Struggling at Work? If It's ADHD, There's Help

The author of "Driven to Distraction" suggests educating yourself and considering medication.

Video: ADHD

Video: ADHD

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If the news that adults with ADHD lose 22 days' worth of productivity at work each year because of the disorder sounds all too familiar, a chat with Edward Hallowell might cheer you up. Ned, a psychiatrist with ADHD, which typically has symptoms such as impulsivity and inability to focus, says this seemingly scary finding may actually help more people identify a condition that's making them miserable and get help. Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction and CrazyBusy, talked to U.S. News about the disorder in adults. Excerpts:

About 3.5 percent of adults have ADHD, according to this study of workers in 10 countries, including the United States. Those people say that they have 22 more days of lost work time that do similar people who don't have ADHD. Does that number surprise you?
I think it's probably low. We don't have a precise way of diagnosing ADHD or ADD, and the screening tools used in this study err on the side of being conservative. The main point to stress is that this is good news. This is a condition, like nearsightedness, that we can really help. There are a lot of people underachieving out there in the workplace who could really do much better.

It's amazing to see that people around the world have ADHD, with the highest numbers in France, the United States, and the Netherlands, and the lowest in Spain.
We've known for quite a while that ADHD occurs around the globe. These people tend to be creative and original and think outside the box. They tend to have great resilience and tenacity. Getting the right kind of help can make all the difference.

If I think I may have adult ADHD, what should be my first step?
Find a doctor who knows about adult ADHD or ADD. That can be difficult. You have to stress adult, because a lot of people treat ADD in children, not adults. If you don't see someone who understands that, you'll probably just get a pill. And that's not enough.

What else would I need?
Right at the top of the list is education—learning about this so you don't think that you're just a dingbat. Learning that you have talents and that it's a different way of being wired. If you have problems with being organized, maybe a coach can help you. You want to make sure you're in a job that pulls for your talents. Don't beat your head against a wall.

Anything else I can do right away?
Physical exercise helps a lot of people with ADD. So does getting enough sleep. A lot of time people stay up too late on the computer. I call it screen sucking; you just can't log off. It combines structure and stimulation and novelty (which are particularly seductive to people with ADHD).

The most common treatment for kids is stimulant drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall. What about using those?
Adult medications are exactly the same; the same doses of the same medication. Now there's a warning that you should have an electrocardiogram (EKG) before taking these drugs, and also make sure your blood pressure is OK. Stimulant drugs have been around for about 70 years. If used under proper supervision, they're safe.

How about nonmedical treatments?
Some people recommend omega 3 fatty acids, others recommend super blue green algae. There's also low-energy neurofeedback and cerebellar stimulation exercise. These are all anecdotal, though. We need more studies to validate these.

I'm convinced that the most effective treatment is love—though there's no double-blind study on that. I'm just finishing up writing a book for parents of children with ADD, and the ones who do best have the parents who hang in there. I'd say the same is true for adults. What an adult needs more than anything is what a child needs; someone who believes in him or her.

What's been most helpful for you in dealing with ADHD?
Marry the right person, find the right job. I really see my ADD now as an asset in my life. The curiosity, the energy, the imagination is an advantage for me. I wouldn't trade it for the world.