How Do You Know if You Have ADD?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

People with ADD tend to have a difficult time managing their everyday lives, but how do you know if you have it? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen reveal the 5 hallmark symptoms of ADD. If you know you have ADD, and more specifically if you know what type of ADD you have.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain spect imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at

Dr Daniel Amen: How do you know if you have ADD? There's so many myths and misconceptions about ADD.

Tana Amen: It feels like this topic-

Dr Daniel Amen: I was on the radio this morning and this woman was talking about her 24 year old daughter who was starting to take stimulants. She starts off with, well, unfortunately she saw this doctor who diagnosed her with ADD, and she was just really negative about it, which many people in society are. By the end of our call she was, oh, I can support her much better.

Tana Amen: Oh, that's great.

Dr Daniel Amen: Because having untreated ADD is associated with so many bad things.

Tana Amen: I have to tell a story. I have to tell a story.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, apparently I have no choice.

Tana Amen: Because you just reminded me. I've been working firsthand with somebody who we've been working with for a long time. It's a process sometimes. Sometimes it's a process because there are many things going on with some people. Some people have ADD, but they've also got, dear lord, emotional trauma, or bipolar, or who knows. So many people have so many things going on, so it's this process of unlayering it, sort of uncovering what's going on with the person and dealing with the most critical things first.

But, in dealing with this person, I think we both suspected ADD early on. We both kind of knew that it was there, but we had to deal with the most critical things first. Then finally, as I was dealing with her and I suspected ... I heard something that really scared me, because it reminded me of someone in my childhood that, I just always was failing, and was an addict, and kept going back to drugs because they felt like a failure. I heard something in her voice that I knew that I knew, that I knew, that if we did not ... That if she felt like a failure, she'd just finally gotten a job. I knew that if she failed at this job, she was going to fall off complete, and it was just going to devastate her.

I called you, and I'm like, this can't wait. We need to take care of this now. This is just a problem. I don't know what you need to do, but you need to do something right now. You need to fix this. I drag you over there-

Dr Daniel Amen: This is the dynamic in our relationship. She finds a puppy that needs to be fixed and she goes, you fix it.

Tana Amen: Right. Right. But, I bring the puppy home-

Dr Daniel Amen: ... the strays, yes.

Tana Amen: We go over there. It's like nighttime, and we go over there and I'm like, but I knew, I knew this was a problem. You agreed, and so you already and Sue said, we're going to treat this ADD. I know that there's ADD. We've been sort of getting everything else under control first, but now it's time. You put her on a stimulant. Some people are great with stimulants and some aren't. That's how your book, Healing ADD, what I love about it is it talks about all the different types of ADD. Everybody is not the same. I'm not the same as someone else with a different type of ADD.

Anyways, she'd gotten a job and her self esteem was just suffering because she could not focus. I kid you not, one day, one day, one day and everything turned around. All of a sudden, she calls me the next day, I am a rock star. She literally, that's what she said. She was so excited. She started getting all this reinforcement.

Dr Daniel Amen: Positive feedback.

Tana Amen: And positive feedback at work ,and then they started already moving her to busier shifts and like doing things like this. Then she gets a second job. I'm like, this is a person who couldn't focus to get through a basic day without a job. Now she's got two jobs, and she's excelling.

Dr Daniel Amen: How does someone know whether or not they have ADD? The five hallmark symptoms are short attention span, but not for everything. It's short attention span for regular, routine, everyday things, homework, schoolwork, paperwork, chores. The things that make life work. The thing that confuses people is for things that are new, novel, highly stimulating or frightening. People with ADD can pay attention just fine. Many people with ADD say ... President Bush said this, the second one. He said, well, I can pay attention if I'm interested. I like hit my forehead and go no, not two ADD presidents in a row. Given Clinton and all the impulse control issues, like please, not another one. It's short attention span, and it's sort of the story of their life for things they don't really want to focus on.

Distractibility. They see too much. They hear too much. They sense too much. Where most of us can sort of decrease the distractions around us and focus on what's in front of us, it's like the world comes at them too fast. It distracts them. They're often very sensitive to light, to noise, to sounds, to touch. It can just really impair their ability to focus.

They're often disorganized. If you look at their rooms, their desks, their book bags, their filing cabinets, they're often a mess, unless they have the over focused ADD type, then certain areas are perfect and other areas are a nightmare. They tend to procrastinate. They put things off, put things off, put things off until someone's mad at them and they have to get it done. They need that stimulant.

Tana Amen: Right. They need the pressure.

Dr Daniel Amen: They tend to be impulsive. Not all of them. The inattentive ADD's not very impulsive.

Tana Amen: What about anxious?

Dr Daniel Amen: The anxious ADD's, less impulsive. But the classic ADD for sure, the prefrontal cortex ... So that's the front third of your brain. Largest in humans than any other animal. It's less active in people who have ADD. It's the brain's break. It stops you from saying or doing things that can get you into hot water. It actually processes, well what's the consequence if I say this? What's the consequence if I do this? You think ahead to have control over your impulses. When the prefrontal cortex is low, either because you have ADD or you had a head injury, the thoughts just get out.

When I lecture, I'll often go, how many of you are married? Half the audience will raise its hand. I'll go, is it helpful for you to say everything you think in your marriage? The whole audience busts up laughing because, of course it's not helpful. Right? We all have weird, crazy, stupid, sexual, violent thoughts that no one should ever hear. But, if you're around people that have ADD, they just don't have a filter. Those thoughts get out, which is why your mom's actually very funny often.

Tana Amen: Right. She's hilarious.

Dr Daniel Amen: Filter, filter, filter. If you have two, three, four, five of those symptoms and they've sort of been the story of your life, it's really important to get them treated. Unlike the mother who was so sad, her daughter got diagnosed with ADD, and got put on a stimulant. Unlike if she really has ADD, what's the fallout?

Tana Amen: Well, I mean look at the person I was talking about, the story that I told. That was literally like putting glasses on her, for her brain. I've heard you use that analogy, but that's exactly what it was like. Like every day, she would call me and say, I don't know what's going on. I feel like this is the first time my brain's ever worked right. It was just like a miracle. Literally, I've never seen anything that extreme.

Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, and I've seen it for 35 years.

Tana Amen: ... of crazy.

Dr Daniel Amen: Of treating people with it, which is why when I hear all the negative chatter about treating ADD, it's just a mistake.

Tana Amen: Now, we should be clear. Not everybody does well on a stimulant.

Dr Daniel Amen: Not everybody does. That's why I wrote, Healing ADD. I talk about seven different types of ADD. Looking at this study, we talked about head injury. That could actually be type A. I've been thinking about that actually for a longtime, and now this article was actually published in JAMA in Neurology, so really great journal. Not everybody does well on a stimulant. That's why scans can be so helpful. Well, do you have ADD? What type do you have? How can this scan give us a roadmap to inform our path? When it works it just is dramatic in how effective that it can be.

Tana Amen: When we come back, I still want to touch on what we talked about in the last episode, which was some of the issue that go on between people who have ADD and either other people, if they couple up with people with ADD, or even if just in normal relationships. If someone with ADD, in a relationship, what are some of the dynamics that happen there, and how can those best be worked through?

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, why don't we also talk about ADD in marriage.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: I actually wrote a book about ADD in romantic relationships. I know more about that one that I want to. Stay with us.