ADHD in Adults: Symptoms, Challenges, Diagnosis, and Treatment
It’s a common misconception that ADHD only occurs in children. So, despite its high prevalence, very few adults with ADHD get properly diagnosed and treated.
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.
Furthermore, adults with ADHD often struggle with other mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. This makes diagnosis even tougher, and often the treatment people receive targets those issues rather than ADHD.
The basic facts about ADHD and its treatment and diagnosis may be the same, regardless of age, but there are some important distinctions.
Recognizing the symptoms and getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult is transformational for many people. It can open your eyes to all the ways ADHD impacted your life in the past, while you equip yourself for a healthier, happier future.
Keep reading to learn more about the common signs of ADHD in adults, the challenges an adult with ADHD may face, and how ADHD is usually diagnosed and treated.
Adult ADHD Signs and Symptoms
The signs of ADHD in adults may be similar to childhood ADHD. But some of these symptoms, especially hyperactivity, may decrease over time, making diagnosis in adults more difficult.
Symptoms in adults tend to be more subtle. As a result, ADHD can be harder to spot in adults than in children.
It’s important to note that many of the symptoms of ADHD can be misinterpreted as personality flaws or character traits in adults. This can lead to internalizing a lot of negative feedback and trying to change things you really can’t control without the proper treatment or learning tools.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults can be divided into two main categories:
Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness
Adults with ADHD may notice symptoms such as the following:
- Fidgeting or tapping hands and feet
- Constantly feeling restless
- Unable to sit still for long periods
- Talking too much
- Interrupting other people while they’re talking
- Finding it difficult to wait their turn
- Intruding or taking over what someone else is doing
- Frequent mood swings or easy to anger
- Participating in risky behaviors (such as dangerous driving)
Symptoms of inattention in adults with ADHD may present in the following ways:
- Unable to pay attention to details and makes careless mistakes
- Difficulty staying focused
- Can’t stay focused in conversations, even when there are no distractions
- Difficulty organizing tasks and belongings
- Struggles with prioritization and time management
- Dislikes doing work that requires sustained mental effort and focus
- Often misplaces important items (keys, wallet, documents, etc.)
- Easily distracted by unrelated thoughts
- Forget day-to-day things, like paying bills, appointments, and deadlines
Adult ADHD Challenges
Many adults with ADHD don’t realize they have it. Undiagnosed ADHD in adults can make it much harder to cope with school, work, and other commitments.
Challenges in School
Going to school, college, or university as an adult with ADHD brings its own set of challenges, including:
- Problems meeting deadlines for assignments, homework, or projects
- Inability to focus during lectures, classes, or exams, which may cause poor grades
- Erratic schedules (irregular sleeping and eating times)
- Self-distrust and difficulty regulating emotions like stress and worry
- Decreased self-esteem and high dissatisfaction with academic performance
- Difficulty working with peers on group projects
- Often isolated and avoiding interactions with peers, leading to poor social connections
Fortunately, financial aid and support services for students with ADHD are available to ensure they get the support they need to succeed academically.
For instance, students with ADHD in college can ask for accommodations, such as extended time during tests or a quiet, separate place for exams.
Challenges at Work
Adults with ADHD may face problems in their careers. Such challenges may include:
- Difficulty maintaining a full-time job
- Problems getting hired and discrimination in employment
- Frequently changing jobs
- Problems with completing work on time and meeting deadlines
- Forgetting important dates, meetings, or task details
- Trouble following instructions or paying attention to details
- Making careless mistakes
- Conflict with colleagues or inability to control anger in the workplace
- Easily stressed and overwhelmed to the point of apparent paralysis.
These challenges are serious. But many adults with ADHD have successful careers. In fact, many aspects of ADHD can be an asset at work, like the ability to hyperfocus on interesting projects or generate creative ideas.
A career counselor or ADHD coach can help you identify unique strengths and skills and develop strategies to reach your career goals.
Maintaining healthy relationships with friends, family, or a partner can be tricky for someone with ADHD.
They may face relationship struggles such as:
- Trouble listening during conversations, leaving the other party feeling ignored
- Unintentionally blurting out hurtful statements in the heat of the moment
- Trouble remembering important dates, such as anniversaries and birthdays
- Emotional outbursts and difficulty discussing conflicts calmly, leading to unresolved issues
- Struggling to complete chores, causing resentment for partners who pick up the slack
Despite this, a person with ADHD can still be a fantastic parent, spouse, or friend.
Learning to communicate, respond to conflicts, and overcome challenges in positive and productive ways can help you build lasting, healthy relationships with the people you love.
Counseling or couples therapy may also help you and your partner identify practical strategies for maintaining a happy ADHD relationship.
Adult ADHD Diagnosis
Try to seek out a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychotherapist specializing in ADHD when getting your symptoms assessed.
There’s no single test to determine if someone has ADHD. A simple blood test or MRI is not enough to provide an ADHD diagnosis.
Here’s what an ADHD diagnosis may involve:
Evaluating Your Symptoms
Adults who currently experience five or more persistent symptoms of inattention and/or five or more persistent symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity may be diagnosed with ADHD. These symptoms are based on the diagnostic criteria listed for children.
For a diagnosis to be made, the symptoms you experience must be present in two or more settings (such as at school, work, or home). They must also interfere with how well you function in work, social, or school activities.
Evaluating Symptom History
Though termed adult ADHD, adults don’t suddenly get ADHD. According to the current diagnostic criteria, ADHD cannot be confirmed unless you experienced some symptoms before age 12.
You may be asked about your ADHD-related struggles as a child. Your doctor may also talk to your parents, teachers, or anyone else who can share information from when you were a child.
Behavior Rating Scale
Your healthcare professional may use behavior rating scales that help measure your symptoms.
These scales involve a list of questions your doctor may ask you, with different ranking systems, such as “0 to 3” or “often and never.” They help your doctor make a more accurate diagnosis and can also show how well your treatment is working later on.
Adult ADHD Treatment
The most effective method of treating adult ADHD is using a combination of medication and therapy.
Managing ADHD as an adult may involve the following non-pharmacological measures:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps you recognize and change unhelpful thought patterns that affect your motivation, productivity, and focus.
- Mindfulness-based practices: These practices may involve meditation, stress-reduction training, and attention training. They help you self-regulate your attention and focus.
- ADHD support groups: Support groups are a way for you to connect and learn from other people with ADHD and understand your struggles and experiences. Feel free to check out ADDA’S virtual support groups for adults with ADHD.
- ADHD coaching: An ADHD coach is a trained professional who helps you build strategies, structures, and skills to manage daily activities and responsibilities made difficult by ADHD symptoms.
A specialist may also prescribe medications to treat your ADHD. These medications help to regulate the levels of chemical messengers in your brain and increase brain activity.
Stimulant medications are typically the first choice for treating ADHD, as they are effective for many people. They may help reduce interruptive and hyperactive behaviors and improve focus, thinking ability, and social interactions.
In some cases, non-stimulant medications may be recommended when stimulant medications have not worked well enough or cause intolerable side effects.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Diagnosed and Treated for ADHD
ADHD does not have to hold you back from living your life to the fullest and achieving your goals. Adults who receive timely support and treatment can often manage their symptoms well and develop a unique structure that empowers them to be their best, productive selves.
The first step toward positive change is getting a proper diagnosis.
If you’re interested in performing a self-screening test, check out ADDA’s adult ADHD test. This test is a symptom checklist for adult ADHD and may help you decide what type of professional evaluation and support to seek.
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It’s great that you pointed out how symptoms in adults tend to be more subtle, so ADHD could be harder to spot in adults than in children. I was chatting with my cousin online last night and I heard that one of my other cousin was diagnosed of having ADHD. An adult ADHD counseling might be able to help him out, so maybe I should suggest it to him.