Healthy Living

What are the signs of ADHD in adults?

While more than six million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the condition is also being diagnosed in a growing number of adults. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis found that worldwide, an estimated 2.8% of adults are living with ADHD, although researchers believe that the condition is underdiagnosed in adults because for decades it was considered a pediatric condition. In addition, many adults with ADHD also have other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxiety disorders. The symptoms of these conditions may mask those of ADHD, leading to an incomplete diagnosis.

Although it’s sometimes referred to as adult ADHD, this condition does not develop during the adult years. Instead, the person has been living with the condition since childhood, but the symptoms were misdiagnosed as another condition or missed.

What is ADHD?

ADHD in adults and children is a form of neurodiversity and is considered to be a neurological or neurodevelopmental condition. There are three different presentations of the condition:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation, which affects the ability to organize, focus on, and complete tasks, pay attention to details, and follow conversations and instructions
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which affects the ability to sit still, causes feelings of restlessness, and increases impulsive behavior
  • Combined presentation, where the person has a mix of both types of symptoms

Symptoms of adult ADHD

ADHD can have an impact on most every aspect of daily life. Studies have found that people with adult ADHD have marital problems more frequently and often have difficulty keeping a job or they change jobs frequently. They also commit more traffic violations and have a higher risk of being in a car accident.

Adult ADHD has also been linked to behaviors that can have a negative impact on your health, including compulsive eating, chronic stress, and higher rates of substance use.

The most common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Trouble with organization and completing tasks like work projects or paying bills
  • Chronic lateness and forgetfulness, poor time management
  • Severe procrastination
  • Chronic boredom
  • Decreased level of listening skills
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Impulse control issues such as getting angry easily and low tolerance for frustration
  • Extreme distractibility
  • Restlessness (mental or physical) or an inability to relax
  • Mood swings
  • Problems managing stress
  • Excessive talking and talking over/interrupting others

The process of diagnosing ADHD in adults starts with an evaluation by a mental health specialist or other healthcare provider who has experience diagnosing and treating people with this condition. During the evaluation, the healthcare provider gathers information from the patient and family members and/or partners about behaviors that are associated with ADHD, as well as the impact these behaviors have on the patient’s and loved ones’ lives.

To meet the medical criteria for ADHD, the patient should be currently experiencing five or more symptoms of ADHD. The provider may also perform cognitive tests and tests focused on academic skills to help rule out other conditions like learning differences.

Treatment options for adult ADHD

Depending on your symptoms and what impact they are having on your life, your healthcare provider may recommend behavioral therapy and/or medication. Therapy can help you build organizational skills and coping mechanisms that make it easier to manage your symptoms and can also help you manage any co-occurring mental health or substance use issues.

If medication is recommended, ask your provider what side effects may occur, how to minimize side effects, and whether the medication may interact with other medications you take.

If you’re living with the symptoms of adult ADHD, a health navigator or health advisor can connect you to experienced specialists and provide evidence-based information on all recommended treatment options.


Susan Walker

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