by Lynn Schnurnberger, September 26, 2010
Tara Kennedy-Kline’s husband, Chris, loved her free spirit when they were high school sweethearts. But nearly 20 years later, he found her behavior alarming. The mother of two from Shoemakersville, Pa., was still careening from career to career and disappearing for hours without bothering to call. She took out a $7000 loan to start yet another new business—and blew all the money shopping. By the time a therapist diagnosed Kennedy–Kline with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) four years ago, the couple were on the brink of divorce. Like millions of Americans, they’d learned that ADHD, often thought of as a childhood disorder, can have devastating consequences for adults.
A Brain Like a Multiplex
“My mind is always jumping all over the place,” says Dr. Louis DeLuca, 45, a plastic surgeon and ADHD sufferer in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s like having 16 movies going on in your head, all at the same time.” In addition to a lack of focus, symptoms including disorganization, impulsiveness, bursts of anger, and difficulty finishing tasks are so severe that they impair performance at home, work, or in social settings.
“ADHD is a developmental nerve disorder affecting the part of the brain associated with planning, organization, and impulse control,” explains Dr. Lenard Adler, director of the Adult ADHD program at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Symptoms begin early in life, and while many children outgrow them, up to 50% don’t. Though ADHD is the most common psychological problem after depression, 75% of the estimated 8.8 million adult sufferers in the U.S. go their entire lives without being diagnosed.
Lost Jobs? Failing Marriages?
Left untreated, adult ADHD can wreak havoc. People with the disorder are eight times as likely as the general population to take dangerous risks and twice as likely to get into traffic wrecks; they are also more prone to drug and alcohol abuse. Adults with ADHD are 50% more likely to be unemployed, and those who do have jobs earn about $15,000 a year less than others who are equally educated, according to a recent Harvard study.