Let me tell you about a success story of mine, a college student who I’ll call Carrie. Carrie is about to finish her sophomore year in college after a very, very rocky start to her college career. She was a bright, enthusiastic and vivacious high school student who managed to get by through her intelligence, her energy, and being able, at the last minute, to get her work done. She also had very supportive teachers who gave her the benefit of the doubt if she did turn in assignments late.

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Now, Carrie thought she might have ADHD but she never went for help. She actually was kind of skeptical about it and thought she just needed to try harder. So she was active in the high school drama club and actually went off to college hoping to become a playwright someday. So, after arriving at college, Carrie became very active in one of the drama clubs on her campus. She began to stage-manage and she started hanging out with all of the drama club students and was enjoying a great deal, and contributing great deal, to the activities of that organization. She also used the same studies, strategies that she had used in high school. So she talked a lot in class but never really read all of the assignments and she’d waited until the last minute to do the reading or to turn in the papers. She found herself cramming for the exams. It turned out that she ended up spending too much time with her extracurriculars and not enough time studying.

So after failing two classes in her spring semester, Carrie was asked to take an academic leave of absence from her college. She came back home and was evaluated in our program and we did in fact diagnose her with ADHD. We explained to her exactly how it was that she had managed to do fine until college and that she had managed to get by until she was in this unstructured learning environment. We spent a lot of time teaching her about adult ADHD, we started her on an ADHD medication, and she began coming for weekly cognitive behavioral trainings sessions.

Ask_Experts_ADHD_and_College_Students_y8zpLAOver the course of the next few months, she began to get more and more comfortable with the diagnosis and with figuring out what she needed to do to get difficult tasks done. She managed to get a job in selling tickets in local theater company and eventually she decided to take some courses in community college. She did extremely well and she really figured that she was now ready to go back to college.

She went back this past year and has done exceptionally well, getting most As and a few Bs, keeping herself very organized and able to balance the lifestyle that she wants. She’s able to get the studying done that she wants, she’s able to participate in the drama club and guess what, she’s pursuing her dream of becoming a playwright and is now a full-fledged English major in good standing.

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Eva O’Malley, ADHD Adult: My son’s ADHD was diagnosed when he was six and I call it his gift to me because it eventually got me to where I am now. After so many years of researching and looking for answers and going to doctors, I started to become very clear about some of these behaviors that are existing in my world as well.

Adults with ADHD often get labeled with some very mean things like “lazy”, “rude”, “crazy” – things that you know are attributable to some of their symptoms, and it hurts. I’m guilty of doing this to my children because my daughter was diagnosed when she was 20.

I couldn’t understand why a 20-year old could not do these basic things. 

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After I was diagnosed it was easier for me to be aware that people’s behavior is not necessarily all that’s going on. And just to look past the behavior and to look into what’s driving the behavior is more important. So those labels then fall off of the people that are “rude” and the people that are “lazy.”

My daughter’s issues all of a sudden became crystal clear once I was diagnosed. It wasn’t selfishness, it wasn’t laziness. It was ADHD.

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Let me tell you about a patient of mine named James who is 27 years old and has had a history of some serious substance abuse problems. Now James was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school, and around middle school decided he didn’t want to take medications anymore. Beginning in late middle school and early high school he started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol, and eventually began to use other substances like cocaine, and finally, by the time he was finishing high school – and he barely graduated – James was using prescription opiates.

After high school he worked for a few years as a janitor, but this addiction to OxyContin got the better of him. He finally was in an accident, got a DUI, and was court mandated for treatment; and they discovered that he not only had an alcohol abuse problem, he also had marijuana and opiate addition. For this he was given the diagnosis of polysubstance abuse and was started in an outpatient treatment in our facility.

So James was started on suboxone to help him withdraw from opiates, and he was also started on citalopram because he was complaining of depression; and he was able to maintain sobriety, but he had a real tough time concentrating and getting simple things done. He wasn’t completing simple tasks around the house. He tried to go back to work and found it very difficult to stay focused on his job duties, and was reprimanded for coming in late.

So as a result, we then were asked to consult with, and lo and behold, we realized that, even though he was being treated for addition, he still had the ADHD that plagued him as a child. So we added OROS methylphenidate, and we began having him come for weekly cognitive behavioral therapy sessions in which he relearned what ADHD really is for someone his age, and where we began to help him overcome some of his negative attitudes about learning routines and doing things that required mental effort.

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James had dreams, wanted to do something with his life, but had always avoided them and had turned to substances to help him with things that made him anxious like social relationships.

As time went on, James began to talk about wanting to start his own business, and lo and behold, he was able to get started in this business. He sells collectibles online, and over the last few months he’s been so successful that he’s actually hired an assistant. What James likes to say now is that he wished that he had continued his treatment for administered; maybe he would have avoided substance use disorder. But he takes it all in stride.

He’s got a wonderful attitude, feels very positive about his life, and actually has offered to go and talk to some of the other patients in the recovery program to help them realize that some of them may, in fact, have ADHD that they ought to get treated.

So, I bring up this story of James in order to get you to think about the fact that maybe some of your patients who are in your office with other problems like substance use or alcoholism, or people who can’t quit smoking, maybe some of them have ADHD underlying all of their difficulties, and it would be worthwhile for you to learn how to assess them and maybe begin them in treatment because it could make a huge difference to their lives.