Which ADHD symptoms are helped by Medication?

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I have been working on this post for a very long time. Medicating ADHD is a divisive topic to begin with, and then the combination of millions of unique ADHDers using a wide variety of medications meant that writing a post like this would need a very thoughtful approach.

I originally began this as a discussion on Twitter back in January. If you prefer hearing about what specific people have experienced using specific medications, this is a great thread to get you started:

But as good as that thread was, it didn’t feel like something I could really turn into a blog post. So last summer I introduced the #ADHDmedsMegaPoll on Twitter, in which I asked for ADHDers who have used medication to treat ADHD to rate the effectiveness of their medications on 20 common ADHD symptoms. I received over 850 responses to each question, up to 1300 on the highest! If you’d like to read the original poll and see the responses for each symptom, you can see it all here:

What we can learn from the data

I am so excited to finally have data that I believe I can share in a way that will be meaningful for just about everyone! For each symptom, I asked folks to determine if their medication 1) Helped significantly, 2) Helped a little, 3) Didn’t help, or 4) Made the symptom worse. I converted all responses to a numerical equivalent, and created a scale to rate the totals. What follows is a summary of the data that tells you and me which symptoms of ADHD we can reasonably expect meds to help with.

The Near-Guarantee! | 1.25 or higher

These symptoms had overwhelmingly positive responses, with greater than 88% of respondents reporting positive impact from medication. When you find the right medication and dose, you can have a high degree of confidence in seeing improvement with these symptoms.

Maintaining attention on boring tasks – 1.46
Concentrating on conversation – 1.37
Follow-through and finishing projects – 1.34

The Good | 1.0-1.25

With these symptoms, most respondents saw some improvement, but with a much smaller percentage claiming significant improvement. When you find the right medication and dose, you should be able to expect some improvement with these symptoms.

Avoiding/delaying tasks – 1.19
Leaving your seat – 1.08
Distracted by activity/noise – 1.05
Impulse control – 1.02
Organization – 1.01
Making careless mistakes – 1.00

The Okay | 0.60-0.99

In this range, more respondents saw improvement more often than not, ranging from 52 to 66% positive responses. While the results stayed overall positive, there were a significant number of responses indicating no improvement. Even with the right medication and dose, you won’t necessarily see much improvement with these symptoms.

If you’re not having success with some of these, you may try another medication, or it might be a great opportunity to build some positive routines to support yourself, like carrying a notebook where you write down things to remember or keeping a fidget in your pocket so you can pull it out when needed.

Remembering things – 0.86
Regulating emotions – 0.85
Waiting your turn – 0.73
Misplacing things – 0.72
Feeling restless/fidgety – 0.72
Fidgeting/squirming while sitting – 0.69
Feeling driven like a motor – 0.66
Interrupting others while busy – 0.63

The Bad | 0.59 and below

These were the worst rated in the bunch, with the majority of the responses being negative, indicating that medication ether did not help, or actually made the symptoms worse. My best recommendation with these is to find a good friend who can help give you a good nudge when you need it. If you have any great tips for working with these, please let us all know in the comments below!

Finishing others’ sentences – 0.51
Talking too much – 0.44
Difficulty relaxing – 0.35

So now what?

Please remember that we are all different, and each medication is also different. Some folks had marked improvement even on the lowest rated symptoms on this list, while others struggled to find relief with the highest. Take this for what it’s worth, simply a guide for what you might hope for. My meds journey is far from over, and it’s terribly frustrating at times. But I don’t want to waste hope on improving symptoms that aren’t likely to be improved through medication, and that’s what I wanted to pass along. Where you can most likely find hope.

What do you think? Does this list reflect your experience? Has it been different for you? Please share in the comments below or add to our conversations on Facebook or Twitter.

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Check out all of Jamie’s platforms via linktree:

ADHD Voices: Patrick

Photo courtesy of Patrick Cornelius

My name is Patrick Cornelius. I’m 41 years old. I’m a professional saxophonist, composer, and music teacher. ADHD behaviors are baked into every facet of my personality, from the way I speak to the way I work and the way I live and the way I love. I used to consider many of my ADHD-influenced personality quirks and idiosyncrasies to be shortcomings or moral failings. I know I don’t have to tell most of you about the feelings of guilt and shame that often follow typical ADHD behavior patterns.

I was diagnosed as a child

I don’t recall ever learning precisely when I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. I think it must have been pretty early, like in Kindergarten or 1st grade. I’ve had conversations with my mother in which she relates being asked to withdraw me from several different preschools in San Antonio, TX due to my inability to conform to school behavioral expectations. 

Yes, behavioral expectations. IN PRESCHOOL. 

Anyway, I can remember having to remember to take my twice daily doses of Ritalin as early as 1st grade and as late as 7th grade. What I remember most about having to take medicine is actually not remembering to take it, and the resulting panic I would feel when my mom discovered several untaken pills rattling around my backpack at the end of the week.

In my family, my older brother was the gold standard for academic excellence, and frankly I was never going to truly be able to measure up to his accomplishments with my hopelessly ADHD-addled brain. But I didn’t know that, thankfully. I resolved to work hard and do better. BE better. I was convinced that I could WILL myself to excellence. But believing that meant that I couldn’t take Ritalin anymore, because taking it meant accepting that I needed help, and I didn’t want help.

I had a pretty successful high school career. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA near the top of my class, won a National Merit Scholarship and several awards for music and academics. I even managed to have a few girlfriends (this would have truly shocked Middle School me more than ANYTHING else). Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that I was able to pull off so many academic successes, because frankly my ADHD symptoms never really went away, and nearly derailed many papers, research assignments, and tests. 

I used to think procrastination was just something that everybody did. Sure I knew that there were highly motivated and organized people out there who got all of their assignments done ahead of time and somehow still found the time to be fabulous at everything else in life, but I really thought that the kind of procrastination that I ended up committing (and STILL DO, dammit!) all the time was common. 

But wait, there’s music!

Let’s back up a little. How did I manage to excel at music throughout high school with such reckless productivity habits? Doesn’t improving at playing an instrument require consistency and patient persistence? Why, yes. Yes it does. That’s where the famous ADHD superpower comes in. I know it needs no introduction.

I started taking piano lessons at 4 years old. I was more interested in playing with my piano teacher’s cat and infant son than in my lessons most of the time, but eventually I learned to make at least some effort to pay attention and practice regularly at home. By the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I had attained some technical facility.

At 14, moving to a new middle school to begin 8th grade in a new town (and country) left me with a choice: take gym class or take band. Tough choice, right? Haha, no. I caught on quickly due to my previous knowledge of music reading, theory, and fundamentals. And the saxophone, an instrument designed as an amalgam of sorts with an eye towards ease of learning, provided me the perfect platform to be a quick study.

I lost interest in the piano. As is so often the case, quick successes lead to increasing enthusiasm, and playing the saxophone became my hyperfocus obsession. This continued throughout high school and college and still persists to this day. I have always been able to shut out everything else when it’s time to practice and devote all of my mental energy into practicing and composing. 

College

My college experience was different from my high school experience. It was worse…but that’s a little misleading. I still ended up graduating Magna cum Laude from Berklee College of Music and Summa cum Laude from Manhattan School of Music. But my productivity and behavioral patterns never improved.

In fact, the freedom associated with having complete personal decision making authority brought even more psychological headwinds. I always had time for my hyperfocus “crush:” practicing, perhaps even more time than I was honestly able to spare. Meanwhile assignments that I was less than enthused about from classes not devoted to playing my instruments fell by the wayside until (almost always) the night before.

I remember writing an entire 17 piece big band arrangement in the 24 hours before it was due. This was before the widespread use of music notation software, so I had to write out every single part and recopy the score in ink. By hand. Ugh. Somehow, I was always able to be successful. And every single time, I told myself I would never let this happen again. And yet, it always did.

Managing ADHD in middle age

This struggle has remained the same over the years. Every writing commission, arrangement for a performance, collection of new tunes for a recording session, job application, grant application, etc. has been finished no sooner than a day or two before the due date. In fact, I’m finishing up this blog post days after I promised to send it to Jamie (insert even bigger facepalm than the one up above). HA.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone outside and downstairs to the basement to put the laundry in the drier, then realized in horror (thanks to the stink of mildew) the next morning that I never pressed “start” on the machine. That I would go to the store and come home with everything EXCEPT the one item that I needed to get in the first place. That my wife would give me three simple tasks to do and I would have to come back to her two minutes later and ask what the first two were.

I used to think of these episodes as moral and personal failings. I allowed those thoughts to define how I felt about myself. The very pursuit of excellence in any endeavor, particularly an artistic one where you yourself are the product, inevitably leads to some measure of self-criticism. That’s why recognition and success or failure can often seem so damn personal.

If a concert I’ve given or an album I’ve released gets a bad review, it’s literally ME that’s getting the bad review. At least, it feels that way most of the time. I always try to remind myself “We are more than what we create,” but honestly keeping that in mind when the chips are down is aspirational at best. Stack decades of self-doubt caused by behaviors beyond my control on top of all that, and there’s a sure-fire recipe for depression. And I was often depressed.

But anyway, things are different now.

It has been 9 months since I stumbled upon adult ADHD support communities and podcasts on the internet. Connecting with and learning from all of you has completely changed the way I see myself. Yes, I have ADHD. I have always had it. Other members of my biological family have it. My daughter has it. It’s a big part of who I am, and I’m not ashamed anymore. Being able to speak about this freely and publicly (sometimes VERY publicly) has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It’s also helped me become more productive, more honest, a better father, and a better husband.

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If you’d like to connect with Patrick,
he can be found on Twitter and Instagram
or through his website, http://www.patrickcornelius.com/

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ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com

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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

ADHD Voices: Dan

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

Hi, I’m Dan, a 44 yr old male from the UK, who was diagnosed with ADHD last year. This is my journey. 

Until recently I was foggy brained and burnt-out. Anxious and frustrated often by the simplest thing. Overthinking, catastrophizing, trapped in my head, either hyperfocusing or distracted. Being smart one minute, then struck dumb the next. As a teenager I self-medicated with cannabis. Academically I did okay (enough to get by), mainly because the courses I did were coursework assessed, with my coursework  usually completed last thing. School reports highlighted I was often ‘failing to meet my potential’ and ‘lacks consistency.’ My handwriting was awful – and still is. Like my brain was half a sentence or further ahead and my hand was rushing to catch up.  

This was MY normal. I’d seen therapists to discuss anxiety and stress – I also have IBS. However, since moving to a new country and having a kid, it became clear I wasn’t handling things as well as I had previously. Post diagnosis, I think family life and working in a dual language environment with a different culture exposed and crippled my  coping mechanisms. The impact of this had a significant impact on my life. My ups and down were trending downwards. Things at work started slipping more than usual and stress increased until a burnout made me look at things differently. 

Getting help and a lot of tests

It took some time, but, encouraged by my partner, I went back into therapy.

During one of these sessions we discussed ADD/ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For me that conjures up images of young kids, usually boys, disrupting class. This didn’t feel like me, but after some reading it felt familiar. So I did a quick online test. The results all suggested getting tested. 

I found a place where they specialise in ADHD in Adults. There, they asked me about my life, issues, and medical history. I spoke with a psychiatrist who asked me more specific questions which I now understand are the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD. 

Then came the Qb computer test.  With a tracking band on my head I had to look at a screen. If I saw 2 of the same shape and also the same colour after one another, I had to press a button. I thought this would be the test that would show I was wasting everyone’s time. Colours, shapes. Easy. When I left the room 20 minutes later, I was tired out and my head hurt. Man, that was a lot harder than I thought. 

The next step was to take a pill and then go for some fresh air and come back in an hour for the same test. Then we’d compare results. About 20 minutes after taking the pill I felt calmer. Like I’d been on a zen retreat. I could focus more. The almost constant busyness in my head was more distant, quieter. My focus was sharper. 

I went back and took the test again. It wasn’t so hard this time. Following this test I sat down with a doctor and we looked at the results. The differences between the tests were dramatic. On some sections for the first test I was off the charts. Way above or below the average. The second test I was within the ‘normal’ (my words, not theirs) range.

Coupled with all the information from the assessments, I was given a diagnosis of ADHD-combined. This surprised me. I thought maybe, possibly mild inattentiveness.  Hyperactive too, really? Of course, for me it’s normal that my foot is tapping. That my brain runs a hundred miles an hour. Oh wait, I see now. 

Managing my ADHD

That was the diagnosis. The next step was to talk management. The centre I went to use medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The medication helps give you the space to work on the CBT. So we planned the first session. I was pleased to have what seemed like an answer and a path to manage my issues. 

I went home and ordered ‘Delivered from Distraction’ by Edward Hallowell. I read this over the coming weeks and find myself time and time again seeing things which to me were problematic but I figured just normal. I’ve now discovered many of these things are ‘common amongst people with ADHD’. The next few days and weeks were up and down and I was slightly emotional at times.  

I set up my twitter account and started following ADHD folks. I’m grateful to those who are sharing their journeys and offering guidance to others. This helped me process my own diagnosis. Folks like @HowtoADHD,  @blkgirllostkeys, @ADHD_alien, @DaniDonovan, @ADHDSurprise and countless others. 

Reading stories, I realised I had been lucky. For some folks, society’s bias meant they had not gotten the support they needed or they had a non-supportive health care system (yes, l am looking at you America). Looking back now, without realising it, I adapted and developed coping mechanisms to protect myself, which whilst not perfect, had, along with some white male privilege meant I’d got to 44 without major incident. 

Since the diagnosis, I’ve made changes, minor changes and am very much a work in progress. The main change being medication. I take dexamphetamine three times a day. This has helped calm my mind down and I’m less stressed about things. I explain it as the chaos in my mind is still there, but now it’s outside waiting in the car, not banging on the door. Within a week of starting medication my wife commented that my energy was a lot calmer. Who knew stimulants could calm you down. 

The CBT helped too. Understanding why I struggled with some things and what structures I’d need, helped. At present I’m out of work and the coronavirus has meant my schedule has been thrown with the family all being home. Now though, I’m more aware of needing time for myself and self care. My relationship is better because we discuss stuff and have a name for it. My awesome wife has unconsciously had to deal with my undiagnosed ADHD. But at least now, we’re able to communicate better.

I’m still learning about how to manage my ADHD but being aware of it helps. I’ve always been self-deprecating so that helps. I’m utilising technology to support me. I love my Apple Watch. I’m slowly joining the ADHD community online. All this helps. 

Some people say ADHD is a gift – that it makes you special – that’s BS. It’s tough, it’s painful, it’s nasty. The diagnosis is the gift, understanding you can’t use typical solutions on your non-typical brain. That helps. 

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If you’d like to connect with Dan,
he can be found as @RockstarMonk on Twitter

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ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com

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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms: