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Taking Charge of Adult ADHD

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD

5.0 6
by Russell A. Barkley, Christine M. Benton

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For adults with ADHD, problems with attention, planning, problem solving, and controlling emotions can make daily life an uphill battle. Fortunately, effective help is out there. No one is a better guide to how to get the best care—and what sufferers can do for themselves—than renowned ADHD researcher/clinician Russell A. Barkley. Dr. Barkley provides


For adults with ADHD, problems with attention, planning, problem solving, and controlling emotions can make daily life an uphill battle. Fortunately, effective help is out there. No one is a better guide to how to get the best care—and what sufferers can do for themselves—than renowned ADHD researcher/clinician Russell A. Barkley. Dr. Barkley provides step-by-step strategies for managing symptoms and reducing their harmful impact. Readers get hands-on self-assessment tools and skills-building exercises, plus clear answers to frequently asked questions about medications and other treatments. Specific techniques are presented for overcoming challenges in critical areas where people with the disorder often struggle—work, finances, relationships, and more. Finally, an authoritative one-stop resource for adults with ADHD who are ready to take back their lives.

See also Dr. Barkley's bestselling resource on childhood ADHD, Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This wonderful book presents information and sharp clinical insights accrued over decades of work by a preeminent leader in the field. Dr. Barkley clearly and thoughtfully discusses the causes of adult ADHD and how to get diagnosed and treated. A 'must read' for anyone interested in learning more about adult ADHD."--Lenard Adler, MD, author of Scattered Minds; Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine

"Dr. Barkley’s advice to individuals who have ADHD (or think they might) represents a remarkable blend of science and practicality. This book offers a lifeline to adults with ADHD and their families."--Michael Gordon, PhD, Director, ADHD Program, Department of Psychiatry, State University of New York Upstate Medical University

"Consider this book the Rosetta Stone of adult ADHD. No one but Dr. Barkley could translate the sophisticated grasp of ADHD for which he is well known into lay terms and solid strategies. Comprehensive, immensely practical, highly readable, and wholly compassionate, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD is the definitive guide for adults with ADHD and the people who care about them."--Gina Pera, author of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
"This book will surely become a classic. If you are an adult with ADHD, Dr. Barkley can help you make sense of your lifelong struggles and develop a clear roadmap for overcoming them. Stories and examples from others facing the same challenges bring Dr. Barkley's ideas to life. I will certainly recommend this easy-to-read yet scientifically based book to everyone who comes through our adult ADHD clinic."--J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, Codirector, Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program, University of Pennsylvania

Children's Literature - Cathi I. White
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not a disorder just for children. ADHD affects adults as well. The author states that two thirds of children who have ADHD still have it when they are grown. Children with ADHD are helped by using different accommodations and techniques; but what about the adult with ADHD? How does he deal with this disorder? What about his job, education, family, friendships, and his own lifestyle? Dr. Barkley uses this highly educational book to assist adults with ADHD in recognizing ways to know more about themselves and handling situations in their life. For example, he gives a list of eight rules to change their lives to have success where they may have failed in the past. For instance, adults with ADHD can be very impulsive, blurting out responses, making the same mistakes repeatedly, even though they know better. One rule is for the person to interview themselves. If they ask such questions as: have I been in this situation before, or what did I do last time; these questions will help them to have more self-control, think through and have a better response. Little hints like these will make the life of an adult with ADHD easier and more rewarding. In addition to the rules for success, there are tips for accomplishments with jobs, education, relationships, money, health, and other areas. This informative book also instructs readers how to evaluate their ADHD, work on self-control, and how medication may help. The appendix lists symptoms of ADHD, resources for websites, ADHD clinics, and books to read. The author has done an excellent job with a wonderful book that is a must-read, hands-on book for everyone who has ADHD. Reviewer: Cathi I. White

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Taking Charge of Adult ADHD

By Russell A. Barkley, Christine M. Benton

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2010 The Guilford Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60623-711-3


Is It Possible That You Have ADHD?

Do the experiences you just read about sound familiar? These are the voices of adults with ADHD. The first comment strikes at the very heart of what ADHD is. It's a succinct description of the serious time management problems that ADHD creates for adults in their daily lives.

Do you feel like you're often out of sync with the clock, with schedules and agendas? Always late or scattered or unsure what to do with the limited hours in your day? If so, you know it's no fun feeling like you're constantly letting yourself and others down by missing deadlines and appearing to stand people up for dates and appointments. You know it's hard to maintain a sense of adult accomplishment and competence when those around you think they can't count on you to get things done. Maybe it's time to change all that.


Of course time management troubles aren't caused only by ADHD. But if you share some of the other problems described by the people above, ADHD might be the culprit. And if it is, there's a lot you can do to change your life for the better.

Quickly run through this list and check off each question you'd answer with a "yes."

[] Do you have trouble concentrating?

[] Are you easily distracted?

[] Do you consider yourself highly impulsive?

[] Do you have trouble getting or staying organized?

[] Do you find yourself unable to think clearly?

[] Do you feel like you always have to be busy doing lots of things—but then you don't finish most of them?

[] Do people say you talk too much?

[] Is it hard for you to listen closely to others?

[] Do you jump in and interrupt others when they're talking or doing something—and then wish you had thought first?

[] Does your voice seem to carry over everyone else's?

[] Do you struggle to get to the point of what you're trying to say?

[] Do you often feel restless inside?

[] Do you find yourself forgetting things that need to get done but are not urgent?

Only a professional evaluation can tell you for sure whether you have ADHD. But the more questions you answered "yes," the more likely it is that you have this disorder. What I can tell you right now is that reams of scientific data show an association between complaints like these—and hundreds of similar ones—and ADHD in adults.

The data also tell us how severe the fallout can be. ADHD can make people spend their paycheck on something fun right now—and never save enough money for their monthly or annual bill payments or for that vacation or car or house they'll want even more tomorrow than the purchase that seemed irresistible today. It can make them bet it all on an investment that a little patience and research would have revealed as a bad risk. It can make you say and do all kinds of things you later regret. Sound familiar?

But, you might be thinking, I can't possibly have ADHD. I'm not hyperactive! My brother (or sister, nephew, childhood pal, classmate) had ADHD when we were kids, and he was constantly fidgety, restless, and "hyper," always acting out in some embarrassing way. I'm not like that.

One of the things we're beginning to understand well about adult ADHD is that hyperactivity is seen more in kids with the disorder—but then it usually declines substantially by adolescence and adulthood. Often the only thing that's left of hyperactivity in adults with ADHD is that feeling of restlessness and the need to keep busy that you may know well.

If you think you might have ADHD, there are good reasons to seek an evaluation:

[check] We're coming up with lots of answers that could help you. Adult ADHD is becoming well understood by science even though the disorder hasn't been recognized in adults for that long.

[check] This disorder can hurt you more than a lot of other psychological problems—and it can hurt you every day, everywhere you go. ADHD is more limiting in more areas of adult life than most other disorders seen in outpatient mental health clinics.

[check] And there's a lot more help, in the form of effective treatment options and coping strategies, than for a lot of other disorders that affect adults. ADHD is one of the most treatable psychological disorders.


If you think about how long you've been struggling to manage your time, to concentrate, and to control your impulses, would you say it's been just weeks or months or more like years? Picture yourself as a child: Were you dealing with any of the same problems then? Do you remember also having trouble sitting still in school? Finishing a hobby project? Following the rules on a playing field?

The adults with ADHD that I've studied, diagnosed, and treated have varying memories of the types of problems you checked off earlier. Many were not diagnosed as kids. Sometimes their pediatrician didn't believe ADHD was real. Or their parents didn't think "being hyper or not being able to focus was a reason to take a child to the doctor," as one man diagnosed in his mid-twenties reported. These people may have bought the myth that there was nothing wrong with them that sheer willpower wouldn't cure. Sometimes people end up undiagnosed because they fall into a gray area between ADHD and non-ADHD symptoms or because they had other problems that muddied the picture.

Going undiagnosed as a child doesn't mean you don't have ADHD.

Having less severe problems managing time, concentrating, and controlling impulses than you did as a child doesn't mean you don't have ADHD.

Being hyperactive as a child but not as an adult doesn't mean you don't have ADHD.

But not having any ADHD symptoms as a child probably does mean you don't have ADHD. ADHD-like symptoms that arose only in adulthood or that haven't been going on for very long are probably being caused by something else—a brain injury or other physical illness, for example.

If you don't clearly remember having the same problems you just noted when you were a child, is there someone who knew you well then that you can ask? A parent? Brother or sister? Ironically, the same problems that make it hard for people with ADHD to get things done on time, make wise choices, and even get along with others can make it tough for them to trace their own history accurately—at least until they've reached approximately their mid-to late 20s. I'll explain why in Step Two.

? I didn't have any problems as a child, and I haven't had any brain injuries. Isn't it possible that ADHD hasn't caused me any problems till now because of my intelligence? I scored high on IQ tests in elementary school.

Except in school and possibly at work, intelligence is unlikely to protect you from experiencing impairments. Intelligence is not the only factor involved in domains like family and social functioning, driving, crime and drug use, dating and marital relationships, and, in fact, most others. High intelligence wouldn't necessarily have protected you in these areas if you had ADHD symptoms. Sudden appearance of problems in adulthood is highly likely to be caused by something other than ADHD.

? I think I may have ADHD now even though I didn't have any concentration or other problems when I was younger. Maybe I was just compensating for my ADHD in other ways?

In our research, the average number of major life activities in which adults with ADHD said they were often impaired was 6 or 7 out of 10. ADHD causes serious impairment across all the domains of adult life, from education to work to family. It would be nearly impossible to make it through childhood, adolescence, and even early adulthood by "compensating" somehow. Most professionals would have a hard time accepting the idea that ADHD had not interfered with a person's functioning until adulthood without strong evidence that parents and schools had made extraordinary efforts to help. ADHD is defined by lack of compensation during the childhood years—not by successful compensation during those years!


Only a qualified professional can help you fully answer that question. Still, checking off any of the following questions that you'd answer "yes" will help you figure out whether to pursue a diagnostic evaluation. In our research-aimed specifically at understanding adult ADHD, we've found the following nine criteria most accurate in identifying the disorder.

Do you often ...

[] Easily get distracted by extraneous stimuli or irrelevant thoughts?

[] Make decisions impulsively?

[] Have difficulty stopping activities or behavior when you should do so?

[] Start a project or task without reading or listening to directions carefully?

[] Fail to follow through on promises or commitments you make to others?

[] Have trouble doing things in their proper order or sequence?

[] Drive much faster than others—or, if you don't drive, have difficulty engaging in leisure activities or doing fun things quietly?

[] Have difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or recreational activities?

[] Have difficulty organizing tasks and activities?

Did you check off four of the first seven symptoms on this list, or six of all nine symptoms? If so, you are highly likely to have ADHD. In that case you should seek an evaluation from an experienced mental health professional if you have not done so already.


ADHD is not a category that you either fall into or don't. It is not like pregnancy. It's more like human height or intelligence. Think of it as a dimension, with different people falling at different points along it.

So where on that dimension is the division between "disorder" and "no disorder"? It's where impairment in a major life activity occurs. Symptoms are the ways a disorder expresses itself in thoughts and actions. Impairments are the adverse consequences that result from showing those symptoms. The table below lists typical impairments caused by ADHD in childhood and beyond.


Now you should have a fairly good idea of whether you might have ADHD and should consider a professional evaluation:

[] Do you have at least four to six of the nine symptoms now?

[] Do they occur often in your current life?

[] Have you been having these troubles for at least 6 months?

[] Did they develop in childhood or adolescence (before 16 years of age)?

[] Have your current symptoms resulted in adverse consequences (impairment) in one or more major domains (education, work, social relationships, dating or marital relationships, managing your money, driving, etc.)?

[] Did you experience adverse consequences from these symptoms in childhood?

If you can answer "yes" to all of these questions, there is a high probability that you have ADHD. Read on to find out what you can do about it.


Can You Handle the Problem on Your Own?

Believing you might have ADHD can feel like a huge relief: At last you have some idea of why your life has been so tough. Problem solved, right? All you have to do now is read a couple books like this one so you know how to deal with the deficits ADHD imposes.

Not so fast. There are some very powerful reasons to get professional help, both for diagnosis and for treatment. This chapter will explain in more depth what one man in his 30s put so plainly:

"I've tried extremely hard over the past few decades to deal with my ADHD on my own and feel I've done OK. But now I think I need some help. I'm tired of being a 'skipping stone' as far as careers go and would really like to settle and excel as I KNOW I can."

In brief, these are the reasons to get professional help:

[check] To make sure your symptoms aren't being caused by a condition other than ADHD that requires attention

[check] To discover whether your problems are being caused by a combination of ADHD and another condition

[check] To get the prescription medication that's proven to give a huge boost to coping efforts if you do receive a diagnosis of ADHD

[check] To find out where your strengths and weaknesses are so you can aim your coping efforts exactly where they're needed

All great reasons to form a relationship with a doctor who can prescribe the right treatment for you.

Convinced? If so, feel free to turn directly to Chapter 3. But if you need to know more about why you should not try to handle this problem alone, read the rest of this chapter.


Let's go back to the idea that knowing you might have ADHD can be a relief. We've found that finding a name and a neurobiological reason for many of your struggles is, in itself, therapeutic. When you know what's wrong, you can stop beating yourself up for not being able to just shake off your problems. But you can't truly know you have ADHD without that evaluation. Only a seasoned mental health professional has the training and judgment to apply the diagnostic criteria you learned about in Chapter 1. Without that kind of background, you won't be able to factor in the nuances that define the line between signs of ADHD and symptoms that can be found to lesser degrees in the general population of adults. Nor will you be familiar with the other psychological and psychiatric disorders that cause problems with attention, concentration, and working memory so that you can distinguish between those and ADHD.

Just as important, a qualified professional can direct you to any medical tests or procedures you need to ensure that your symptoms are not a result of brain injury or illness, as noted in Chapter 1.


Even if Chapter 1 gave you a strong feeling that you have ADHD, you need a professional evaluation to make sure ADHD tells the whole story. It would be incredibly demoralizing to address ADHD and still struggle because some other problem has gone undiscovered and untreated. If an evaluation turns up coexisting disorders (called comorbidity), you'll be given not only a diagnosis and some information about your disorder(s) but also a list of treatment recommendations—the first step on your way to leaving behind your life as a "skipping stone."


You can read all about the medications used to treat ADHD in Step Three. What's important to know right now is that where ADHD symptoms are concerned, medication works. It improves the symptoms. It is effective in a large percentage of adults—fewer than 10% will have no positive response to any of the drugs approved for use with ADHD. Medication even seems to temporarily correct or compensate for the underlying neurological problems that are likely contributing to the ADHD in the first place.

A lot of other treatments and coping methods have little effect unless the person with ADHD is also taking medication. In our experience, adults with ADHD who choose not to try medication following their diagnosis typically return within 3–6 months asking to go on it once they realize that all the other options are not addressing their problems very well.


A professional evaluation involves several steps. These steps are designed to look at your difficulties from a number of angles to make sure important facts aren't overlooked or signs misinterpreted. But if the process seems repetitive or drawn out to you, keep in mind that the evaluator is trying to rule out things that are not causing you problems as well as identify what is causing you trouble. There's another reason to be patient with this process too: in differentiating among all the possible causes of your symptoms, the practitioner will also be unearthing valuable information about your personal strengths. Knowing where you shine in life skills and natural abilities will help you and your therapist choose coping strategies that are tailored to help you most. Artistic talents and engaging personalities, for instance, don't come from having ADHD, but you can learn to use these gifts to compensate for ADHD symptoms. Or you can identify a career path that draws on these strengths.


Excerpted from Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley, Christine M. Benton. Copyright © 2010 The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author


Russell A. Barkley, PhD, ABPP, ABCN, is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Barkley has published numerous books and five assessment scales, plus more than 260 scientific articles and book chapters on ADHD, executive functioning, and childhood defiance. He is also the editor of the newsletter The ADHD Report. A frequent conference presenter and speaker who is widely cited in the national media, he is past president of the Section on Clinical Child Psychology (the former Division 12) of the American Psychological Association, and of the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology. His website is www.russellbarkley.org.
  Christine M. Benton is a Chicago-based writer and editor.


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Taking Charge of Adult ADHD 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
CANookOwner More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read on adult ADHD--and I have read several since my diagnosis 15 years ago. It provides excellent self-assessment tools, clear explanations of the symptoms and their manifestations; and practical suggestions for managing ADHD. I've gained new perspectives on problem-solving and self-regulation. The book is presented in a format that accommodates ADHD people: There are bulleted lists, concise paragraphs, and small boxed sections with tips and important information. Dr. Barkeley demonstrates an clear understanding of our challenges and presents numerous suggestions for overcoming them. I can open the book to any section and find something engaging and useful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found out a lot I didn't know about Adult ADHD that I didn't know before reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The recommendations in this book are simple, straight, forward and doable. The author is very supportive at the same time.
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