Adults with ADD: An overview

Paul H. Wender, Lorraine E. Wolf, Jeanette Wasserstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

367 Scopus citations

Abstract

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD) is a common, genetically transmitted neurological disorder, with onset in childhood, probably mediated by decreased brain dopaminergic functioning. The first author was one of the earliest to describe the persistence of symptoms into adulthood. Prevalence and natural history data suggest that of the 3 to 10% of children diagnosed with ADD, one- to two-thirds (somewhere between 1 and 6% of the general population) continue to manifest appreciable ADD symptoms into adult life. This paper describes how ADD in adults can be readily diagnosed and treated, despite resembling or coexisting with other psychiatric disorders. The Wender Utah diagnostic criteria address adult characteristics of the disorder. Informant and patient interviews and rating scales are used to determine the psychiatric status of the patient as a child, make a retroactive diagnosis of childhood ADD, and establish the current diagnosis of the adult. Stringent diagnosis is key to determining effective treatment. Dopamine agonist stimulant medications appear to be the most effective in treating ADD. About 60% of patients receiving stimulant medication showed moderate-to-marked improvement, as compared with 10% of those receiving placebo. The core symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, mood lability, temper, disorganization, stress sensitivity, and impulsivity have been shown to respond to treatment with stimulant medications. Non-dopaminergic medications, such as the tricyclic antidepressants and SSRIs have generally not been useful in adults with ADD in the absence of depression or dysthymia. Pemoline is no longer appoved for use in these patients, despite early favorable reports. Appropriate management of adult patients with ADD is multimodal. Psychoeducation, counseling, supportive problem-directed therapy, behavioral intervention, coaching, cognitive remediation, and couples and family therapy are useful adjuncts to medication management. Concurrent supportive psychosocial treatment or polypharmacy may be useful in treating the adult with comorbid ADD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Volume931
DOIs
StatePublished - 2001

Keywords

  • ADD
  • Adult psychiatry
  • Child psychiatry
  • Dopamine
  • Psychiatric diagnosis
  • Stimulant medication

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