Once an an adult with ADHD, always an adult with ADHD? Not necessarily.
There’s some new research out suggesting that adults with ADHD can experience improvements in their symptoms. The study, from researchers in Brazil, tracked the symptoms of 344 adults with ADHD over the course of seven years.
They found that on average, the adults’ symptoms declined with age. This result indicates that for some, ADHD symptoms do get better over the course of adulthood.
For others, though, it turns out that ADHD symptoms can also get worse. In fact, 13 percent, 25 percent and 17 percent of the participants saw their inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive symptoms become more severe over the course of the study respectively.
So ADHD symptoms in adulthood may be more variable than we thought. It appears that symptoms can improve over the years, or become more pronounced.
As is often the case in ADHD, it was the people with comorbid conditions who ended up getting the worst deal. Those who had oppositional defiant disorder or social phobia on top of ADHD were less likely to experience a drop in symptoms over time, and those with alcohol use disorder were more likely to experience escalating symptoms.
This research is fairly preliminary. Although we know that ADHD symptoms fluctuate over time, there’s pretty much nothing we know about why they fluctuate or how we can use this knowledge to improve treatment.
What this research doesn’t mean is that adults with ADHD can improve their symptoms through sheer force of will. There are complex neurological processes going on underneath that influence the trajectory of ADHD over time, processes that not even professional ADHD researchers understand at this point.
Rather than banking on our symptoms going away, then, what we can do is continue honing our ability to manage our symptoms and cope with the disorder. You don’t know whether your symptoms will become more severe in the long-run, but you know you that either way, can reduce the negative impact of those symptoms on your life by learning to live with the disorder.
And who knows, is it so far-fetched to believe that there could be some self-reinforcing cycle here – that it could turn out that managing ADHD more effectively ultimately reduces ADHD symptoms, which in turn makes it easier to manage ADHD effectively, and so on? I’m going to choose to believe that’s possible and keep on learning to cope as best I can.