ADD (Children and Adults): Personality Trait or Disorder?

By Victoria Martin, M.D.

Even though Attention Deficit Disorder has been studied for years as a disorder of childhood, there is mounting evidence that a large percentage of the population have characteristics or personality traits consistent with the diagnostic criteria of ADD. This includes adults as well as children.

Impulsive behavior in different areas such as impulsive spending, inability to delay gratification, excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol, extreme impatience, risk-taking behavior, etc. are notable in many adults.

Children may ride bicycles into the street in front of cars, destroy toys, have temper tantrums, be overly rough with pets or younger siblings (even though very fond of them), etc.

Easy distractibility evidenced by a need to have quiet or orderliness in order to perform a task, or a tendency to move from project to project without completing the preceding one are also indicators of ADD.

Difficulty with modulating affect is another symptom common to ADD. Individuals who quickly move from one “extreme” to the other, i.e. ecstasy when happy to rage when upset or disappointed may fall into this category.

Individuals with ADD often complain of feeling disorganized or easily overwhelmed or frustrated. They often feel out of step or “different” from the rest of the world.

Individuals who have the characteristics of ADD may be hyperactive and outgoing and unable to entertain themselves. But they may also be withdrawn, introspective and have a tendency to daydream, often appearing almost unsociable.

These folks are sometimes referred to as “shy”, but they lack the characteristic fear and desire for social contact of a shy person. They actually prefer to be alone. They enjoy their own company, but when confronted with a social situation they are able to respond.

ADD people are often uncomfortable in social situations, however, because they are frequently rejected. This is due to their tendency to be “outspoken” (which is actually the abovementioned impulsivity), emotional and forceful about their beliefs (again a result of previously discussed difficulty with modulation of affect), and a stubborn, opinionated, argumentative style of relating.

One Response to ADD (Children and Adults): Personality Trait or Disorder?

  1. Dr. Martin,

    Great post! I think ADD/ADHD, especially since it’s overdiagnosed in children and underdiagnosed in adults, will always “walk the line” between disorder and personality trait. I think people assume it’s a disorder in children and a personality issue in adults (which causes problems in relationships, work, etc.).

    Like you website!

    -Pat