Is it My ADHD or Something Else?
“Am I just getting old, or is the ADHD getting worse?”
“Is my worsening distractibility the ADHD, or is it the recent stress?”
“Is my son’s defiance just typical adolescence, or is it his ADHD?”
ADHD professionals are often asked questions like these. The answer is yes…and yes. ADHD doesn’t explain everything, but it is always there, and so it is a part of everything. Other co-existing disorders, or even an overload of normal life challenges, can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. And the inverse can happen. The effects of ADHD can lead to excessive anxiety, and the anxiety may contribute to sleep problems. Then, the sleep deprivation and anxiety can lead to more difficulty with distractibility, activating, and sustaining attention. It can be a vicious cycle.
It is not all bad. Normal aging doesn’t make living with ADHD easier, but mature adults are often resourceful in simplifying their lives and using effective strategies. There is also help for managing stressful life circumstances. As for the defiant adolescent, I’ve found that one of the best treatments is finding support for the parent. I often joke that medicine for the parents is the best treatment for adolescents with ADHD. Sometimes it is no joke!
Insufficient sleep can be a big problem for anyone with ADHD. Adults and adolescents with the disorder might be able to sleep once they get into bed, but they don’t want to get into bed. Here’s why: ADHD brains gravitate toward stimulating and novel activity. Which do you think is more stimulating and novel, going to sleep or staying up and doing the next thing? And if the next thing involves staring at a screen, that device may be reducing the brain’s natural melatonin, contributing to alertness at a late hour.
Think holistically about treating ADHD. If you are depressed, your ADHD symptoms will likely be worse because of it. Treating the depression indirectly treats the ADHD by preventing symptoms of both from snowballing. When families are dealing with an adolescent who has ADHD, the whole family system may be affected, and family therapy can help. Marital therapy can save a marriage, but the therapy must not overlook the effects of ADHD on the relationship (check out adhdmarriage.com and add.org). Expecting only the family member with ADHD to make all the adjustments can be as unfair as expecting everyone else to simply accommodate the individual with ADHD.
Living well with ADHD means knowing how it interfaces with our relationships, our moods, and our lifestyle. You cannot “fix” ADHD once and for all, but you can modify your environment and change your lifestyle. If you find it difficult to do so, there is plenty of available help. You don’t have to do it alone, and it is better to do it with help than continue to suffer and cause suffering. The Resources page on my website is one place to explore some available resources.