Do I Have ADHD? How to Know for Sure
Have you been wondering, “Do I have ADHD?” You may be having difficulty staying focused and on-task at work or home. You may have tons of energy when starting projects but difficulty finishing them or following through.You might keep misplacing your wallet, keys, or credit card. Your train of thought may often jump off the rails without warning. Perhaps you struggle with procrastination, organizational skills, or time management. These challenges may or may not be signs of ADHD.
There are few things in life more frustrating than the feeling that your mind or body is not working as well as you would like. Forgetfulness, distractibility, impulsiveness, and restlessness are all issues that make life more difficult than it should be.
When you realize that these issues have been a part of your world from as far back as you can remember, you may naturally start to wonder if something more than human imperfection is at play.
While there is never any substitute for speaking with a medical or mental health professional, this article will clarify what ADHD is, how it can affect adults and children, and look at other conditions that may better explain symptoms typically associated with ADHD.
What is ADHD?
Before you get too far down the rabbit hole of asking, “Do I have ADHD?” it’s essential to pause and be sure you understand precisely what ADHD is. To start with the basics, ADHD is short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This neurodevelopmental disorder is often misclassified as a mental health condition. Instead, it is a functional issue of the brain that has been linked to lower-than-normal levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
As with other conditions considered neurodivergent, ADHD causes those it affects to process stimuli and interact with the world differently than most people do. These differences typically cause ongoing problems with attention, concentration, hyperactivity or restlessness, emotion regulation, and impulse control. Without proper treatment, these symptoms can lead to difficulties in school, the workplace, social interactions, relationships, and overall lower quality of life.
Do I Have ADHD Symptoms?
There are three primary categories of ADHD: hyperactive/impulsive type, inattentive type, and combined type.
If you have started to wonder, “Do I have ADHD?” it is a great idea to learn more about the signs and symptoms of this disorder. ADHD symptoms typically fall into one of the first two types listed above: hyperactive/impulsive or inattentive.
Although the combined type is the most common with individuals having many of the symptoms of both types, those who have primarily hyperactive/impulsive type or primarily inattentive type will often experience a few of the symptoms in the other category, as well.
Symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity include:
- Fidgeting or squirming, even when seated
- Frequently getting up when expected to remain seated
- Running around or climbing even when it isn’t appropriate (children)
- Feeling restless in situations that require you to remain calm or quiet (adults/teens)
- Being unable to engage in quiet play or sustain participation in quiet leisure activities, unless the activity is of special interest to the individual, in which case they may experience hyper-focus.
- Seemingly driven by excess energy and always being on the go
- Speaking excessively
- Routinely answering questions before they have been fully asked
- Regularly interrupting or intruding on the conversations or activities of others
- Having great difficulty waiting to take a turn
Symptoms of inattention include:
- Routinely failing to pay attention to small details or catch careless mistakes in work or other activities
- Regularly jumping from one task or play activity to the next
- Unable to remain focused on one thing for extended periods
- Often being unable to fully listen even when you are directly addressed
- Difficulties following through after receiving instruction, struggling to complete important tasks without getting side-tracked, and often leaving projects undone
- Having difficulties with organization, prioritizing tasks or activities, and time management
- Reluctance to participate in activities that require sustained mental attention, such as homework, chores, or longer work projects, and often experiencing chronic procrastination
- Frequently losing or misplacing essential items such as your keys, phone, wallet, paperwork, glasses, or tools
For a patient to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, they must display multiple symptoms from one or both categories in multiple settings. The symptoms must significantly impact the individual’s ability to function or their quality of life and must not be better explained by another physical, mental, or developmental condition. The symptoms must also have been present for an extended period of time, dating back to childhood.
Although adults cannot develop ADHD, it’s important to understand that symptoms are often expressed differently during adulthood than they were during childhood. Many adults with ADHD often weren’t diagnosed as children. This is especially common in women and those with inattentive type ADHD, which often falls under the radar during the school years and is mistakenly attributed to laziness or not working up to potential.
Are My Symptoms Really ADHD or Something Else?
One of the most important things to note when you start wrestling with the question, “Do I have ADHD?” is that many environmental, physical, mental, and neurodevelopmental conditions can cause symptoms similar to common ADHD symptoms. This is why the process of diagnosing someone with ADHD includes ruling out other explanations for the concerning symptoms. Possible alternative root causes for inattentive or hyperactive symptoms include the following.
A stressful home environment due to a recent move, a divorce or remarriage, the death of a loved one, financial stress, or the arrival of a new child can sometimes lead to inattention and distractibility. Recent or past trauma, neglect, relational conflict, bullying, abuse, or witnessed violence can sometimes produce the same kinds of inattention, distraction, and acting-out behaviors often associated with ADHD.
Additionally, sleep problems, particularly those caused by an undiagnosed health issue, can account for any number of symptoms often attributed to ADHD. Inconsistent or interrupted sleep can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to concentrate and remain productive. Lastly, an unsuitable learning or work environment may be causing some symptoms of distraction, inattention, and restlessness.
Before anyone is formally diagnosed with ADHD, he or she should be screened for some of the physical health issues commonly mistaken for the disorder. Hearing loss, hypoglycemia, anemia, and seizure disorders can all cause symptoms that look like inattention or impulsivity. These medical conditions are more likely to go unrecognized in children who aren’t fully able to communicate what they are feeling.
For example, someone with hearing loss may be unable to follow along because they can’t hear properly, not because they are unable to concentrate. Likewise, children with hypoglycemia may show symptoms of hyperactivity, be unable to focus, or even be uncharacteristically aggressive when their glucose levels are off. Additionally, some seizure disorders may cause sufferers to appear daydreamy or distracted when, in fact, they are experiencing an absence seizure.
Mental health conditions
Bipolar disorder may be the condition most commonly misdiagnosed as ADHD. Without a detailed behavioral history, it can be easy for doctors and mental health professionals to mistake the mania of bipolar disorder for hyperactivity and bipolar’s depressive episodes for symptoms of inattention. This is especially true for people with bipolar disorder who cycle quickly between episodes of mania and depression.
Other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can produce symptoms similar to ADHD’s inattention. Meanwhile, behavior and conduct disorders may be mistaken for ADHD’s impulsivity or hyperactivity. Substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms can also cause behaviors that could be attributed to ADHD but, in reality, are unrelated.
Other neurodevelopmental disordersEven if your symptoms point to a neurodivergent condition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that ADHD is the best explanation for your experiences. Autism, OCD, processing disorders, and Tourette syndrome are all neurodevelopmental conditions that can have overlapping symptoms with ADHD. Therefore, these conditions should also be considered and ruled out before formally diagnosing ADHD.
Individuals on the autism spectrum may display inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity, or impulsivity when in an over-stimulating environment. People with sensory processing disorders may find concentration more difficult when over-sensitized. Additionally, someone with a learning disability like dyslexia or dysgraphia may find completing classwork challenging for reasons unrelated to distractibility or inattention.
Sometimes complicating the diagnosis of ADHD is the fact that many individuals with ADHD have overlapping, or comorbid, conditions. Some of the most common conditions that individuals with ADHD may also be diagnosed with have been discussed above, including
- learning disabilities
- executive functioning challenges
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- sensory processing disorder
- substance use disorders
Many people on the autism spectrum also have ADHD. If you or a loved one are experiencing or have been diagnosed with any of these other conditions, it doesn’t necessarily rule out ADHD.
Extensive research has indicated that ADHD is linked to genetics. This means that if you have immediate family members with ADHD, you are more likely to have ADHD; however, it doesn’t mean that you do. ADHD may have environmental causes, as well. Parents with ADHD may have children who do not have ADHD, and vice versa. So, although family connections are important to consider, they are not necessarily definitive.
Should I Speak to Someone About My Concerns?
No matter what symptoms or concerns have prompted you to start wondering, “Do I have ADHD?” you should speak to your primary care physician about these issues at your earliest convenience. Whether you have a diagnosable condition or not, or whether you have ADHD or not, it is always wise to speak to your healthcare team about issues that meaningfully impact your quality of life or daily functioning. Getting help starts with a conversation.
If your symptoms cause you to feel overwhelmed or unable to move forward in your work life, social life, family life, or any other area, speaking with a qualified counselor may help. The Christian counselors here at our office can help you navigate the evaluation process, find the right treatment plan, and develop strategies to live a more balanced life. Don’t wait to start finding the answers you need. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with me or another counselor today.
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