Adult Attention Deficit Disorder: A Real Concern

Psychiatry and Psychology CategoryAdult attention deficit disorder or AADD is characterized as a condition causing inattentiveness, organization problems, procrastination and difficulty completing work. It is believed that adults can see an onset of AADD later in life maybe as a carryover from childhood, but in order to receive a diagnosis you must have had symptoms as a child. The condition has differing levels of severity so treatment options vary all the way from coping skills to medication to control the symptoms. Medical intervention will come with some unwanted side effects so many patients opt for social counseling and other less invasive treatment options.

FocusADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is similar to AADD but research has shown that one third of the adults affected with AADD do not show any hyperactive behavior. Thus, the medical community has taken to using the AADD term instead.

In the brain of patients with AADD, executive function is impaired. This is the function that governs a person’s ability to monitor their own behavior by organizing and planning. This disorder affects approximately 2 to 4% of adults.

AADD patients are often the types seen by others as not thinking before they speak or act. They are sometimes referred to as a Type A personality or an always on the go individual. While they may seem to be driven, it is noted that they are rarely focused on one task long enough to see it to completion. In a recent study, three different groups of AADD patients all scored much lower than non-AADD adults on a dual memory and simultaneous capacity test, demonstrating their inability to concentrate in such situations. While this may seems like a small step, this recognition helps prove AADD to be a real concern.

As mentioned, treatment options vary depending on the severity of symptoms. For some AADD patients the symptoms are bad enough that medications along with social therapy are prescribed. Some of the more popular prescription medications are Ritalin, Adderall or Vyvanse. Ritalin is the most commonly known medication and is used in the treatment of ADD in children with some success. Adderall is a psychostimulant and Vyvanse (also used for children) is a stimulant as well.

It may seem strange that stimulants are prescribed for a disorder that sometimes causes hyperactivity but they are effective in many cases. This is thought to be accomplished by coaxing the brain to manufacture more serotonin. Increased serotonin has been shown to have a calming effect. This not only treats the hyperactive symptoms but may allow an adult to focus on their tasks at hand and see them to completion.

As recognition of AADD grows, more studies may lead to new treatments and an increased awareness of the disorder.


Dige, N., Maahr, E., Backenroth-Ohsako, G. (2008). Memory Tests in Subgroups of Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Reveals Simultaneous Capacity Deficit. International Journal of Neuroscience, 118(4), 569-591. DOI: 10.1080/00207450701239384

  • Anonymous

    I think we do not really know how the stimulants helping with AADD work. Their primary target are norepinephrine and dopamine receptors, not serotonin. SSRI’s, used for depression etc., target serotonin receptors, and they are not very useful with AADD.

    Now, some believe SSRI’s eventually modulate dopamine. And stimulants would eventually modulate serotonin? 🙂

    A common belief is that the brain of an AADD sufferer is not fully awake, and stimulants help with this.

  • Traman

    An alternative explanation (or maybe not – could really be the same thing) for why Adderall, et al., working is that ADD/ADHD are due to an “issue” (I don’t necessarily believe it’s anything but a natural statistical variation combined with environmental stimulus changes) with switching between outside and inside “stimulus” (related to mirror neurons, etc.). With ADD/ADHD the outside stimulus too easily disrupts the internal flow of internally generated stimulus. Hyperfocus occurs because certain internal tasks happen to be strong enough themselves or are able to create a positive feedback loop that creates a sustained block against external stimulus.

    Stimulants speed up the internal stimulus which comes to competitively dominate over the external stimulus. This is sort of like driving faster prevents you from noticing you could have made a left or right turn as you drive through the blocks – you’re going too fast to notice them. The fact that most pre-treatment/pre-diagnosed adult ADD/ADHDers self medicate with caffeine and are prone to “abuse” of illicit stimulants seems to support this idea.

  • Pam

    My husband has been somewhat ADD as long as I have known him and both our kids are diagnosed with ADD and helped very much by medication. But now my husband, at age 62, is diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. It is very confusing because the early symptoms overlap so much with the ADD. Is anyone doing research on the relationship between ADD and Parkinson’s in general or Lewy Body Dementia in particular? I did some searching but couldn’t find anything.

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  • i have this! i’m not being treated for it though. i had add in school to when i was younger but the meds they put me on didnt work.

  • @Traman So true.

    I thought brain blogger was experienced and academic. Everyone knows that Adderall and Ritalin are not serotonin releasing agents. No, they release dopamine and norepinephrine instead. It’s actually that extra stimuli ADD’ kids and adults need. The reason we use strong stimulants such as amphetamines to treat ADD is that there is no way to target prefrontal neurons and their dopamine concentration, thus the use of stimulants increase the entire brains dopamine levels and executive planning, executive function and more is improved. Get your facts straight brainblogger.

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Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD

Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD, has written about medical research, medical procedures, food ingredients, herbal remedies, pharmaceutical drugs, condo construction, real estate and computer consulting to mention a few.

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