When looking for information related to Adult ADHD, one will quickly find considerable information using terms such as ADD, ADHD, or even AD/HD. This creates a lot of confusion about the correct terminology and name of the disorder. The correct name is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There are three subtypes of ADHD, primarily inattentive type, primarily hyperactive type, or combined type. Even using the term “Adult ADHD” is a bit misleading as it is not an actual disorder name, but more of a casual classification to highlight adults with the disorder.
One reason that there is so much use of incorrect terms like “ADD” by prominent people, is that the disorder is actually poorly named to begin with. Anyone dealing with ADHD as an adult or a child will tell you that it is much more than having trouble focusing. The core neurological issue behind ADHD is an under functioning of the Prefrontal Cortex, mainly an underproduction of the neurotransmitter Dopamine. This leads to trouble with stimulus selection (i.e. focusing one’s attention) and/or trouble selecting responses to stimuli (i.e. behaviors). When someone’s Prefrontal Cortex is functioning properly they are able to create a very important “pause” that allows them to have a choice in what to focus on and how to respond. Further compounding these issues are the social and psychological stressors that accompany repeated failures to perform. These stressors (i.e. problems with friends/family, occupational struggles, etc.) lead to engrained emotional responses and thought patterns that foster shame, guilt, and lack of confidence. When anyone (with ADHD or not) is feeling shameful and lacking self confidence, they are less apt to perform well in social and occupational settings.
If we are going to move the field of treating adults with ADHD forward, we may want to think about broadening the scope of the name of the disorder. Something that incorporates terms like executive functioning, stimulus selection, motivation, or performance, may help. However, we are very far away from the DSM team coming up with a fresh new name for this disorder. Until then, we must expect/demand that leaders in the field use the correct terminology. For example, Daniel Amen’s new product is called Healing ADD at Home in 30 Days. There are a multitude of problems with this title, from the fact that he uses the term ADD to making a claim that it can be “healed” in 30 days. ADHD is life long disorder that when treated appropriately can be managed tremendously well. However, saying things like “healed” can create false expectations that ultimately lead to unattainable goals.
There are no examples of someone telling a diabetic that they have a “sugar problem” and that they can “get over it” in a few weeks. Adults and children with ADHD deserve the same level of respect when talking about their disorder.
Phil Boissiere, MFT specializes in the treatment of ADHD in adults and couples in San Francisco, Menlo Park, and the Silicon Valley. He is available for interviews and article contributions on the topics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Adult ADHD, Group Psychotherapy, or Teen Drug Prevention.