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Legal, Financial and Relationship Challenges of Adult ADHD

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Adults with ADHD can have legal, financial, community, and housing problems

Adults with untreated ADHD tend to have a lower socioeconomic status. Poor job performance and erratic employment result in financial distress. Money problems also wreak havoc on intimate relationships; limit community and housing options; and add complexity to routine household tasks such as chores, grocery shopping, and maintaining valuable possessions (e.g., a car).

3D figure shaking piggy bankImpulsive tendencies, coupled with the frequent search for excitement, may generate a host of problems. This may include repeated driving violations; car and other accidents; and driver's license suspension. Associated legal difficulties can create even more financial strain and emotional distress for these individuals.

Research estimates that 16% of adults with ADHD also have a drug abuse problem. This research did not distinguish between those receiving ADHD treatment, and those who are untreated. Researchers believe the drug abuse rate is higher for untreated ADHD adults because these individuals often use both legal and illegal substances in an effort to control their symptoms (Austin, Reiss, & Burgdorf; 2008). Researchers estimate that as many as 75% of adults with ADHD may also have other mental disorders (Austin, Reiss, & Burgdorf; 2008). Two disorders that commonly co-occur with adult ADHD are depression and anxiety. The additional, and sometimes overlapping, symptoms of multiple disorders complicate diagnosis and treatment. We discuss these complications in a later section LINK.

Adults with ADHD can have social and relationship difficulties

Adults with ADHD may exhibit two social extremes. Some individuals may be withdrawn and asocial, preferring to spend their time alone. Conversely, others may be overly social and unable to endure even brief periods of solitude. Neither of these extremes fosters balanced, healthy, social relationships. But even those with more balanced, attractive, and outgoing personalities, can have trouble as time goes on. These gregarious sorts of folks have no trouble in the early stages of relationships. Other people are naturally drawn to their friendly, creative energy. However, as time passes, these qualities tarnish. They become insufficient to compensate for other less attractive qualities such as poor impulse control, poor judgment, and the lack of sustained interest. These social difficulties may account for the higher divorce rates among adults with ADHD.

It is not just intimate relationships that are affected. Nearly all types of social relationships are difficult for the ADHD adult. Tendencies toward impulsive comments and thoughtless behaviors, when coupled with a short temper, can cause them to alienate others. Furthermore, the lack of self-awareness, combined with inaccurate self-appraisal, makes social problem-solving ineffective.

ADHD social and relational challenges & solutions

Adults with ADHD often have difficulty with relationships due to the symptoms related to ADHD: distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Problem behaviors can include failing to listen, forgetting important events, talking constantly, and frequently becoming angry and even discouraged. Each person's treatment plan is uniquely designed and tailored for that person. The goal is to minimize the impact of symptoms through conscious effort and practice. This might include:

  • Find constructive outlets for nervous energy and restlessness (e.g., scheduling regular physical exercise);
  • Get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet;
  • Maintain a sense of humor to avoid becoming discouraged or increasingly depressed;
  • Avoid, reduce, or eliminate alcohol or drug use altogether. This can create a mental state that is more conducive to learning and change. Lastly,
  • Noticing and appreciating the support given by family and friends.