Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a problem for adults as well as children. Read on to learn about symptoms and about how cognitive-behavioral therapy can help — often without medication.
ADHD (ADD) in Adults
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that centers around difficulties with sustaining and focusing attention, hyperactivity, or both of these. It’s also commonly called “ADD,” which refers to the same condition. ADHD is a condition often associated with childhood, but symptoms can continue into adulthood for many people. Additionally, some adults with ADHD may not have been diagnosed in childhood.
Managing ADHD symptoms in adulthood can be just as important as during childhood. However, the ways it disrupts day-to-day life are different for adults compared to children. Adults with ADHD often complain of difficulties with:
- Maintaining focus or concentration
- Getting easily distracted or sidetracked
- Finishing tasks that they started
- Time management
- Planning and prioritizing
- Staying organized
- Following instructions carefully
- Misplacing items
- Feeling restless or fidgety
Medication Treatments for ADHD
Medications are the most common treatment for managing ADHD and are effective for many people. These medications can improve your ability to pay attention, focus your thinking, and tune out distractions. The most commonly prescribed ADHD medications are a family of medications called stimulants. These include Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, and others. Prescribers also use some non-stimulant medications for managing ADHD, such as Strattera, Intuniv, and others.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD
Although medication treatments are the most common treatment for ADHD symptoms, they aren’t the only effective treatment available. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is also proven to help manage ADHD. CBT is effective whether or not you’re taking medication.
One advantage of CBT over medications in treating ADHD involves the length of treatment. The benefits of medication treatment only last as long as you take the medication. The benefits of CBT, however, endure after the therapy is concluded. This is because CBT is based in learning and practicing skills that become familiar over time. These skills remain as helpful habits into the future.
CBT skills for ADHD
CBT for ADHD involves helping you practice a combination of time management and organizational skills, and tailoring these to your personal circumstances. These include teaching you how to:
- Improve your time sense. Time sense is the ability to sense how much time has passed without looking at a clock. People with ADHD have a harder time accurately estimating the passage of time, or how long an activity will take them to complete.
- Use a planner and to-do lists to schedule tasks and build more consistency, structure, and routine into everyday life
- Break tasks down into pieces so they are easier to approach and to increase confidence in your ability to accomplish things
- Make wise decisions about prioritizing tasks
- Minimize and control common distractions
- Set up and maintain a system for staying organized in your physical surroundings
- Set realistic, attainable goals in order to improve motivation
If you suffer from ADHD, you may have already attempted some of the above. Trying them in CBT therapy can make them more likely to work than trying them on your own. A CBT therapist can help you optimally use many of the skills described above, and will typically tailor them to suit your particular challenges.
Why CBT works for ADHD
You might be wondering whether changing your daily routines and habits would just be addressing the symptoms without addressing the “core” of the problem. Perhaps ADHD does have more to do with attention than with what you do. But, building and strengthening habits like the ones in the above list can boost your attention and improve your ability to concentrate. Our ability to focus is influenced by both our environment and by what we do with our time. CBT helps you take advantage of this reality to reduce and manage ADHD symptoms.
Dealing with ADHD leads many people to experience anxiety, disappointment, frustration, and other difficult emotions. These emotions can contribute to unhelpful ways of thinking that undermine self-confidence, or lead to negative predictions about accomplishing tasks. CBT helps you re-examine and adjust your thinking. This can improve the difficult emotions that often accompany ADHD.
If you’d like to explore how CBT might reduce ADHD’s impact on your life, please contact us.