The Shocking Occurrence of ADHD in Mothers – Not Just Anxiety or Depression

The shocking occurrence of ADHD in mothers often goes unnoticed, as women are diagnosed with ADHD less frequently than males, and their symptoms persist into adulthood. The outcome? Many women live with an illness that impacts every area of their lives, including childbearing, without their knowledge.

ADHD is a common childhood disorder, but boys are diagnosed more than twice as often as girls. This is not because boys are more susceptible. In contrast, their symptoms are typically hyperactive-impulsive, which makes them more obvious. On the other hand, girls may exhibit inattentiveness and produce no noticeable disturbances in their environment, resulting in their condition being disregarded.

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The difficulty is that these girls frequently enter adulthood untreated. At that point, their capacity to manage becomes more difficult, their ADHD symptoms are significantly worse, and the disorder affects multiple facets of their lives. And the problems only intensify when these women decide to have children. The diagnosis and treatment of the illness, which affects over 4 percent of U.S. adults, can save lives.

The Effects of Untreated ADHD on Adulthood

Dr. Marilou Jimenez, director of the Addiction and Mental Health Center at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Maryland, states that most women do not outgrow the symptoms of ADHD they experienced as children. As adults, individuals may have a negative self-image, struggle with social obligations and relationships (studies indicate that people with ADHD have double the general population’s divorce rate), and be unable to plan and complete things on time. They are likewise susceptible to underachievement and less success than their classmates.

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Hope Gilchrist, a registered clinical professional counselor in Baltimore whose patients have ADHD, states, “Sometimes they are scattered by life events.” Some may have held many jobs or changed careers owing to boredom or too many responsibilities.

According to David W. Goodman, M.D., at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, many of those affected also have at least one comorbid condition, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, tics, learning disorders, and substance abuse. A study of ADHD in adults in the United States revealed that much more females than males obtain treatment for mental or drug abuse issues. Yet, only approximately 12% of adult females with ADHD receive therapy for the disorder.

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The Effects of Untreated ADHD on Parents

Women with untreated ADHD may experience parenting difficulties. “Depending on the age of the children, some mothers may experience a bit more anxiety when attempting to deal with the structure that may accompany motherhood. Those who have a better handle on it may maintain notes and place reminders in calendars but still find it difficult to keep everything organized,” says Gilchrist. “They may also suffer with a sense of being all over the place and then feel inadequate as a mother,” the passage continues.

Moreover, these women tend to have reactive or easily triggered emotions. In turn, their tolerance for frustration decreases, resulting in irritation and tantrums with their children. “Women may be required to work and care for their children. These tasks necessitate diverse skill sets in addition to a high level of frustration tolerance to prevent outbursts and task abandonment, “says Dr. Goodman.

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Other pressures can potentially worsen the situation. During the coronavirus epidemic, for instance, stay-at-home orders provide difficulty for the ADHD-afflicted working mother, especially if she is required to homeschool her children. According to Dr. Goodman, disarray reduces a parent’s capacity to assist with education and even teach organizing skills to their child. In addition, distractibility results in poor task completion and unreliability; poor time management results in chronic tardiness and can cause anxiety in the youngster.

Dr. Goodman says that COVID-19 does not assist the comorbid link between ADHD and alcohol and substance misuse. Dr. Goodman states, “The current isolation has drained women with ADHD, and some of them may drink more to get through the day.” In the end, these medications just aggravate the woman’s daily functioning, causing a downward cycle.

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Gilchrist has also witnessed women utilizing wine or alcohol to cope with the disorientation they experience, or the effort required to remain focused and complete chores.

Moreover, cannabis is often used as a coping mechanism to relax and de-stress. A simple search on Instagram revealed roughly 20,000 posts, including the #420mom hashtag or a variant thereof. Dr. Jimenez considers the use of cannabis as a coping mechanism to be a sensitive and personal matter for which women should seek individual consultation but warns against its usage to treat depression, anxiety, or other behavioral issues. “Women with ADHD might perpetuate the vicious cycle, as co-morbid illnesses exacerbate their attention dysregulation,” she explains.

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How to Seek Adult ADHD Therapy

It is very uncommon for mothers to discover they have been living with ADHD when their child develops concentration challenges and is subsequently diagnosed by a professional. “After the parent confronts the diagnosis with their child, the mother frequently finds that she has had the same symptoms her entire life,” says Dr. Jimenez, whose research also shows that ADHD runs in families.

However, it is essential to get therapy as soon as possible. Dr. Goodman urges people, particularly moms, to educate themselves on ADHD. “If a woman struggles with concentrating, restlessness, disorganization, or other comparable concerns, she should seek a diagnosis and explore treatment options with a specialist. Treatment of the underlying cause is crucial,” says Dr. Jimenez.

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Additional signs to watch out for include low self-esteem and mood problems, drug and/or alcohol abuse due to poor impulse control and/or in their pursuit of social approval, and excessive worry due to increasing obligations as they pursue higher education, marriage, parenthood, or a career. There are various resources for learning more about ADHD, including the Children and Adults with ADHD Association.

Medication with or without stimulants is typically prescribed to minimize distractibility, develop working memory, and improve organizational skills, among other things. Dr. Jimenez notes that acquiring academic accommodations is beneficial if the woman is still in school. Psychotherapy and/or psychotropic drugs are advised for those with sequelae to mood and anxiety.

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Yet, treatment can have life-altering effects. “Patients express remorse for not seeking care earlier, often blaming their parents for not obtaining help for them earlier in life,” explains Dr. Jimenez. For the first time, they feel they are in charge of their lives.

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