What does ADHD look like in adults?

March 05, 2020 | by Kevin Stromberg, LCPC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

You can’t seem to complete tasks at work. You keep losing your keys. You are always running late. Your house is a mess. You overspend. You feel internally restless. Any of these sound familiar? These are symptoms of a disorder that many associate with children only, but which can affect adults, too.

An estimated 10 million adults have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but less than 20 percent of them have been diagnosed, and only one-quarter of those diagnosed seek treatment.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

ADHD often begins in childhood. About 60 percent of children with ADHD in the U.S. become adults with ADHD. Symptoms often change over time, so adults may have different symptoms than when they were children.

For example, a hyperactive child who has trouble sitting still may turn into a fidgety or restless teen, and then into an adult with memory and attention problems, or uncomfortable restlessness. Usually, hyperactivity improves with age while attention problems tend to last into adulthood.

There is a lot of misinformation about ADHD in adults. It’s important to recognize the signs so you can get proper treatment, as untreated ADHD can wreak havoc in your life — personally and professionally.

There are three main symptoms that characterize ADHD in adults:

  • Inattention
    • Procrastination, chronic lateness
    • Forgetfulness
    • Frequently losing things
    • Disorganization
    • Difficulty completing tasks
    • Difficulty listening to others
    • Making careless mistakes
    • Spacing out, being easily distracted
  • Hyperactivity
    • Fidgety
    • Feeling restless inside
    • Difficulty sitting through meetings
    • Impatience, difficulty waiting
    • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Impulsivity
    • Interrupting others
    • Talking excessively
    • Blurting out answers
    • Rushing through tasks
    • Driving too fast, recklessness
    • Impulse buying

Many adults with ADHD have trouble performing at work and difficulty with day-to-day responsibilities (e.g., completing household chores, paying bills, organizing things). To others, they may come across as insensitive, uncaring or irresponsible, which can damage their relationships.

As a result, many adults with ADHD have chronic feelings of frustration, guilt or blame. They may develop low self-esteem, anxiety or mood problems.

In fact, ADHD in adults almost always occurs simultaneously with one or more other disorders, such as anxiety (accounts for about half of adults with ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder or substance use disorder.

A qualified professional can determine if these problems are due to ADHD, some other cause or a combination of causes.

ADHD is highly manageable in adults using an individualized, multi-modality treatment approach. Combination treatment — medication (e.g., stimulants) plus psychotherapy (talk therapy) — seems to offer the best chance at symptom relief for adults.

If you think you have adult ADHD, ask your doctor about getting an adult ADHD evaluation.

If symptoms are getting in the way of life, you may need extra support. Get help from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blog:

Is it ADHD or normal kid behavior?

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

The case for Mental Health First Aid

Take control of anxiety symptoms


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