Women and ADD
How does attention deficit disorder affect your life?

Carol Watkins, M.D.

Baltimore, Maryland


Some women say that they have attention deficit disorder (AD/HD), but others say they are AD/HD. I prefer to see the AD/HD as just one aspect of a unique individual. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why one might say, “I am ADD.” For better or worse, AD/HD can affect many areas of one’s life.

Women are more likely to internalize: to blame themselves and to become depressed. Inattentive or impulsive girls often feel that “something” is wrong with them. Feelings of shame and guilt can layer themselves in to a young woman’s personality as she grows up. When a woman is first diagnosed with AD/HD, she may feel relief and a temporary euphoria. She now has a name for her guilty secret. But a diagnosis does not change an ingrained personality style. After the diagnosis comes the real work. She must gain an in-depth understanding of how the AD/HD affects her own unique strengths and weaknesses.

The roles of wife and mother add new dimensions of complexity to daily life of a woman with AD/HD. In our society, women often bear more of the responsibility for maintaining the household and raising the children. We expect the homemaker to provide organization and structure for the rest of the family members. Office jobs often have specific schedules and clear job descriptions. The home is much less structured. Tasks may not have a clear beginning or end.

Some women may feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of tasks in the home. It may be difficult to break down and prioritize tasks. A woman with difficulty maintaining divided attention may blow up when her children start asking for things while she is trying to fix dinner. She may have difficulty providing the structure her children need to help contain their own ADD. A woman prone to impulsive temper outbursts may have difficulty disciplining her children. Occasionally this impulsivity can lead to excessive punishment and even child abuse. If she has insight into her impulsive tendencies, she and her family can plan to have “time out” periods when arguments become heated.

Women may discover that AD/HD has its positive side.  Her generosity, spontaneity and energy may make the household a Mecca for neighborhood children. Her high energy may enable her to keep up with a demanding job and a busy family life. 

Sometimes, marriage between a spouse with AD/HD and a non-AD/HD partner, may work well. The husband may provide stability, structure and organizational skills. At the same time, the wife’s creativity, and quest for novelty may provide color to her husband’s life and help him explore new horizons. This complementary type of relationship works best when each partner has insight into his or her unique strengths and weaknesses. They learn from each other in a dynamic way, and do not allow their roles to become too rigid. Eventually the husband may have periods of spontaneity, and the AD/HD wife then becomes the stabilizer.

Sometimes individuals with AD/HD marry each other. The couple may enjoy each other’s spontaneity and energy. The woman may feel as if she has finally found someone on her own wavelength.  However, when the couple encounters complex family demands, they may need outside help to stabilizing their lives.

Sometimes, AD/HD can strain a marriage. The non-ADD husband may misinterpret his wife’s disorganization and procrastination as deliberate offences. If the wife goes on an impulsive spending spree, it may damage family finances. The urge for novel situations can lead some women into repeated job changes or promiscuity. The dual-AD/HD couple may have difficulty deciding who will manage the more mundane aspects of family life.

Both partners should have a thorough understanding of the psychiatric diagnoses and how the behaviors associated with the diagnoses affect the entire family. Often women with AD/HD have other conditions such as anxiety, depression or alcohol abuse. It is important to address these conditions too. They may hide these difficulties just as they hid their AD/HD for so long.

The woman’s partner may also feel euphoric early in the treatment process when medication begins to have an effect. Both members of the couple are lulled into the belief that the diagnosis and the medication will be a panacea. Her husband may despair or even leave the relationship when old patterns and behaviors re-emerge. Family or group therapy can be an important part of treatment for women with AD/HD. It took a long time for each family member to learn their behavior patterns and it may take time to make lasting changes. The AD/HD may be an explanation, but no one should use it as an excuse. Instead, understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you develop creative coping strategies.

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Fax: 410-343-1272
Postal address: We have two locations in Baltimore County
      Monkton Office16829 York Road/PO Box 544/Monkton, MD 21111
      Lutherville Office: 2360 West Joppa Road Suite 223/ Lutherville, MD
Email: [email protected]
Please use telephone for appointments or medical questions.

Carol Watkins, M.D.
Glenn Brynes, Ph.D., M.D.
Rita Preller, LCSW-C

Copyright © 2004  Northern County Psychiatric Associates
Last modified: December 14, 2004