02/18/07 Coke > The Sunday Paper > News Archives
There’s one in every office: the guy who’s smart, funny, interesting, creative and energetic—but also impulsive, chronically late and given to go on tangents in meetings. He’ll finish a report at the last minute, and it will be riddled with careless mistakes. That is, if he can find it on his messy desk to begin with.
He’s probably an adult with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to William W. Dodson, a psychiatrist in private practice at the ADHD Treatment Center in Denver, Colo.
“They make wonderful executives, but terrible secretaries,” says Dodson, who will present “The Truth About ADHD—Is It Affecting Your Life?” to Coca-Cola employees
An adult disorder, too
Although ADHD is often perceived as an affliction of childhood, it is actually a lifelong disorder that affects more than 9 million adult Americans and is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorders, Dodson says.
Albert Einstein and Theodore Roosevelt almost certainly suffered from it. Roosevelt was so hyperactive he had a “standing desk.” These days, at least one in every 12 adults has the disorder, according to a national study of 10,000 randomly selected people.
Most adults with ADHD don’t get diagnosed until they’re in their 40s because they’ve managed to figure out thousands of ways to compensate for their disorder. Depression and other major psychiatric diagnoses are present in 70 percent of individuals with ADHD (ADHD adults are six times as likely to be depressed and 10 times as likely to have a bipolar disorder as other people).
“People’s lives take off when they finally get the medication right,” says Dodson. “It doesn’t take away your creativity; it allows you to use that creativity. Without that, you have thousands of wonderful clever ideas that go nowhere because you can’t implement them.”
Add to that the finding that the vast majority of ADHD adults, 85 percent, don’t have an “internal clock”—a natural sense of time—which means they tend to be late and have a hard time gauging how long a task will take.
“They can hyperfocus”
The problem isn’t the willfulness of the individual, it’s his neurology. An ADHD person’s whole nervous system is controlled by the momentary sense of interest, challenge, novelty or urgency, says Dodson.
“If they’re doing something interesting or challenging, their attention is almost superhuman,” he says. “They can hyperfocus.”
Exercise is tremendously helpful. One hour at the gym or jogging is good for about four hours of focus, says Dodson, who’s seen patients who get up early to work out, then work out after lunch and after work to get through their day. Then they suffer an injury and show up at Dodson’s door.
“Suddenly, their life just falls apart,” Dodson says. “They can’t treat their ADHD with exercise anymore.”
Worse, they might develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems as a way to cope.
ADHD seems to be genetic. If a person has it, half of their first-degree relatives—parents, siblings, children—usually have it, too.
Researchers have searched for ADHD in the populations of 26 countries outside the U.S., including primitive African cultures without TV. The conclusion: It’s just about everywhere.
“Whenever they’ve looked for ADHD, they’ve found it in the same prevalence, 10 to 12 percent,” says Dodson. “ADHD is something that is fundamentally human and occurs at the same rate in males and females.” SP