Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

Do you have ADHD? Unleashing college potential masked by ADHD

Highlighting the word ADHD in a book.

I remember when I first arrived at the University of Florida for my freshman year, I was worried that the workload would be overwhelming as compared to high school. Luckily, I adapted to college work pace and performed well.

However, there were several fellow students who did not seem to adjust, falling behind in classes, eventually settling to simply stay afloat. Back then, I was not well-informed about disorders related to attention and, frankly, it never came to mind that they could be affected.

Now that I am a psychiatrist, I have a much deeper understand and perspective on the constant daily battles that people with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, have to endure in multiple spheres of their lives.

Our college years are often where we kick off the start of our adult lives, and imagine if you are at the starting line with a parachute tied to your back. Learning with ADHD feels very much like running with a parachute, watching everyone else running ahead of you. Discovering you have ADHD could cut the strings, opening new doors and possibilities for the future.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a chronic condition resulting in difficulty with maintaining attention, organization and impulse control.

Given the fact that the majority of our childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is spent in a school setting, school life can become an uphill battle in the context of ADHD. Always feeling behind compared to fellow students, sub-par grades, behind in assignments, the self-confidence suffers.

College students with ADHD

Pinning down how many college students have ADHD is difficult because the current statistics are skewed. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, ‘’between 2 and 8 percent of college students in the United States have ADHD.”

The NCBI also states that “estimates are largely based on studies that obtained self-reported symptoms or diagnostic status from a convenience samples of students at individual campuses, and not on comprehensive evaluations conducted with nationally representative samples.”

With that said, ADHD affects millions of children and adolescents in the U.S. every year. Many thought it was over-diagnosed, being pushed by parents seeking extra accommodations for their child for test-taking purposes, or falling under the widely cast net of simple immaturity.

However, there are many cases where ADHD is overlooked.

I’ll see children and teenagers with above-average intelligence who do not require as much vigorous effort in high school to maintain good grades go undiagnosed. In many instances, there are students with ADHD who are underperforming to their intellectual level but assume that this is the best they can do.

Many times, this can lead to persistent frustration, low self-esteem and depression if the underlying diagnosis of ADHD is left untreated.

College can make it worse. The students no longer have their parents to push them along, remind them of tests or project due dates. They do not have the coddling high school teacher who offers them extra credit to help boost the grade of a hard-working yet struggling student.

What happens when these young adult college students are on their own?

Often, they receive no guidance and no diagnosis.

Could you have ADHD?

How would a college student know when it is time to get help?

Here are 10 questions college students can ask themselves to help determine if they should seek assistance. These struggles would likely be seen in multiple settings, such as school, work, or home and occur more days than not.

  1. Do I find myself constantly rereading to understand the text?
    This issue typically will cause you to take what feels like an excessive amount of time to read, do homework, etc. You are left feeling like you are seeing the words, but the information is not processing.
  2. Do I get easily distracted?
    This can manifest in two different ways. One is when you are either in a conversation or trying to work on a task and you are distracted by your own unrelated thoughts, missing pieces of the conversation or causing you to reread, as in #1. The second form is when you are distracted by external stimuli, sounds or movements around you, causing you to lose focus.
  3. Do I stop and start multiple tasks without completion?
    This can be related to fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, distraction by your own thoughts, or simply losing interest.
  4. Do I struggle with time management?
    You find yourself running out of time on tests or you run late for meetings, events and classes.
  5. Do I lose/misplace items often and tend to be forgetful?
    You are constantly losing your phone, keys, watch, wallet, etc. either due to not paying attention to where you placed the items or forgetting where. You also forget important dates or things on a to do list, like paying a bill.
  6. Do I procrastinate?
    This classic behavior is one of the most common issues, but you are not lazy. You simply dread the idea of the task that awaits you and avoid doing it at all cost, despite the potential negative consequences.
  7. Do I have trouble staying organized?
    If you have a mental list, you will not stop to make a written list. If you make a written list, you lose the list. Your papers are everywhere, and your to do list is somewhere in the mess.
  8. Do you find most school-related work “boring?”
    This might have been how you felt about school since your elementary years. It takes a lot to capture your interest, especially if it is a topic or task that requires your sustained attention.
  9. Do I miss details?
    This might be because you are rushing through a task or a reading passage or because you realized you have run out of time due to time management issues. This issue can also present itself because you are not paying attention in a conversation or during class when the professor is speaking, and you miss an important piece of information.
  10. Do I have trouble waiting my turn?
    This struggle typically accounts for the impulsive symptoms associated with ADHD, whereas questions one through nine are more reflective of the inattentive symptoms of ADHD. Impatience and low-frustration tolerance can persistent even into full adult maturity. You struggle with interrupting people during a conversation, intruding in someone’s personal space or getting a little agitated waiting in lines. You might touch things on people’s desk without permission, or simply take over what someone else is doing.

How did you do?

Did you answer YES to three or more of these questions? Couldn’t make it past reading the first paragraph of this article?

If so, save yourself a semester of trying to pull up your grades and digging yourself out of the academic hole and seek mental health services.

Where can you turn for help?

Most universities provide accommodations such as student mental health services on campus for free to enrolled students. You can also talk to your parents with honesty and ask them to arrange for an evaluation with a mental health professional.

The bottom line is you are more than capable of making it through college and doing very well. ADHD is not the result of a lack of intelligence or work ethic; it is an issue with executive functioning and it is treatable.

You deserve every chance possible to succeed in college and achieve any and all goals you set for yourself.

Lindsay Israel, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist. She is a graduate from the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. Her goal is to help patients feel empowered, because their symptoms can leave them feeling powerless. She specializes in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, therapy for the treatment of various psychiatric disorders. TMS is FDA-approved for depression and is a noninvasive, nonmedication alternative to traditional treatments. Israel’s specialized clinic, Success TMS, focuses on this advanced therapy, which allows patients to achieve remission from depression and return back to their best lives.

About the Author

Lindsay Israel

Lindsay Israel, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist. She is a graduate from the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. Her goal is to help patients feel empowered,...Read More

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