Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a chronic condition that affects a person’s level of hyperactivity and impulse control. Adults can be diagnosed with ADHD, though symptoms typically emerge when they are children. When symptoms are left untreated, they can cause problems for adults at work and school and in relationships.

Sixty percent of children who have ADHD will experience the disorder as adults. In the United States, that’s roughly 8 million adults. However, less than 20% of those adults will be diagnosed and treated.1 Signs of ADHD in adults can sometimes be more difficult to spot than in children. They might be less hyperactive than a child with the diagnosis, but deep down they are struggling with paying attention, staying on task, and warding off impulsive behaviors. Many adults might not realize that forgetting plans, prioritizing their to-do list, and feeling impatient and moody might be signs of a treatable condition.

Adult ADHD Symptoms

  • Trouble focusing on a task
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Organization problems
  • Feeling easily frustrated
  • Poor time management
  • Impulsive decision-making
  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Poor coping skills for stress

These symptoms can cause problems in multiple areas of life.2 An adult with untreated ADHD might struggle with school or maintaining steady employment. Impulsive behaviors may lead to legal issues, accidents, drug or alcohol abuse, or poor physical health. Mood swings and trouble focusing can also cause relationship problems with family, friends, and partners. The weight of these issues can also lead to low self-esteem, particularly when a person labels themselves as being “lazy.”3

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How are Adults Diagnosed with ADHD?

It’s important to talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist to assess whether symptoms merit a diagnosis of ADHD. Many adults may struggle with focusing or time management at different points in life, but to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, symptoms have to cause continual problems at work, home, or relationships. A professional can also rule out other physical or mental illnesses or consider additional diagnoses which can complicate symptoms. These might include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or substance use problems.

Common questions asked by your physician might include4

  • Do you ever have trouble with paying attention or feeling restless?
  • Do you easily become frustrated or impatient with minor issues?
  • Do you have trouble organizing tasks or following through with them at work?
  • Does lack of time management or focus cause problems in your relationships?
  • Did you have problems with inattentiveness or hyperactivity as a child?
  • Does anyone in your family have a diagnosis of ADHD?
  • Do you have any other medical or mental health issues?

Treatment Options for Adult ADHD

Treatment for Adult ADHD typically involves medication, psychotherapy, and/or psychoeducation. There is no cure for ADHD, but a combination of these treatments can effectively reduce symptoms and improve work and home life.

Medication treatments can include stimulants, nonstimulants, or antidepressants. Stimulants can work more quickly than other medication, but they also can be habit-forming.5 Be sure to talk to your doctor about other medications you’re taking and if you have a history of substance use.

Psychotherapy for Adult ADHD typically involves a combination of talk therapy and psychoeducation. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person reduce negative thinking, increase self-esteem, and adjust behavioral patterns that cause problems at work or home. Family therapy can help people work together to manage the stress of ADHD and practice problem-solving. Basic psychoeducation can include information about the diagnosis and healthy living skills, such as time management, problem-solving, and communication skills.1

In addition to treatment, many adults find peer support to be an excellent resource for living with ADHD. In person and online support groups can provide valuable information and encouragement for managing symptoms.

Next Steps

Never feel like you have to handle ADHD on your own. Make an appointment today with your doctor to get more info and potentially schedule an assessment with an expert. Write down any symptoms you’ve experienced, recent life stressors, and the medications you take. Make a list of potential questions you have about your health and treatment options. If you feel nervous, ask a friend or family members to come with you to your appointment.

It’s never too late to get the help you need to regain control over your time, your health, and your relationships. With the right knowledge and support, ADHD symptoms can become manageable and you can find the focus and patience for a full and healthy life.

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Last Updated: May 7, 2021