Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy

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Attention-deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most well-known conditions affecting children. While diagnosis typically takes place in childhood, adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, more than 300 million adults globally were reported to have ADHD in 2020. Although the presentation of symptoms may change over the years, ADHD is often a lifelong condition. In attempting to answer the question, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?”, this article covers what ADHD is, the symptoms of ADHD, and how ADHD is diagnosed. The article then explores some common misconceptions surrounding ADHD, treatment options, and other health conditions that may resemble ADHD.

What is ADHD?

Before we dive into the question, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?”, let us first understand what ADHD is. ADHD has been classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-5), which clinicians worldwide use to diagnose mental health conditions. The DSM-5 was published by the American Psychiatric Association or APA. According to the DSM-5, ADHD is “a persistent pattern of inattention and / or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development”.

You may also see or hear the term ADD used interchangeably with ADHD. ADD stands for attention-deficit disorder, an old terms that denotes the inattentive type of ADHD (more on this in the next section). This term change from ADD to ADHD occurred in 1987, and the formal term used today is ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

The symptoms of ADHD may be categorised into two types of ADHD: inattention and hyperactivity / impulsivity. A person may have either type of ADHD, or a combination of both.

Symptoms of Inattention

  • A lack of attention to detail or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or in other activities (eg misses or overlooks details, and inaccurate work)
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention when in tasks or play activities (eg difficulty focusing during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading)
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (eg seems to be thinking about something else, even when there is no obvious distraction)
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and does not finish schoolwork, chores, or workplace duties (eg starts tasks but loses focus quickly and easily sidetracks)
  • Has difficulty organising activities and tasks (eg poor time management, is messy, and does not meet deadlines)
  • Tends to avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (eg school work, preparing reports, reviewing lengthy papers, and completing forms)
  • Tends to lose objects required for tasks or activities (eg stationery, wallet, keys, paperwork, and glasses)
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (eg by unrelated thoughts)
  • Often forgetful in daily activities (eg daily chores or errands, appointment times, paying bills, and returning calls)
Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy

Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

  • Fidgeting (eg fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirming in seat)
  • Leaves seat frequently in situations where expected to remain seated (eg in a classroom, office, or other workplace)
  • Feels restless
  • Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  • Often “on the go”, or acts as if “driven by a motor”, difficulty being still for extended time (eg in restaurants or meetings; may appear to others as being restless or difficult to keep up with)
  • Tends to talk excessively, or blurt out an answer before someone completes the question (eg completes others’ sentences, and unable to wait for their turn in a conversation)
  • Tends to have difficulty waiting for their turn (eg when waiting in line)
  • Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others (eg interrupts in conversations, may start using other people’s things without asking or receiving permission, and may intrude into or take over what others are doing)

Diagnosis of ADHD

For a diagnosis of ADHD in adults, the DSM-5 stipulates that all the following five criteria must be met:

  • Five or more symptoms of inattention and / or five or more symptoms of hyperactivity / impulsivity must have persisted for at least six months, to an extent that is inconsistent with the individual’s developmental level and negatively impacts the individual’s social and academic or occupational activities.
  • Several symptoms must have been present prior to the age of 12 years.
  • Several symptoms must be present in at least two settings (eg school, work, home; with friends or relatives, or in other activities)
  • There must be clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with or reduce the individual’s quality of social, school, or occupational functioning.
  • The symptoms must not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, and must not be better explained by a different mental disorder (eg mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, personality disorder, substance intoxication or withdrawal).

There is no single test for whether a person has ADHD or if they are lazy. To adequately answer the question, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?”, a diagnosis of ADHD based on a comprehensive clinical evaluation is required. The diagnosis of ADHD should only be done by a qualified professional, and this may be a medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or a paediatrician if it involves a child.

Common Misconceptions of ADHD

Despite the presence of symptoms, a diagnosis of ADHD can sometimes slip under the radar. This may be due to certain misconceptions about ADHD. This section discusses and debunks some of these common myths.

Myth 1: People who have ADHD are just lazy.

Unfortunately, people with ADHD have sometimes been called lazy by others who are misinformed. This is because symptoms of ADHD, particularly those of inattention, can make these individuals appear lazy.

Yet, the truth is that people with ADHD might try their best by putting in a lot of effort but find it difficult to complete tasks and activities. As such, their unfinished tasks or avoidance of them continue to be mistaken as a projection of their laziness. 

Myth 2: ADHD is not a real medical condition.

ADHD is a genuine neurodevelopmental disorder that has a significant biological basis. Research has demonstrated that people with ADHD have differences in the brain in terms of brain structure, function, and development. These differences may change over the years as an individual matures.

Myth 3: ADHD only affects children.

Although ADHD is a condition that begins in childhood, it often continues in adulthood. ADHD can have a profound impact on different aspects of an adult’s life. For instance, an adult with ADHD may have poor organisation skills that affects their ability to meet deadlines at work. Their difficulty with time management may also contribute to them being constantly late for or missing appointments. Tasks like waiting in line for their turn may also be challenging.

Myth 4: ADHD only affects boys.

ADHD affects both males and females. While both boys and girls may show symptoms of inattention and / or impulsive and hyperactive behaviours, the presentation of symptoms may differ across boys and girls. Boys are more likely to present with impulsive and hyperactive behaviours, while girls are more likely to show symptoms of inattention. Because symptoms of inattention are less disruptive and do not look like the stereotype of what people think ADHD is, diagnoses for girls may occur later or missed altogether. This means that girls may not get the support they need as early as possible.

Myth 5: Bad parenting causes ADHD

When people see disruptive or inattentive behaviour, they may assume that it is due to bad parenting or a lack of discipline. However, while the exact cause of ADHD remains unknown, research has shown that genetics can play a big role in developing ADHD. This means that if a parent has ADHD, their child has an increased chance of having ADHD as well.

Treatment Options for ADHD

Upon diagnosis of ADHD, treatment options for ADHD generally include medication and professional therapy, or a combination of both.

Medication

There are various types of medication that can help to relieve the symptoms of ADHD. Your medical doctor may prescribe you with a small dose initially, which might increase over time. Keep in mind that what works well for one person may not necessarily work for another. Always consult your medical doctor before taking any new medication, and only change your dose in accordance with your doctor’s advice. You may also wish to ask your doctor about any potential side effects of the medication prescribed to you.

Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy

Professional Therapy

professional therapist may be a psychologist or a counsellor. Your therapist will work with you to explore the possible causes of your difficulties and discuss ways in which you may cope better. A common approached used in professional therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

Other Strategies

There are also other things that you can do to improve your day-to-day coping. For instance, many people with ADHD benefit from having a structured daily routine and sticking to it. At times when you need to focus on a task, you may try to reduce distractions as much as possible. Distractions include background noise, mobile phones, and being within earshot of other people’s conversations. You may also motivate yourself to complete a task by rewarding yourself upon finishing the task.

If I Do Not Have ADHD, What Else Could It Be?

There are many other conditions that might appear to be like ADHD. These might be physical health conditions such as low blood sugar levels, hearing problems, and sleep disorders. They may also be other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. To get a better idea of what might be causing your symptoms, consult a medical doctor. If your symptoms are affecting you emotionally, you may wish to consider seeing a professional therapist.

Conclusion: Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy?

In short, there is no straightforward answer to the question, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?” because there is no single test to diagnose ADHD. Instead, a full evaluation by a qualified professional is required. This is especially so because the symptoms of ADHD may at times mirror that of other physical and mental health conditions. ADHD has been classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the DSM-5. Contrary to popular belief, adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD, although the symptoms need to have been present from childhood. The symptoms of ADHD may fall under inattention, hyperactivity / impulsivity, or both. Various misconceptions may have contributed to missed or late diagnoses of ADHD. Thankfully, ADHD is treatable by medication, professional therapy, or both. A profssional may also adopt other strategies concurrently.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD? Why are there two different terms?

ADD (attention-deficit disorder) was the old term for ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder), and it is now known as the inattentive type of ADHD. In the past, a diagnosis of ADD could be “with hyperactivity” or “without hyperactivity”. The change from ADD to ADHD occurred in 1987. The official term used today is ADHD, which covers both the inattentive and hyperactive types.

Do I have ADHD or do I just procrastinate? How do I know if I have laziness or ADHD? Do I have ADHD or am I just depressed? Do I have ADHD or am I just easily distracted?

There is no single test to find out if you have ADHD or if something else such as low motivation or depression. The only way to know if you have ADHD is to consult a medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or a pediatrician if the person undergoing the diagnosis is a child. This is because a diagnosis of ADHD requires a comprehensive clinical evaluation. In the process, your doctor will also work to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

What are some signs of ADHD in adults? What are some common signs of ADD / ADHD?

Signs of ADHD in adults may fall under inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Signs of inattention include lack of attention to detail, difficulty sustaining attention, appearing not to listen when spoken to directly, not following through on instructions, difficulty organising tasks and activities, avoiding engaging in tasks that require sustained mental effort, often losing objects required for tasks, often easily distracted, and often forgetful in daily activities.

Finally, signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity include fidgeting, leaving one’s seat frequently, feeling restless, being unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly, often being “on the go” or acting as if “driven by a motor”, talking excessively, blurting out answers, difficulty waiting for one’s turn, and often interrupting or intruding on others.

ADD / ADHD and the brain: How does ADD / ADHD affect the brain?

Studies have shown that people with ADHD have differences in terms of brain structure, brain function, and brain development, as compared to people without ADHD.

Why do people confuse ADHD and laziness?

People sometimes confuse ADHD and laziness when they see unfinished tasks; they may assume that a task was unfinished because the person was lazy or lacked motivation. However, the reality is that people with ADHD may have put in a lot of effort and may be trying their best, but find it difficult to focus or stay organised, thereby affecting their ability to complete tasks.

What are some common ways of treating ADD / ADHD?

Medication, professional therapy, or more often, a combination of both.

Living With ADHD: What are some things I can do to improve my quality of life?

There are many things that you can try in addition to medication and / or professional therapy. Keep in mind that different things may work for different individuals, meaning that it may take some trial and error before you find something that works well for you. Some strategies that you can try are having a daily structure or routine and adhering to it, reducing distractions when you need to focus on a task (eg pick a silent location with minimal background noise, place your phone elsewhere so that notifications do not distract you), and rewarding yourself each time you complete a task.

If I don’t have ADHD, what’s causing my lack of motivation? What are some conditions that can look like ADHD?

There are many things that you can try in addition to medication and / or professional therapy. Keep in mind that different things may work for different individuals, meaning that it may take some trial and error before you find something that works well for you. Some strategies that you can try are having a daily structure or routine and adhering to it, reducing distractions when you need to focus on a task (eg pick a silent location with minimal background noise, place your phone elsewhere so that notifications do not distract you), and rewarding yourself each time you complete a task.