Many adults with ADHD are experts at coping with potential hurdles. They write lists, set alarms, take frequent breaks and plan meticulously to lessen the impact in the workplace.
For more information about the impact of living with ADD, and ADHD, and how CBD oil can be used see The Truth About Treating ADD or ADHD with CBD Oil
How do I know if I have ADD?
The signs and symptoms of ADD are similar for adults and children, but they do vary a bit. In children, the indicators of ADHD can be divided into three types of symptoms: Inattentive, Hyperactive, or Impulsive. Inattentive signs that your child might have ADHD are difficulty remembering things, not paying attention or staying focused, and having trouble staying organized or misplacing things. Hyperactive children may have difficulty sitting still, fidget all the time, talk a lot, and may lose their tempers frequently. Signs of an impulsive diagnosis include acting without thinking, guessing and blurting out answers, and temper tantrums. Because the symptoms are so varied, and because most of these behaviors are normal behavior in children from time to time, it may be difficult to make the initial diagnoses.
In adults, there are five main areas that may indicate ADHD:
- Lack of focus or hyperfocus (to the exclusion of other things).
- Trouble with time management, forgetfulness or motivation.
- Emotional issues such as depression, poor self-image or anxiety.
- Difficulty with relationships, partly due to impulsive behavior, boredom or lack of attention which is interpreted as not caring.
- Health issues due to poor eating, forgetting medication, difficulty sleeping, or substance abuse. Adults with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty with misusing substances in an effort to self-medicate.
Of course, many of these warning signs occur in the general population and do not automatically indicate ADHD, but when an adult exhibits multiple signs and symptoms, it may be time to check with a medical professional.
Because the number of adults with ADD is growing, and statistics show that that number will continue to increase, the World Health Organization has produced an 6-question adult survey that may help you decide whether you need to speak to a medical professional about a possible diagnosis:
- How often do you have trouble wrapping up the final details of a project, once the challenging parts have been done?
- How often do you have difficulty getting things in order when you have to do a task that requires organization?
- How often do you have problems remembering appointments or obligations?
- When you have a task that requires a lot of thought, how often do you avoid or delay getting started?
- How often do you fidget or squirm with your hands or feet when you have to sit down for a long time?
- How often do you feel overly active and compelled to do things, like you were driven by a motor?
These questions are answered with “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often or Very Often.” If many of your answers fall into the sometimes, often or very often categories, there is a series of 11 more questions that might help define the condition. Both sets of questions are only intended to be a very early indicator of a possible diagnosis, they in no way confirm a diagnosis of ADHD.
There are several online assessments that may give you an idea about whether you have some symptoms of ADD, and whether you might need to talk to a medical professional.
Still not sure if you or your loved one might have ADD? Check out Classic Signs of ADD/ADHD.
How do adults deal with ADD?
Part of the problem adults have when negotiating modern-day life with an ADD diagnosis is the numerous distractions that are with us every hour of the day. One of the biggest distractions are cell phones. 82% of all adults have cell phones, and more than 60% say that they sleep with their cell phones right next to their beds. This means that there truly is no downtime, we are always available, 24 hours a day. It is difficult for anyone to concentrate on a project or conversation when the phone is constantly buzzing with incoming texts or social media alerts. In a person with ADD, these constant interruptions are even harder to ignore.
Cell phones are not the only culprit, all types of media can affect our ability to concentrate. Many restaurants have multiple large screens with different sports programs playing constantly. In the workplace, many people juggle several devices including computers, phones and tablets, as well as constant interruptions of co-workers throughout the day. The synergistic culture of most workplace environments, cubicles, and shared workspaces mean that it can be very difficult to find a quiet place to focus while at work. Even people who work at home have to cope with distractions–the phone, the TV, the doorbell, and the refrigerator!
According to Ari Tuckman, psychologist and author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD, there are consequences of poorly managed ADD, both for children and adults. According to Tuckman, “For kids, [not treating ADHD carries] all the risks that parents worry about. Doing badly in school, having social struggles, greater substance use, more car accidents, less likely to attend and then graduate college. For adults, untreated ADHD also affects job performance and lifetime earnings, marital satisfaction, and likelihood of divorce.”
Although adults with ADD learn coping mechanisms to help them to function in the modern world, additional treatment is important. It is not wise just to ignore or try to “get over” this medical condition.
One of the most common treatments considered after an ADD diagnosis is medication. Stimulant-type drugs are most commonly prescribed medications. It often takes several attempts to get the dosage just right, especially in children. The benefit of these kinds of drugs are that they work immediately, but they are not without risk. There is a link between stimulant medications and sudden heart-related problems. If the ADHD patient already has a heart condition, they should not use stimulants. Other types of drugs used to treat ADHD are antidepressants. The negative of using antidepressants is that it may take weeks to see any change in behavior of symptoms. Antidepressants can also increase risk of suicide in children or adolescents, although that link has not been established in adults.
Behavior therapy is sometimes used in conjunction with medications to treat ADHD. This can include treatment by a psychologist, family therapy, parenting help for parents of ADHD children, and skills training for adults. Behavior therapy is helpful in addition to medication, but is not always effective on its own, especially for severe symptoms.
For information about managing ADD at work, find more tips at Microdosing Sativa for Adult ADD a Potential Treatment
Can CBD improve my ADD symptoms?
Because traditional medications can come with side effects and a high price tag, many alternative options have been explored that may be helpful to people with ADHD. Here are four alternative treatments for ADHD:
- Changes in diet. Although sugar does not cause ADHD, many ADHD patients, especially children, seem to do better on a low-sugar diet. Dr. Ben Feingold, who is an allergy doctor, created the Feingold Diet for ADHD patients. The diet eliminates artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives in order to reduce hyperactivity. Although the efficacy of this diet has not been proven, parents do report improvement with this diet.
- Chiropractic care. Some chiropractors believe that muscle tone affects the brain, and that adjusting the spine can have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.
- Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a type of behavior therapy that trains people with ADHD to focus their brains. According to Web MD, “Neurofeedback is based on findings that people with ADHD have more theta waves than other people. They also have fewer beta waves. Supporters believe that training the brain to increase the fast beta waves and decrease the slow theta waves can lower ADHD symptoms.”
- Exercise. Parents of ADHD kids and adults with ADHD already know that exercise helps with restless behavior. Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, with a similar effect on the brain as the drug Ritalin. But it appears that more exercise is even more effective. An elementary school in Texas saw dramatic results when the increased the number of recess breaks from one a day to four. As reported on the Today Show, first grade teacher Donna McBride has seen great improvement in her classroom. “Some five months into the experiment, McBride’s fears have been alleviated. Her students are less fidgety and more focused, she said. They listen more attentively, follow directions and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything. There are fewer discipline issues.”
- CBD (cannabidiol). Cannabidiol or CBD is one of more than 80 compounds found in the marijuana or hemp plant. CBD has no mind altering or “high” effect on the brain, like the more commonly known THC. CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to affect the brain and improve the way the body’s own endocannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors. CBD can also affect other non-endocannabinoid receptors, such as the dopamine receptors. CBD has been studied for use in multiple medical conditions, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, anxiety, depression, ADHD and many others.
Many of these alternative treatments for ADHD are still experimental, but research in this area is increasing. With CBD in particular, research is still in its early phases, although some studies show a positive treatment outcome. A study reported in European Neuropsychopharmacology involved 30 adult patients with ADHD who were treated with a cannabinoid medication, Sativex, in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The study concluded that “Effects across multiple measures showed consistent improvements in cognition and behavior. ADHD may represent a subgroup of individuals that gain cognitive enhancement and reduction of ADHD symptoms through the use of cannabinoids.”
You should never attempt alternative treatments without the advice of a medical professional who can help you decide how to include alternative treatments into your care plan. While treatments can be effective, you need to be sure you have complete information. For example, although medical marijuana, which may include CBD, is legal in most states, different states have different rules regarding its use. Your doctor can be a helpful source of information about standard as well as alternative treatments.
As rates of ADHD continue to increase, it is critical that society implements more ways of dealing with the consequences of this condition. In reality, many of the “fixes” for ADHD would be highly beneficial for the general public. We all should eat healthier foods, and avoid preservatives and artificial additives. We all can benefit from more exercise. Who wouldn’t be more productive in a workplace or classroom with fewer distractions? And, of course, all of our relationships would benefit from simply putting down the phone for a few hours a day.
Discovering that you have ADD doesn’t need to mean lifelong medication and frustration, it may simply be a wake up call that leads you to a healthier lifestyle.
Interested in the science behind the results? Check out Can CBD be an effective treatment option for ADD and ADHD?
Darrik Cheney is a content crafter, marketer, and anthropologist who grew up in D.C. and Minnesota. He studied Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Brigham Young University, and seeks to continually apply the study of culture in presenting relatable and relevant content. Follow him on Twitter @darriklc.
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