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When ADHD Goes Untreated

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ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) as a medical condition is frequently dismissed or naturalized. This lack of recognition of ADHD as a diagnosis is a common factor among the general population as well as health professionals. The lives of people with ADHD can be very different if given the proper diagnosis and treatment. In this article, we explain what happens when ADHD goes untreated and why it’s so important to seek professional help.

What does the patient with ADHD face?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder of early onset, typically chronic and often lifelong. ADHD can be characterized by inattentive symptoms, hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, or a combination of both. For a proper diagnosis, it is necessary to identify these symptoms as problematic in two or more settings of the patient’s life, such as academics, family and social life, and work.

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Over time these “problems” can be perceived as failures, interpreted as a lack of capacity, or, unfortunately, uselessness. This, in turn, may lead to the avoidance of demanding situations and possibly cause the individual to feel helpless due to a perceived lack of understanding or support from those around them. Other mental health conditions may emerge from this cycle of negative emotions and perceived “failures,” including anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse.

How can ADHD impact a patient’s life?

As time passes and negative experiences accumulate, the consequences of ADHD on one’s mental health and social well-being may increase. These factors may lead to a  deterioration in the patient’s self-concept, while the potential emergence of other conditions noted above (comorbidities), may further complicate the patient’s life. Let’s look at an example:

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Suppose we have a young adult patient who performed poorly throughout their school years and had a tendency to get in trouble, while also having difficulty making and maintaining friends. In this hypothetical scenario, let’s say the parents chalked this up as a stage and hoped that the process of maturity would eventually help resolve these issues.

To continue with the example: the patient didn’t attend college, feels insecure at their job, and has trouble establishing lasting relationships. Until now, the ADHD connection hasn’t been made,  and as a result, the patient falls into depression, and resorts to using alcohol to “forget their problems for a while.” The patient continues down this path, while still having undiagnosed ADHD, and now needs treatment to address depression and substance abuse issues. This is only a glimpse into how undiagnosed ADHD can negatively impact one’s life. 

How to lessen the consequences of ADHD?

Sometimes untreated ADHD in adults is due to a delayed diagnosis, in other cases, it may be the result of denial or a lack of understanding. It’s important to raise awareness of the existence of ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder,  and the need to intervene early in order to reduce the negative impact ADHD can have if gone undiagnosed and untreated.

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The best way to address a concern or question as to whether or not someone has ADHD is to undergo a thorough screening/evaluation by a licensed clinician, specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. If the results of the evaluation indicate an ADHD diagnosis, work with your provider to learn as much as you can about the condition and all available treatment options, then develop a thorough treatment plan and stick to it.

Part of your treatment plan options may be to make changes in your diet, develop an exercise regime, learn to meditate, and participate in medication management and therapy. In this instance, every decision made in order to enhance one’s mental health is a way to reduce the negative impact of ADHD, in order to better pursue one’s goals and passions.

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