What is ADHD?

If you have ADHD, you may have difficulty paying attention in class, doing homework or carrying out work tasks at home or on the job. You might forget important dates, miss appointments or make impulsive decisions. You might struggle to get enough sleep or find it hard to wake up in the morning. You might have trouble with your relationships or be prone to arguments.

Your family history may play a role in whether you develop the disorder, but it isn’t always clear what causes it. Researchers have found that there are certain genes that increase your risk of developing ADHD. You are also more likely to have the condition if one or more of your siblings does. There is also evidence that environmental factors such as low birth weight, smoking or exposure to toxins during pregnancy can contribute to the development of ADHD.

In addition to medication to control symptoms, treatment for ADHD can include psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments. Psychotherapy can help you learn better ways to cope with distractions, manage your emotions, and improve communication skills. It can also teach you how to manage your time and organize your daily activities.

Medications can reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and make it easier to focus, learn and work. It is common for several different medications and doses to be tried before you find the right one that works for you. If you choose to take medication, it is important that you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. You can find information about ADHD medications on the NIMH Mental Health Medications webpage and the FDA website.

Even without treatment, ADHD can cause problems at school or work and strain relationships. In addition, untreated ADHD can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and problems with money and jobs. Symptoms can also cause serious accidents. Children with untreated ADHD are more likely to have academic failure, social problems and drop out of high school. In adults, untreated ADHD can result in poor performance at work or in relationships, and it can lead to depression, substance use, anxiety, mood swings and self-destructive behaviors such as gambling and risky sexual activity.

While there is no cure for ADHD, treatment can significantly reduce your symptoms and improve functioning. A comprehensive evaluation by a trained professional is the best way to diagnose the condition. Your provider will ask you about your family history, conduct a physical exam and give you psychological tests. Treatment should begin within 30 days of diagnosis and be continued monthly until your symptoms are under control. Then treatment should be tapered off gradually. It is safe to stop taking ADHD medication if you decide it’s not working for you, but you should discuss your decision with your physician first. In some cases, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is the best approach. Many people with ADHD live happy and successful lives with proper care.

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