What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is one of the most common disorders of this kind diagnosed in children. ADHD often carries over into adulthood. 

ADHD is a highly genetic, brain-based syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviors.

These brain operations are collectively referred to as “executive functioning skills” and include important functions such as attention, concentration, memory, motivation and effort, learning from mistakes, impulsivity, hyperactivity, organization, and social skills. There are various contributing factors that play a role in these challenges including chemical and structural differences in the brain as well as genetics.

ADHD in Adults

ADHD can persist into adulthood. In some cases, adults with ADHD have never been diagnosed. The symptoms of ADHD in adulthood can cause difficulties in relationships, at home, and at work.

Around 2.8% of adults worldwide have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other research estimates that around 6.7% of adults globally (or over 360 million) are affected by ADHD when cases without a childhood diagnosis are included in the percentage.

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ADHD Signs & Symptoms

The main signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults are:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Misplacing items
  • Always running late
  • Risky behaviors
  • Lack of listening
  • Inability to prioritize
  • Relationship troubles
  • Nervous energy
  • Memory issues
  • Easily angered

This list is not comprehensive, but it does cover the most common signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults.

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ADHD Diagnosis

A diagnosis of ADHD is complex. It’s essential to work with a professional familiar with ADHD. ADHD can be diagnosed via extensive interview procedures, behavior and symptom rating skills, third-party observations, and obtaining a comprehensive history.

Seek out a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychotherapist specializing in ADHD and related challenges. While a primary care physician can typically identify signs of ADHD and give a preliminary diagnosis, they may not have the extensive ADHD-specific experience necessary to accurately diagnose and treat ADHD.

Not sure if you have ADHD?  Take our online ADHD test to learn more.

ADHD Causes

Currently, there is no known cause or risk factor associated with ADHD. Scientists are, however, trying to learn more so they can discover ways to reduce and manage the symptoms of ADHD.

Some research has shown a strong link between genetic factors and ADHD. Scientists are also looking into other possible causes and risk factors for ADHD, including:

  • Brain injuries
  • Low birth weight
  • Being born prematurely
  • Use of alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy
  • Exposure to environmental risk factors, such as lead during pregnancy

Types of ADHD

ADHD can present in three different ways. The type of ADHD you’re diagnosed with will depend on which symptoms are the most dominant.

  • Inattentive ADHD: Individuals with this type of ADHD find it difficult to plan or complete a task, follow directions or discussions, or follow instructions. Individuals can also get easily distracted or forget the specifics of daily routines. Inattentive type ADHD is what is often referred to as ADD.
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive: Individuals with this type of ADHD tend to talk a lot, often interrupting others, unable to wait their turn, or speaking at inappropriate times. People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD will also fidget, grab things from people, and have difficulty sitting still for long periods, such as while in class or watching a movie. People with this type of ADHD also feel restless and can act impulsively. As a result, accidents and injuries in people with this type of ADHD are more common.
  • Combined: Individuals with combined ADHD demonstrate symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD equally.

Note – It’s important to know that since symptoms can change over time, their presentation may change too.

ADHD Treatment

Research has shown that the most effective treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication and therapy. Medication manages brain-based functions and symptoms, while therapy addresses daily thoughts, behaviors, and coping strategies.

Group therapy programs and peer support groups are beneficial as well. There is no replacement for being around other people who “get it.” ADHD coaching has been found to be effective in guiding those with ADHD.

ADHD coaching has been found to be effective in guiding those with ADHD towards identifying and meeting goals, maintaining a positive approach to change, and improving productivity while providing a source of accountability. Many seek out coaching when their goals involve improving organizational skills, time management, goal completion, and productivity. If you want to learn more, check out our article on how to find an ADHD coach.

Medication is often used to help normalize brain activity and must be carefully prescribed and monitored by a physician, preferably a psychiatrist.

ADHD Facts & Statistics

  • According to epidemiological data, approximately 5% of adults have ADHD. That represents over 11,000,000 people in the US. It occurs in both men and women and, in the majority of cases, persists throughout the lifespan.
  • ADHD usually persists throughout a person’s lifetime. It is NOT limited to children. Since ADHD is a neuro-behavioral condition, there is no cure and the majority do not outgrow it.  Approximately two-thirds or more of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms and challenges in adulthood that require treatment.
  • ADHD occurs in both men and women. While initially research was focused on studying hyperactive, school-aged boys, we now know that women also have ADHD.  Boys and men are more likely to be referred for ADHD testing and treatment, receive accommodations, and participate in research studies, which makes it hard to identify the ratio of men to women with ADHD.  Some researchers have suggested that ADHD more prevalent in men, but we are learning that this is likely not the case. ADHD in women are consistently under-diagnosed under-treated compared to men, especially those who do not demonstrate hyperactivity and behavior problems.