Are You Using ADHD as an Excuse or An Explanation?

by | Jan 17, 2018 | Understanding ADHD | 26 comments

While on the treadmill at tadhd as an excusehe gym the other day, I eavesdropped on a nearby conversation. Hearing, “using ADHD as an excuse”, grabbed my attention.

(Yes, I admit it. I’m an eavesdropper. People are so interesting!)

Anyway, a woman was discussing her husband’s ADHD with her girlfriend. Lamenting how often her guy used ADHD as an excuse.

“He blames everything on his ADHD. Why he’s late picking up the kids. Why he forgets to stop at the market. Why he spends too much money. I wish I had something to blame everything on.”

Since I was eavesdropping, I squelched my impulse to join the conversation. It did get me thinking though.

There is a fine line between using ADHD as an excuse and using it as an explanation.

Adults with ADHD often do need to explain our behavior — if not to others than at least to ourselves. But we need to know the difference between using ADHD as an excuse and an explanation.

Pay attention. Knowing the difference between an excuse and an explanation is subtle. Yet it’s an important point if you want to change your relationship with your ADHD.

Using ADHD as an Excuse

I believe using ADHD as an excuse implies a total lack of control where unwanted behavior becomes the fault of the attention deficit.

Here’s an example of using ADHD as an excuse: “Since I have ADHD, my house is always a mess, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I think using ADHD as an explanation suggests taking responsibility for the behavior. Working to change what can be changed and accepting what can’t be changed.

Now let’s use the same example with ADHD as an explanation: “I have ADHD so it’s hard for me to keep the house tidy. I have to set things up so it’s easier for me to stay organized and hire a housekeeper.”

See the difference?

Remember the woman at the gym? Likely her husband’s behavior wouldn’t frustrate her nearly as much if instead of making excuses he honestly tried to change and used explanations instead.

What about you?

Are you using ADHD as an excuse? If so, what do you need to do to take responsibility for your actions? Shift to making explanations for ADHD’s impact on your behavior. It’s worth the work.

26 Comments

  1. Kenneth

    I feel like a blind man trying to see. I know that I need structure and all, but the task of getting that is place is so hard … and that is often considered the excuse. I just feel there is so little I can do about it…. Do I want to? Yes. but if the parner telles you every day that 7 years of wainting and trying to help etc. is more than enough, it’s hard to get yourself together and do the right moves. It is so easy to just give up and sometimes just slepeing forever seems the best cure instead of those demons I have to face each day. The guilt, the frustration, all that I have caused myself without knowing and wanting.

    Reply
    • Mina

      I hardly bring up my ADHD in fear of people that won’t understand or because I myself feel like I use it as an excuse even though people tell me off for having bad concentration during work or not being able to clock on. My room is a mess and I hardly clean it even though it’s so easy to pick up a broom and sweep up my problem.

      Lately my ADHD has skyrocketed. I don’t know if it’s the hyperactivity or something else, but I can’t sleep properly and when I replay something in my head whether it’s a good memory or something I feel guilty about, my body stops on its own as my head does the clockwork and people think I’m dement. I’m only 19!!!

      I mentioned I worked earlier in another paragraph, and that job is working at my family’s hotel and my aunt is my boss. She doesn’t understand when I have my hyperactivity or very low energy. I eat when I can (all the time) so it’s not nutrition deficiency and I’ve had blood tests that show normal numbers in everything. This is how I found out its my own brain playing tricks on me and it’s affecting my everyday life. It’s so stressful trying to explain to my aunt that all my strange and unusual actions are due to my ADHD but she says I’m using it as an excuse, hense why I’m in this very page writing this comment 🙂

      Reply
  2. John

    My partner “self–diagnosed” with ADHD years after we saw a couples counselor who suggested they might be suffering from ADHD. In the intervening years, my partner vehemently denied that anything had ever been wrong, that I misremembered the sessions, and that their behavioral issues and procrastination was always my fault, even after they lost jobs, money, and friendships. Now that they’ve “self–diagnosed” it’s viewed solely as some kind of pressure–relief valve meant to shut me up, even though it still isn’t medicated or effectively treated through therapy. “ADHD” is now an impossible obstacle that I must “understand” can’t be helped or dealt with; it’s 100 percent an excuse, coming from an individual who cares for nothing other than protecting own privileged comfort zone at all costs. They’ve gone through a roundabout of therapists; tight–lipped vagueness has resulted in years of “they never tell me what I’m supposed to do, so what can I do?” even though I know from experience – and their own, admitted behaviors – that they readily “tune out” when they’re being told something they don’t want to think about or understand. I’m becoming a resentful, angry, violent, and hateful person, forced to raise an adult child which only (conveniently) reinforces my partner’s self–defeating, “victimhood’ attitude. By daring to be my partner’s partner, I am the murdered messenger, held responsible for identifying when their mental health issues cost them on a personal level, held responsible for fixing those mental health issues, and held responsible for causing them by bringing them up. I’m trapped in a whirlwind of confusion; I consider suicide almost daily, because it’s the only thing left I can still control, but even if I did that, it would be recontextualized as me not being “strong enough” to “take care of” my partner; my death would be a footnote in a life they’d get to keep living. I’d be forgotten like so many dates, plans, and projects. I have nothing left.

    Reply
    • Oscar

      Hello John,
      I am so sorry to hear about the pain you are going through. You are loved for being who you are, right now, and who you are is not just a comparison to your partner. Though I know nothing about your situation if you have been in such a painful place for so long it seems that you should leave your partner immediately– if you are considering suicide regularly this situation has to stop immediately and permanently. I likely am ADHD myself, but this is not just about whether they have ADHD or not– clearly they seem to be consistently manipulative and cruel. I urgently suggest you get in touch with and spend as much time as soon as possible (a call, a house visit, staying for days or weeks or months) with one or more close confidantes who treats you with love and respects you and ask for help and not be afraid to lay out the pain of your situation to them and ask for help .
      You can also reach the national suicide prevention hotline at: 1-800-273-8255
      I hope all the best for you, you deserve better and though things seem painfully bad now you can reconnect with love for yourself and from others and to others that you deserve.

      Reply
    • Amy

      John,
      I had a partner with ADHD and felt much the same for the same reasons and I ended the marital relationship for both our benefits. We are now friends again and my anger is gone and it has forced him to assume responsibilities and be accountable for his actions or lack thereof for the first time in his life. I hope you got help and have realized there’s always an alternative to suicide. I hope your situation has improved.

      Reply
    • DarvoD

      If I didn’t know better I may as well have written this comment verbatim. That is to say, I’m in the *exact* situation as John here; my SO iself diagnosed weeks ago and already telling people (with glee, she’s so proud of it!) that she has been officially diagnosed when she has not. I’ve spent 5 long years with this person telling her it’s not ok to treat me or our child the way she does only to be told “I don’t do those things” (see: D.A.R.V.O) – but now it’s “oh it must be my ADHD” (but I thought you don’t do those things?) Of course, these ‘symptoms’ come and go to suite her needs. She blames me, saying I “owe her a huge apology for asking so much of her all these years when she’s had a mental disability the whole time”, as if I’m at fault for her toxic behavior. Of course, the behavior doesn’t stop, only occures when we’re alone, and she makes no attempts to use her ‘new-found knowledge’ to work around said ‘handicap’, just excuse her behavior. I too think about suicide on an almost daily basis.

      Reply
  3. Ryan

    Yea but how can you tell if they are lying about it. Using the I have adhd its why I don’t clean my room or I have adhd that’s why I don’t pay attention in school. My son has used these excuses. He’s said plain out to my face he hates school and thinks it’s pountless, and says he doesn’t have the same values as his mother and I. Now this too me is a bunch of bull. Both of these statements he’s thrown himself under the bus and is trying to use adhd as an excuse to all of this. With absolutely no definitive test to diagnose this so called disease I’m calling bullshit. If you’ve been diagnosed with adhd it’s because a dr made a choice to do so, he gave his expert opinion and did it. So in reality it was only his opinion. Please someone explain this to me I feel like I’m right on this but I know I don’t totally understand.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hey Ryan, it sounds like your son is using ADHD as an excuse for not having to step up and do what needs to be done in life. Using it as an explanation is more like, “I get so distracted in class that it’s hard for me to listen. Here’s what I’m going to do about it.” That doesn’t mean he won’t struggle, but it’s an attitude of moving forward and figuring stuff out. As to if ADHD is real or not, check out the Amen Clinics web site. He does SPECT brain scans and it shows the differences in brain activity.

      Reply
  4. Terri

    I know that my husband uses his ADHD as an excuse because it conveniently arises ONLY when it benefits him. When he wants to get out of a conversation that he finds unpleasant, he just wanders away or actually picks up his phone and calls another person and blames it on his ADHD. A social obligation that he is not looking forward to? Forgotten due to his ADHD. Same with household chores. Things that HE wants to do are remembered just fine. Conversations that he finds important can last for hours. Facts and figures that mean something to him are ingrained in his mind but what day each week the trash is picked up is still a mystery after 12 years. He refuses medication or any sort of therapy. I call bullsh*t on the entire “diagnosis” and think it is just an easy out for a socially acceptable way to be lazy and rude.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Terri, some people do use ADHD as an excuse. I’m sorry you have to live with that frustration. And, please don’t let your frustration paint the entire ADHD diagnosis as BS. Many of us with attention deficit try incredibly hard to manage our behavior. We take medication and improve our brain care. Get coaching and therapy. Learn how to be organized and remember things.

      Reply
    • Amy

      Terri.
      I have many of the same issues but I do believe ADHD is real and I bet if you think back, you will recall that your husband has missed out on or forgotten things that were important to him because of ADHD. I’ll give the example of my husband, who several years ago was nominated for a recognition luncheon by one of his favorite students and forgot about it, disappointing both himself and his student. This was about 15 years ago and you would think that would have prompted him to get help. But instead he beat himself up about it and victimized himself. He didn’t get evaluated and formally diagnosed until about a year ago when I asked for a divorce, and even our separating has not prompted him to do the actual work with therapy and behavior modification, instead he wants a quick fix with a pill, and while the medication may help him concentrate more on a specific task, it hasn’t really helped with most of his other symptoms. I wish I could get him to understand and take ownership for how his neglect of his condition burdened his spouse and neglected his family. Even now when I’ve encouraged him to do the “hardwork” that’s required to overcome his obstacles, it seems too little too late. He has been used to someone else taking care of things for 50 years and it appears he doesn’t feel it’s necessary to do anything different. I didn’t help the situation as I should have insisted from the start he take accountability. My own need to control and pass it off as “Its just easier for me to take care of things”, led me to feel angry, resentful, etc. so we parted and he hasn’t changed but I no longer feel the anger, and the resentment is fading because I know what I still have and what he lost. We are working on living as friends and parents. I’m still hopeful that someday it will all “click” for him and he’ll realize his role and have a desire to do the work, but I’m not going to waste another day with negativity or feelings of hopelessness. So keep encouraging your spouse but know that ADHD is real but there is also effective treatment if they want it.

      Reply
  5. Sean (shawn)

    Sometimes I’ve used it how do i stop using it occasionally like i say my rooms isn’t clean or if the dishes aren’t done and put away i do take responsibility for that and i take responsibility forget to do to my home work or if i procrastinate sometimes. Like if i dont do my Hw or if i forget to do my chores i dont use ADHD but sometimes i do depending on what the situation is, *sry if im all over the place*. Like i go to therapy and i take meds and im usually calm its just that how do i stop using it sometimes.

    Reply
  6. Tim

    I know someone who is struggling with ADHD. I am not close with this person, but I have had many opportunities to observe their behavior. At first, I did think it was laziness and lack of motivation that kept this person from performing even their most basic responsibilities. And I continue to roll my eyes every time I hear another excuse. It’s like the definition of insanity..they keep doing the same thing over and over agin, but expect a different result. I mention all this bc I can totally relate to what the OP says, but i do believe ADHD is real, and those who struggle with need counseling .

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Tim – Thank you for believing ADHD is real. I wish the doubters could spend two days in my brain. Or, one of my clients’ brains. I get it the excuses get exasperating! I strongly believe people with ADHD need to stop relying on excuses and do what they can to manage their ADHD symptoms. Thanks for checking in, Dana

      Reply
  7. Mike

    Hi Dana, I live with my girlfriend and her adult daughter is ADHD and trans. I understand messy behavior but my question is; does the diagnosis contribute to awful table manners (chewing with mouth open, no grasp of how to use utensils properly) and she forgets the simplest things (locking the door, flushing the toilet, etc) even though she is constantly reminded gently. How can I adjust and be an ally without losing my mind?

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Mike, people with ADHD are more forgetful, however, ADHD is no excuse for poor manners. What’s your girlfriend say?

      Reply
    • Daniel

      I’m not Dana but I have been formally diagnosed with a brain scan at Amen Clinics. The forgetfulness aspect applies more to dates and events, or even conversation in my case. Exclusively short-term memory. In the case of your girlfriend’s daughter it is exclusively laziness, not caring, or even mental illness.

      I would talk to her about this, it may be hard and they will deflect and deny but you have to be firm and consistent with how you remind and reteach them manners.

      Reply
  8. Stephen

    wonderful. finally. a person who may be able to help me get it together. I tried to register for your class at https://danarayburn.com/#cta-home but it would not let me register because I did not have the CODE. I am dissappointed to say the least. I was diagnosed with ADHD (severe inattentive type) at age 55. My disorganization has gotten worse over the last 13 years. NOW, I find my self winging it from this to that, sometimes finishing stuff sometimes not. I am driving my wife of 45 years crazy and we just decided that she also may be ADHD, undiagnosed. The good thing is that I have achieved some level of success, earning a BA and Masters and starting a company that was very successful for 14 years when the market in my industry changed drastically and I was unable to adapt. All good in a mud of frustration.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Steve. Wow! Thanks for letting me know the order form for the Foundations of ADHD Success program has gone Rogue. Who knows why it’s asking for a coupon code. I’ve got my tech wizard on it. I’ll let you know when it’s fixed.

      “A mud of frustration”. So sad! Glad you’re looking for help!

      Warmly, Dana

      Reply
      • Msanonymous

        hello.

        I am diagnosed with it last year. I don’t like it yet I can’t complain, I’ve accepted it. From my experience… People use it as an excuse cause they’re not aware and they don’t know “whats the purpose of sharing it.” To me, Dr’s is the one diagnosed me so I’d get a proper treatment for better self-regulation. I’m told people with ADHD just have trouble doing easy tasks. You can tell those that are lying / not use to it / excitable over a diagnosis vs someone who does has is when someone who does has it, doesn’t talk much about it cause we’re used to it and that the medication like I took “Ritalin,” actually worked and has minimal side effects. The diagnosis or even if you’re medicated isn’t for everyone who suspected they have it. It depends if it works on you or not & that has to be effective. I focus on taking care of myself, in hopes I can express better, self-regulate better, be under control with my own life and just fix my normal routine . Fixing my normal routine with ADHD is my priority, not an excuse cause I do has a job I enjoy that I want to take it seriously.

        Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Good news, Steve. The order page for the Foundations of ADHD is fixed!https://danarayburn.com

      Reply
  9. Ronnell

    My daughter is having her 3 yr old constantly tested for ADHD. With every pediatrician appt. I fear he will have to live under a label, just for being a 3 yr old boy cooped up in an appt during Covid.

    Reply
  10. Cole

    My 13-year-old brother, Aiden, is failing all his classes. He attributes this to his ADHD. He maintains that his ADHD makes it IMPOSSIBLE to do his work. If you ask him why he didn’t do his work, he will pull the ADHD card all the time. He even goes so far as to say that he should be except from ALL his work because his ADHD disables him from doing his schoolwork. Let me lay this straight. I have OCD and autism as well as chronic depression, but I somehow manage to miraculously get my schoolwork done punctually all the damn time. Every time I tell him this, he says (quote), “Well, your problems are different. Unlike me, you don’t have a disorder that makes it impossible for you to do your schoolwork. ADHD means trouble paying attention and short attention spans. I can’t do my work. It’s impossible.” This excuse is very clichĂ©. His point is basically that all other disorders that may inhibit your work are all nothing, and ADHD is the one and only valid excuse for flouting your work. Hell! There are people without arms that can do their schoolwork. There are people way worse off than people with ADHD, and they still get their schoolwork done on time. ADHD is not, and I repeat not an excuse.

    Reply
    • Msanonymous

      @Cole maybe he just needs a lifes purpose . Gave him something he enjoys like video game? I mean surely he can pay attention to that then ask back “if he can pay attention to game then why not schoolwork?” he needs to be constantly educated that he shouldn’t be define or too friendly with the disorder.

      Reply
  11. Yui

    I find this really hard. If people can supposedly do everything fine with ADHD (school, appointments, conversations, etc.), what is ADHD then?

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      I’ve never said people with ADHD can do everything fine. We can’t. We struggle. The difference between an excuse and an explanation is a attitude. Excuse – I have ADHD so I don’t have to even try and improve. Explanation – I have ADHD and I am trying to do better and be more dependable.

      Reply

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