I’m having trouble concentrating and getting work done, is it ADD? I have this conversation with patients all the time.
What is ADD?
First, we need to define and understand ADD.
According to the DSM-5, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning that it is a condition that affects the functioning of the brain beginning sometime in childhood. The condition is “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” To receive a diagnosis of ADD, you must have had some persistent difficulties with either paying attention and/or hyperactivity/impulsiveness starting before age 12.
The DSM-5 goes on to list 9 possible indicators each of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, and a person must show at least 6 indicators of either inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity to receive a formal diagnosis of ADD. Click here for self-screening tests.
Could it be Something Else?
Please keep in mind that difficulty concentrating can also be due solely to anxiety or depression, and these may also have started in childhood. To complicate matters more, ADD, anxiety, and depression are often co-morbid, meaning they frequently occur together and exacerbate each other. For example, a person with ADD can become anxious over the challenges he/she faces in completing tasks, or depressed at not being able to completing them.
Medications are usually the first-line and most well-known of the treatment options, mainly stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin. These medications work by increasing dopamine in areas of the brain involved in executive function and attention, and are very effective in treating ADD. The art is in finding the right medication and dose, as well as dealing with possible side-effects such as anxiety and decreased appetite, and the potential for abuse and addiction.
Another option is the use of specific herbs and supplements that have proved to be helpful. Unfortunately, this option is usually less effective than medications, though generally have much fewer side-effects and no potential for abuse. They include herbs such as rhodiola rosea and gingko biloba, and are generally used as adjuncts to medication.