I Have Trouble Focusing. Is it ADHD?

Question: I have a hard time focusing on anything. My thoughts wander repeatedly and it takes a lot of effort for me to concentrate. I have to read entire sections of material repeatedly just to retain any of the information. This makes finishing homework and taking tests very difficult and time-consuming. Most people I know don’t seem to have this problem. Is this a memory issue, focus issue, or both? Do I have ADHD? Should I try to get on medication or is there a way to train myself to overcome this?


Answer: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM (which is the rule book for mental health diagnoses), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder requires that you have a majority of the characteristics of Inattention and of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity (unless you have the Predominantly Inattentive Type). Signs of Inattention include having trouble focusing, being easily distracted, forgetfulness, not following through on instructions and difficulty organizing tasks. However, adults often display a wider range of symptoms. Excessive talking and frequent fidgeting are often signs of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity. People who have ADD must show symptoms in two or more settings. However, memory problems like not being able to retain information aren’t specifically mentioned.

While it does sound like you are easily distracted and have difficulty with concentration, there could be other issues at work besides ADHD (should you suffer from this disorder). Just as is true for children, the best way to discover what is going on is to be evaluated by a licensed psychologist who has experience with assessment. This person most likely will have you complete various psychological tests and then be able to tell you whether you have ADHD or various learning difficulties.

Treatment for ADHD often involves medication, psychotherapy or both. Many adults report that taking medication to reduce their ADHD symptoms helps tremendously with focus, organization and memory retention. However, any medication must be taken with the approval of a physician. Psychotherapy can also be helpful as a skilled professional can help you learn tips for organization, provide study skill strategies, aid in better impulse control and give generally useful ways to make your life easier. If memory is more of the issue, counseling can help with that too.

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