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Living with Adult ADHD – The Struggle is Real

When many people think of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), they think of hyperactive or easily distracted children. While it is true that ADHD is commonly diagnosed in early childhood; thousands of American adults are diagnosed with ADHD every year. This post will look at some of the facts and figures for the drug. It also covers ADHD symptoms and diagnosis. Finally, it looks at the rise in Adderall abuse by college students and discusses what it’s like to be addicted to the drug. Use this information to keep yourself and others from falling prey to this awful addiction.

Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, It’s More Common Than You Think

Here are some interesting facts about ADHD:

  • Boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Approximately 6.1 percent of American children are currently taking medication for ADHD.
  • About 12.9 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lifetime.
  • ADHD affects people of all races from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Age seven is the average age for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • In the past eight years, there has been a 42 percent increase in the number of ADHD diagnoses.

The rising number of men, women, and children who are being diagnosed with ADHD is alarming. Medical experts are currently evaluating whether this increase is related to a better understanding of ADHD or if doctors are misdiagnosing and overmedicating young children to keep them less active and more compliant. The debate continues.

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The New ADHD Diagnosis

In the past, ADD and ADHD have been considered two distinct disorders, commonly grouped together or referred to as “ADD/ADHD.” Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is just what the name implies – a disorder that involves a deficit or inability to pay attention. The same is true with ADHD. The name speaks for itself – there is an attention deficit coupled with hyperactivity.  Seems simple enough, right? Well, it is important to understand that the classification of ADD and ADHD has changed. The medical community is now taking these two attention deficit disorders and categorizing them under one umbrella – ADHD. The use of the ADD diagnosis is becoming outdated. To properly diagnosis ADHD, a medical expert will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the “DSM-IV.” A psychiatrist or mental healthcare professional must follow the guidelines and criteria from the (DSM-IV) to evaluate the possible presence of ADHD. The DSM-IV has diagnostic criteria for three subtypes of ADHD:

  1. Combined (both inattentive and hyperactive)
  2. Predominantly inattentive
  3. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive

In years past, if an individual met the criteria for “ADHD predominantly inattentive,” he or she would have been diagnosed as “ADD.” Now, the individual is considered “ADHD predominantly inattentive.” If a person is diagnosed as hyperactive-impulsive, they have “ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive.” If a person is inattentive and hyperactive, the person is diagnosed with “ADHD combined.” It might seem a bit confusing. More information on ADHD is available if you need further clarification on how the disorder is now diagnosed.

ADHD Symptoms

To gain a better understanding of how the three subtypes of ADHD are diagnosed, you must first understand the symptoms. Inattention (previously considered the symptoms for ADD):

  • Fails to pay close attention to details
  • Has difficulty paying attention for any length of time
  • Has difficulty listening and following conversations
  • Is quickly distracted from tasks
  • Has difficulty following through on thoughts
  • Often loses important and valuable items
  • Avoids task that require extended periods of thought or attention


  • Inability to sit still
  • Often leaves situations unexpectedly and inappropriately
  • Inability to remain quiet
  • Is always “on the go” as if driven by a motor
  • Excessive and repetitive talking
  • Impulsive thoughts and actions
  • Often interrupts and is unable to wait


  • Experiences symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, someone must have demonstrated at least six symptoms from the complete list provided by the DSM-IV for more than six months.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates there are nearly 9 million American adults with a dual-diagnosis. When someone has ADD or ADHD and a substance abuse problem, he or she is considered to have a “dual-diagnosis.” A dual-diagnosis happens when both a psychiatric disorder and an addiction are present. Many people who struggle with ADHD also struggle with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs. Dual diagnosis means there are two co-existing disorders –ADHD and addiction. This makes diagnosis and treatment of each disorder even more challenging for health care professionals. Many people with ADHD abuse popular and highly addictive drugs because they say the use of these chemicals helps ease the symptoms of their mental condition. Typically, ADHD cannot be successfully treated until the individual’s problem of addiction has been taken care of. This means someone with an addiction and ADHD must detox and receive treatment first before they can begin the process of effectively treating their ADHD.

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The Rise of Adderall Use in Colleges

Adderall is one of the most commonly abused drugs by college students. Many students use it as a “good grade pill”. In fact, one of the slang terms for the drug is “study buddy”. One recent survey found that 24% of college students admit using the drug. ADHD medications like Adderall are attractive to students. The academic environment is very stressful. Students are always trying to do their best. This takes a lot of energy. Also, it can be hard to motivate yourself to work, especially when you’re tired. College students take ADHD meds like amphetamines to get the energy and focus they need to keep studying. The idea that Adderall is helpful is very widespread. Netflix recently released a documentary about the drug. In the trailer, one of the people they interview says that the warning on the bottle should say that “side effects include being awesome at everything.” However, this only looks at the amount of work that someone can do. It doesn’t take the quality of that work into account. But workers are expected to produce more and more in the modern economy. Many people feel like their jobs depend on working as much as possible. This mindset makes the stimulant effects of Adderall attractive. It lets people stay awake and active longer. But this comes at the cost of their long-term health. But Adderall actually hurts performance for students without ADHD. It impairs working memory performance. That means students won’t do as well on exams as they would without the drug. Also, the drug is very habit forming. Students think about how much work they did on the drug. Their brain was pumping dopamine while they did that work. That makes them remember the work in a good light. This leads to a situation where students feel like they can’t study without the drug. After all, they didn’t feel motivated before they took Adderall. Without the drug, work can seem like an even more daunting task. Students also don’t take the effects of the drug wearing off. Some people call this the Adderall crash. The brain isn’t getting the dopamine it had been. Therefore, it feels unrewarded. Also, staying awake on amphetamines spends a lot of energy. The results vary from person to person. But they include drowsiness, anxiety, depression, and more.

The Drug is Everywhere

Another reason so many college students take Adderall is that it’s easy to get. Many students have an Adderall prescription. That’s because it’s one of the primary medications used to treat ADHD. This fact combines with the reality of a 42% increase in ADHD diagnosis between 2003 and 2011. As a result, more people get the drug than ever before. That means it’s more widely available. In fact, the problem is so bad that some people fake ADHD to get a prescription. This only increases the amount of the drug that’s available on campuses across the country. There are other drugs available to treat ADHD. However, most of these drugs are different types of stimulants. That includes Ritalin, Concerta, and Mydayis. That means people can develop an amphetamine addiction even if they aren’t taking Adderall.

Understanding Adderall Addiction

Adderall is a prescription drug. That gives people the false impression that it’s safe. However, you can certainly get addicted to Adderall. Amphetamines are actually one of the more addictive drugs available today. That’s because Adderall is an amphetamine. It belongs to the same family of drugs as meth. They are both different types of amphetamines. That’s why many people just refer to them generically as “speed”. Amphetamines are stimulants. They work for people with ADHD by making their brain produce dopamine at a faster rate. This faster rate creates a regular rhythm. It’s thought that this is how stimulants help people with ADHD focus. They provide the brain a steady rhythm. That prevents neurons from firing out of sync. While dopamine production is what makes the drug work for people with ADHD, it’s also what makes the drug addictive. Dopamine is the chemical your brain releases to reward you. Usually it releases dopamine in response to specific things. This reward system evolved over millions of years. The brain rewards itself for doing things that aid survival and passing on your DNA. But Adderall changes this calculation. Dopamine production comes from a pill instead of from actions. That means your brain’s reward centers are being directly activated. That makes it harder for the brain to produce dopamine without the drug. This leads to physical and psychological dependency. That means that your brain craves the drug chemically. It wants the surge of dopamine that Adderall provides. It also means that you begin to think that you can’t function without amphetamines. That’s because you don’t get the same feeling of satisfaction while working as you do while on the drug.

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One Man’s Struggle with ADHD and Substance Abuse

My name is Jacob. I have ADHD (combined). What that basically means is that I can’t pay attention and I want to move around all the time. I am 41-years-old. I am now convinced I have suffered from this condition all of my life, but I went undiagnosed as a child. I think if I would have learned coping skills earlier in life, I wouldn’t struggle as much as I do with my ADHD. It is difficult to explain how ADHD affects me personally, but I believe it is important to try and share at least some insight into my diagnosis. I want to be an advocate for those of us who struggle with attention deficit issues or hyperactivity problems. Many people think we’re weird. The fact is, we’re just super excited and easily distracted people who want to be loved and understood. Chances are, you know someone with ADHD – whether it’s someone you love and care about or someone you know in the workplace. Understanding this illness can help you learn how to manage relationships with people who have ADHD. (I’ve been told we can be a confusing and sometimes difficult bunch). For me, my ADHD affects me in a number of ways. Inside, I feel like I just want to go, go, go. I want to talk, I want to move, I want to jump up and down! I feel like I have so much energy, but the world requires me to sit still, behave, and use my “inside voice.” It often takes everything I have to remain seated at my computer at work and get a task accomplished. It’s like the world is in slow motion and I am going a hundred miles an hour. In terms of my distractibility, people think I am rude. I interrupt people and obviously drift off to some other place during conversations. I usually don’t realize I have spaced out or that I have missed important information because I am “somewhere else.” For many years, I used meth to quiet my brain. It’s strange that such a powerful upper would calm me down instead of amp me up even more, but it didn’t. It made me feel normal. Well, I am no different than anyone else….. I ended up addicted to meth. I lost everything, including my freedom. I hit bottom and quit three years ago. Now, I manage my ADHD with medication and therapy. I am now working on the power of positive thinking to help with my ADHD. I have learned to be free from drugs and alcohol, but I have also learned to be emotionally sober. Today, life is good. Sure, I feel like randomly doing jumping jacks in my apartment as I type this out, but what else is new?   Can you relate to Jacob’s story? Do you have a dual-diagnosis of ADHD and addiction? Please share your experience here: