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Man with high-functioning ADHD

Understanding High-Functioning ADHD

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Is it possible to be successful in school and at work if you have untreated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder? You might be inclined to say no – but you may want to hold off on giving your final answer until you’ve read today’s post about high-functioning ADHD.

What Is High-Functioning ADHD?

To understand high-functioning ADHD, it can be helpful to begin with a quick review of what it means to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ADHD is characterized by “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” 

The inattentive aspect of ADHD can cause a person to frequently exhibit behaviors such as:

  • Making careless mistakes, often because they failed to pay attention to details
  • Forgetting to keep appointments, return messages, pay bills, and meet other basic responsibilities
  • Appearing to not pay attention when spoken to
  • Having difficulty organizing their tasks and materials
  • Failing to complete projects, often due to losing focus
  • Avoiding jobs or tasks that require sustained concentration

Examples of behaviors in the hyperactivity-impulsivity category can include:

  • Talking excessively
  • Blurting out answers, finishing other people’s sentences, and otherwise being unable to wait their turn in conversations
  • Being unable to remain still, which can include an inability to stay in their seat during classes or meetings
  • Taking over projects or tasks that others started, without asking to participate or being invited to do so
  • Fidgeting, tapping their fingers, and otherwise appearing to be perpetually restless

The DSM-5 notes that the functional consequences of untreated ADHD can include:

  • Lower academic achievement
  • Higher rates of unemployment
  • Elevated risk of substance abuse
  • Disrupted relationships with family members
  • Social rejection
  • Greater likelihood of traffic accidents

However, not everyone who has ADHD will experience these types of setbacks. Those who have what is informally referred to as high-functioning ADHD are able to do well in school, advance in their careers, and achieve success in other areas of life. 

To be clear: People with high-functioning ADHD experience the same types of symptoms as everyone else who has this condition. This is reinforced by the fact that there’s no entry for high-functioning ADHD in the DSM-5. 

The diagnostic criteria are the same and the disorder is the same, regardless of what level of success a person achieves. As we’ll discuss in greater detail later in this post, the primary difference is the degree to which these symptoms impair a person’s ability to establish and maintain a productive and satisfying lifestyle.

Does High-Functioning ADHD Need to Be Treated?

People often seek mental health treatment because the symptoms they have been experiencing have prevented them from living what they envision as a full, satisfying life.

Since people with high-functioning ADHD have been able to achieve their personal, academic, or professional goals, does this mean that they don’t need treatment?

Not exactly.

Experts aren’t sure why some people with ADHD are able to function so much more effectively than others. Here are a few theories:

  • Those who have high-functioning ADHD may have inherently developed compensatory skills to counterbalance the impact of their ADHD symptoms. 
  • Some people with ADHD have fewer or less intense symptoms, which allows them to function at a higher level.
  • Certain people with high-functioning ADHD may have found ways to benefit from some characteristics of this condition (such as inquisitiveness, energy, creativity, and moments of intense focus).
  • Some individuals who only have one type of ADHD symptom (either inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive) may pursue careers that don’t require them to rely on capabilities from the same category as their symptoms. 

One commonality among these theories is that none of them suggest that ADHD offers an across-the-board benefit. Even if people are able to use certain ADHD symptoms to their advantage, they are still likely to be living with other symptoms that make life more challenging.

Also, continually having to employ compensatory skills or make symptom-influenced career decisions can be a source of ongoing stress, which can exacerbate ADHD-related distress and potentially trigger a co-occurring mental health concern.

In other words, even people who have what looks like high-functioning ADHD can likely benefit from treatment. 

Problems That Can Arise From High-Functioning ADHD

In the previous section, we noted that achieving success while living with untreated ADHD can be quite stressful, and could result in an intensification of symptoms or the development of a co-occurring condition. 

Here are a few other problems or difficulties that can arise if you don’t get effective care for high-functioning ADHD:

  • Strained or lost relationships with family and friends
  • A perceived need to hide your “true self” from classmates and colleagues
  • Burnout as a result of the additional effort it takes you to achieve your goals and hide your symptoms
  • Abusing alcohol or other substances as a means of coping with elevated stress
  • Denying yourself academic or career opportunities because of certain untreated symptoms

The good news is that you can minimize your risk of these and other problematic outcomes by seeking appropriate treatment. 

Also, please remember that you don’t have to wait until you’ve had a significant setback or incurred serious harm before you can benefit from professional care. Choosing to get help today can put you on the path to an even more successful future.

Treatment Options for This Type of ADHD

Treatment for high-functioning ADHD often involves a combination of medication and therapy. 

Prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can ease some of the symptoms of ADHD, while approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you learn to manage symptoms and take greater control of your thoughts and actions.

There is no single element of care or course of treatment that’s right for everyone who has ADHD. This is why it is so important to find a provider that can assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a customized plan just for you. 

Contact Montare About Our High-Functioning ADHD Treatment

Montare Behavioral Health offers personalized residential and outpatient programming for adults who have been experiencing the symptoms of ADHD and a range of other mental health concerns.

The Montare network includes several facilities at convenient locations throughout the Los Angeles area. At each facility and in every program, you will have the opportunity to work with a team of highly skilled and experienced professionals. We’ll work closely with you to identify your short- and long-term goals, then develop a plan to help you achieve the future you desire.

To learn more about how we can help you, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.