Adult ADHD – What It Is, Symptoms, and How To Deal With It

Adult ADHD – What It Is, Symptoms, and How To Deal With It

Adult ADHD


Adult attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent issues. This includes difficulty focusing, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Adult ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor performance at work or at school, low self-esteem and other issues.
Photographer: Anthony Tran | Source: Unsplash


Though it’s called adult ADHD, symptoms start in early childhood and continue into adulthood. In some cases, ADHD is not recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult. ADHD symptoms in adults may not be as clear as ADHD symptoms in children.

Life is practically the most important balancing act for adults. If you find yourself constantly late, disorganized, forgetful, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, you may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Adult ADHD has a wide variety of frustrating symptoms can hinder everything from your relationships to your career.

Understanding ADHD

Adult ADHD and what causes it isn’t completely understood yet. However, scientists think it’s likely caused by a combination of genes, environment, and slight differences in how the brain is hardwired. If you were diagnosed with childhood ADHD, chances are you’ve carried at least some of the symptoms into adulthood. If you weren’t, there are still chances of it affecting you as an adult.

ADHD is one of those conditions that don’t easily get identified. This was very common in the past- as it wasn’t well known by then. Instead of recognizing your symptoms and identifying the real issue, you get labeled ‘defective’. You may have been able to compensate for the symptoms as a child. But now that you’re an adult, with much more problems, it may prove a bit more difficult. The more balls you’re now trying to keep in the air—pursuing a career, raising a family, running a household—the greater the demand on your abilities to organize, focus, and remain calm. This can be challenging for anyone, but if you have adult ADHD, it can feel downright impossible.

However, adult ADHD isn’t impossible to overcome. Though it may seem impossible, it is beatable. With education, support, and a little creativity, you can learn to manage the symptoms of adult ADHD. You can even turn some of the weaknesses associated with it into strengths. It’s never too late to turn the difficulties of adult ADHD around and start succeeding on your own terms.

How do you know if it’s ADHD or not?

Symptoms similar to ADHD are common, having at least occurred once in everyone’s life. If your issues are recent, or only occasionally occur, chances are you don’t have ADHD. Adult ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life. These symptoms also tend to trace back to your childhood years.

It can be difficult to diagnose adult ADHD because certain symptoms of ADHD are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. Many adults with ADHD also have at least one further condition of mental health, such as depression or anxiety.
While the exact cause of ADHD is not clear, research efforts continue. Factors that may be involved in the development of ADHD include:

  • Genetics. ADHD can run in families. Studies suggest that genes play a somewhat major role
  • Environment. Certain environmental factors also may increase risk.
  • Problems during development. Problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development may play a role.

Risk factors involved include:

  • You have blood relatives, such as a parent or sibling, with ADHD or another mental health disorder
  • Your mother smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs during pregnancy
  • As a child, you were exposed to environmental toxins — such as lead, found mainly in paint and pipes in older buildings
  • You were born prematurely

    Adult ADHD

Signs and Symptoms of Adult ADHD

ADHD often appears quite different in adults than it does in children, as its symptoms are unique to each individual. Once you identify your most troublesome symptoms, you can start implementing strategies to address them.

Issues with Focus and Concentration

The ‘attention deficiency’ part is misleading. Adults with ADHD can focus on tasks that they find stimulating or engaging, but have difficulty staying focused on mundane tasks. One with ADHD may easily become distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds, bounce from one activity to another, or quickly get bored. Symptoms in this category are sometimes overlooked because they are less noticeable than the hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms of ADHD:

  • Becoming easily distracted by activities or events that others tend to not spare even a though or ignore.
  • Having so many simultaneous thoughts that it’s difficult to focus on a single one.
  • Difficulty paying attention when doing tasks such as reading or listening.
  • Even in the middle of a conversation, daydreaming or “zoning out” without realizing it.
  • Struggling to complete tasks, even seemingly simple ones.
  • A tendency to overlook details which leads to mistakes or incomplete work.
  • Poor listening skills; hard time remembering conversations and following directions, for example.
  • Getting bored quickly and looking for new stimulating experiences.

Hyperfocusing : An Often Ignored Facet

While you are probably aware that people with ADHD have trouble focusing on tasks that are not of interest to them, you may not know that there is another side to it: a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. This is known as hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus is in fact a coping mechanism — a way of tuning the distraction and chaos out. It can be so strong that you become unaware of everything that’s going on around you. You may be so immersed in a book, a TV show, or your computer, for example, that you lose track of time and neglect your responsibilities altogether. When channeled into productive activities, hyperfocus can be an asset, but if left unchecked, it can cause a plethora of problems.

Forgetfulness and Messiness

Life often seems chaotic and out of control when you have adult ADHD. It can be extremely challenging to stay organized and on top of things and manage your time. Common symptoms of forgetfulness and disorganization include:

  • Poor organizational skills
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Trouble starting and finishing projects
  • Chronic lateness
  • Frequently forgetting appointments, commitments, deadlines
  • Constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, phone, documents, bills).
  • Underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks.


If you suffer from symptoms in this category, you may have trouble controlling your behaviors, comments, and responses. You might act before thinking, or react without considering consequences. You may find yourself interrupting others, blurting out comments, and rushing through tasks without reading instructions. If you’re impulsive, staying patient and still is extremely difficult. You may find yourself diving headfirst into all situations and find yourself in potentially risky circumstances. Symptoms include:

  • Interrupting others frequently
  • Poor self-control tendencies, as well as addictive tendencies
  • Saying rude or inappropriate thoughts without thinking
  • Acting irresponsibly or spontaneously without considering the consequences
  • Being socially inappropriate, such as being fidgety

Difficulty with Emotions

Many adults with ADHD have difficulty managing their feelings, especially when it comes to negative emotions like anger, frustration, and general temperament issues. Common Adult ADHD emotional symptoms include:

  • Being easily stressed and flustered
  • Irritability, short temperature, often explosive
  • Low self-esteem and a sense of insecurity
  • Difficulty staying motivated
  • Hypersensitivity towards critique

Effects of Adult ADHD

If you are just discovering that you have adult ADHD, odds are that you have suffered from it over the years. You might feel like you’re drowning, overwhelmed by the constant stress caused by procrastination and disorganization. You may have been labeled “lazy,” “irresponsible,” or “stupid” by people because of your forgetfulness or difficulty in completing certain tasks, and you may think negatively of yourself as a result.

ADHD that is undiagnosed and untreated can have wide-reaching effects and cause problems in virtually every area of your life.

Physical and Mental Health

ADHD may contribute to a variety of health issues including compulsive eating, abuse of substances, anxiety, chronic stress and tension, and low self-esteem. You may also run into trouble by neglecting important check-ups, skipping doctor’s appointments, ignoring medical instructions and forgetting to take vital medicines.

Work Difficulties

Adults with ADHD often experience difficulties in their careers and feel a strong sense of inadequacy. You may have trouble maintaining a job. Managing finances can also pose a problem. With impulsive spending, you may be struggling with unpaid bills, lost paperwork, late fees or debt.

When you have ADHD, it’s easy to end up thinking that there’s something wrong with you. But it’s okay to be different. It isn’t an indicator of intelligence or capability. You may experience more difficulty in certain areas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your niche and achieve success. The key is to discover your strengths and capitalize on them. It can be helpful to think about attention deficit disorder as a collection of traits that are both positive and negative. ADHD can also provide incredible creativity, passion, energy, out-of-the-box thinking, and a constant flow of original ideas. Figure out your strengths and set up your environment in a way that supports them.

How do you deal with it?

If your doctor says you have ADHD, you’ll work together with them to come up with a treatment plan..

This can include medicine, therapy, education or learning more about ADHD, as well as getting support from family.

These things can help you find new ways of doing things that can make everyday life easier.
It’s important to make sure that you get fully checked by a doctor. This is because people with ADHD are also often burdened with other conditions. Learning disabilities, anxiety or another mood disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or drug or alcohol dependence are a few examples.


Stimulant medications are often offered to adults with ADHD. Studies show that the symptoms of about two-thirds of adults with ADHD taking these medications are greatly improving.

Examples include :

  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Amphetamine/Dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin, Quillivant XR)

However, stimulant medications aren’t always ideal.

  • Addictive. Stimulants in general could be misused. Some adults with ADHD have or had problems with substance abuse in the past.
  • Difficult to take consistently. Short-acting stimulant types (as opposed to long-acting) tend to wear off quickly. Given that people with ADHD can have trouble with forgetfulness, it can be a challenge to remember to take them several times a day.
  • Difficult to stick to the schedule. If people decide to stop taking them at night, they may have a hard time focusing on doing housework, paying bills, helping kids with homework, or driving. But if they do take them later in the day, they might be tempted to “relax” using alcohol or other things.

Doctors, however, recommend some non-stimulant medications, such as:

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv)
  • Clonidine (Kapvay)

Adult ADHD Therapy

  • Cognitive and behavioral therapy.
  • Relaxation training and stress management.
  • Life coaching. It may help you set goals.
  • Job coaching or mentoring. This can help support you at work.
  • Family education and therapy.

Other Methods to Manage Adult ADHD

  • Take medications as directed. If you are taking any medications for ADHD or any other condition, take them exactly as prescribed. If you notice side effects or other problems, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Organize. Use a daily planner, leave notes for yourself, and set your alarm clock when you need to remember an appointment or other activity.
  • Breathe slowly. If you have a tendency to do things you later regret, such as interrupt others or get angry at others, manage the impulse by pausing.
  • Cut down on distractions. If you find yourself being distracted by loud music or the television, turn it off or use earplugs. Move yourself to a quieter location, or ask others to help make things less distracting.
  • Burn off extra energy. You may need a way to get rid of some energy if you’re hyperactive or feel restless. Exercise, a hobby, or another pastime can be good choices.
  • Ask for help. We all need help from time to time, and it’s important to not be afraid to ask for it. If you have disruptive thoughts or behaviors, ask a counselor if they have any ideas you can try that could help you control them.