5 Signs an Athlete May Have ADHD and How to Treat It

Written in collaboration with Rolando Gonzalez, M.D.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition often associated with difficulty sustaining attention, being distracted easily, high levels of energy, and challenges managing impulses.

In general, ADHD is present in 5 to 7 percent of children and 2.5 to 5 percent of adults in the United States. There is limited research in the area of mental health and athletes, but It is suspected that the rates of ADHD are higher in the athletic population. As high as 5 percent of active Major League Baseball players meet clinical criteria for ADHD. Making the diagnosis of ADHD can be difficult due to the stigma of discussing mental health, the limited presence of mental health providers in sports, and various other conditions that can often look like or overlap with symptoms of ADHD. Sports psychiatrists, who often diagnose, manage, and treat ADHD, recommend looking for the following five signs:

  1. An athlete who is often late to film reviews and meetings or needs help managing their time. As a coach, staff member, or parent, you may notice that the athlete requires frequent reminders for various tasks as well as the day-to-day schedule.
  2. A short attention span that leads to more frequent errors in play. It may seem like the athlete is often “spacing out” during conversation and not paying attention.
  3. An athlete may have difficulty waiting their turn during drills, leading to more frequent instruction or conflict with peers/staff.
  4. While not a criterion of the diagnosis, athletes with ADHD may be more likely to lose their temper or have quick emotional reactions that can lead to more frequent conflict with coaches or referees.
  5. The athlete with ADHD often struggles to receive directions, leading to reminders from coaches. It could also result in the athlete interrupting coaches when receiving instructions.

A sports psychiatrist can effectively evaluate for signs and symptoms of ADHD. They provide a clinical diagnosis, education on what to expect long-term with the illness, and effective treatment options.

Medication can be a powerful and effective treatment option for those athletes struggling with ADHD symptoms that are impacting their performance. A common class of medications that treat ADHD work by blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine and increasing their release. In addition, behavioral modification can be a helpful treatment option. This could include giving concise instructions and having the player summarize their understanding of the subject or repeat back. There are many treatment options, including medications and behavioral therapy. If you are concerned that an athlete or someone you know may have ADHD, please contact a local sports psychiatrist and request a consultation.

Written in collaboration with Rolando Gonzalez, M.D. Dr. Gonzalez is a licensed psychiatrist passionate about optimizing mental well-being and performance by managing mental illnesses and day-to-day challenges. Dr. Gonzalez is board-certified in general and child/adolescent psychiatry.

First appeared on www.psychologytoday.com

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