ADHD in Adults

June 3, 2021

ADHD in adults

A lot of the time when people think of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) they think of it being a childhood condition, but this isn’t totally true. Yes, in a lot of cases ADHD is detected and diagnosed during childhood, but this doesn’t mean that it’s something that people outgrow as they age. 

Most of the time a child’s ADHD symptoms will change and adapt with them as they mature into an adult. Certain symptoms of ADHD can also lessen as children pass through stages of development. When children are diagnosed early on, by adulthood they will have usually developed coping strategies to help them manage the condition.

But what if you didn’t receive an ADHD diagnosis as a child? It’s common for ADHD to go undetected throughout the school years (particularly predominantly inattentive ADHD) due to a number of assessment barriers such as parents being unable to recognise that their children’s symptoms are pointing to ADHD or a lack of educational support from teachers. Instead of receiving proper diagnosis children can be labeled as a daydreamer, troublemaker or lazy. 

Even those who float under the radar with their ADHD remaining undetected can develop their own internal coping strategies to disguise symptoms, but this can cause problems in adult life if the condition is left untreated. 

But before we get into this, let’s dive into the symptoms of ADHD in adults. 

ADHD symptoms in adults 

As we now know, children and adults present symptoms differently and most of the time ADHD is easier to spot in kids. Symptoms of ADHD in adults vary from person to person and there are different types of ADHD, but telltale signs usually revolve around disorganisation, behavioural challenges and difficulty balancing responsibilities.

Problems with organisation - Adults with ADHD usually have chaotic lives due to their difficulties organising and handling their responsibilities. A lot of the time, aspects of everyday life such as work, bills and household tasks feel like an overwhelming juggling act. This is usually reflected in a messy home or cluttered work desk.

Forgetfulness - Due to struggles with disorganisation, adults with ADHD are also very forgetful. Constantly misplacing items like keys, wallet or phone and forgetting appointments or arrangements is a regular occurrence.

Poor time management - Adults with ADHD are almost always running late. Lateness to work and appointments often occur due to difficulties with time management and prioritization.

Difficulties concentrating on everyday tasks - Adults with ADHD are easily distracted when required to focus on dull tasks and become bored easily if activities don’t stimulate their interests meaning they tend to miss important details. This also extends into attention difficulties when listening where, for instance, individuals may struggle following directions or remembering conversations. 

Hyperfocus - Although ADHD causes inattention towards boring tasks, it can actually also cause individuals to become overly engrossed in tasks they find interesting, which is known as hyperfocus. Some adults with ADHD have such a strong hyperfocus that they can forget what is going on around them or lose track of time. 

Hyperactivity - As the name suggests, ADHD can cause hyperactivity in some adults. Not all adults with ADHD will experience hyperactivity, but for the ones who do it usually presents itself in feelings of restlessness (which can cause repetitive fidgeting), extreme energeticness and non-stop talking.  

Impulsivity - Adults with ADHD have a tendency to act on impulse - which is when people act or react without thinking things through first. They may over indulge in activities like shopping or eating, act recklessly or inappropriately interrupt conversations without thinking. 

Lack of emotional control - Due to having a lack of self-control, adults with ADHD also have a hard time controlling their emotions. They can be short-tempered, highly sensitive and easily stressed-out, which can cause their behaviour to appear explosive. 

If you’ve read through our list of symptoms and are now thinking “I do lose my keys now and again” or “I was late to work on Monday”, please remember that’s totally normal! Adult life can be overwhelming sometimes and we all know what it’s like to be running late occasionally. The thing about ADHD though is that these symptoms appear regularly, they’re not just a one off. So if these symptoms make an appearance more often than not, that’s when it could be a sign you have ADHD. 

Untreated ADHD in adults 

If symptoms of ADHD are ignored and left untreated they cause other mental health conditions and impact other aspects of life including relationships and work. 

🧠 Mental health - Research has found that adults with ADHD are more likely to develop mental health difficulties including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse and untreated ADHD can worsen the impact of these health problems.

💑 Relationships  - Some of the symptoms of ADHD such as lack of emotional control can make it more difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships due to behavioural conflicts. 


💼Employment - Adults with ADHD may also find pinning down a job difficult due to difficulties with time management and organisation. This may also hinder financial stability, particularly if they are prone to impulsive spending.

To avoid the consequence of untreated symptoms impacting your health, life and relationships it’s important to ask for help when you notice something’s not quite right. 

ADHD tests for adults

Having an assessment for ADHD is the first step towards stopping symptoms from interfering with everyday life. So if you want to get to the bottom of whether your behaviour or the behaviour of a friend or loved one could be signalling ADHD, it’s absolutely possible. 

Unlike diagnosing ADHD in children, there is no criteria designed to diagnose ADHD in adults specifically , however licensed mental health professionals usually use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association as a checklist to help them diagnose the condition. But because there is no medical or genetic test for ADHD, information from other tests and sources is used as part of the overall assessment. For example information may be gathered from family members, the individual may be asked to sit cognitive ability tests or complete standardised behaviour rating scales. On average the test will usually last around 3 hours and while testing for ADHD practitioners will also look to rule out any other learning difficulties. 

Treatments and tips for coping with ADHD 

Having a diagnosis for ADHD is really helpful because it means you will be offered treatment options. Although there is no cure for ADHD, intervention can really help you manage symptoms and minimise their impact on your everyday life. It’s important for your health practitioner to go through your treatment options with you and match the treatments to your specific symptoms. For example, medication is a common course of treatment for ADHD, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Often medication can improve attention and focus but if you mainly struggle with forgetfulness or time management then medication is unlikely to be useful. 

So, once you know how your ADHD symptoms interact with your daily life, treatment can be tailored to your needs. In general though, using multiple techniques to help manage the condition is the best way to optimize treatment. For instance, medication is also more effective when it is used together with other natural treatments for ADHD such as nutrition or behavioural therapy.  Here are some tips that you can apply in addition to your chosen treatment plan to help you cope with the symptoms of adult ADHD: 

🍏 Maintain a healthy diet - Diet is a big one when it comes to ADHD. Our brain gets its energy from the food we eat, so consuming a range of healthy foods and proteins will encourage healthy conversations between the chemical messengers in the brain and reduce high blood sugar levels which can cause hyperactivity. Avoiding sugar is also an effective way of decreasing hyperactivity. 

🏃‍♀️ Exercise regularly - Exercise is the perfect way to help decrease hyperactivity and eliminate aggression. Exercise also stimulates the brain's attention system and improves self-control which can lessen impulsiveness and encourage sustained attention.

💭 Try Cognitive Behavoural Therapy (CBT)  - CBT deals with controlling thoughts, behaviours, and breaking irrational thought patterns. ADHD CBT specifically deals with how symptoms can have an impact on everyday life and focuses on helping the individual with ADHD feel more incontrol of their thoughts and actions. 

🗓️ Establish a routine - Having a daily routine can help you feel more in control of your life. Using simple schedules or to-do lists is a good way to practice keeping on top of responsibilities. 

❤️ Be open about your ADHD - Helping friends and loved ones understand your ADHD symptoms is a great way to strengthen relationships and will encourage mutual understanding. 

😴 Go to bed on time - Serotonin and dopamine are important hormones involved in the sleep wake cycle that regulate mood and behaviour. An imbalance in these hormones due to a lack of sleep can really aggravate ADHD symptoms associated with ADHD, so it’s important to prioritise getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

Final thoughts…

ADHD isn’t just a childhood condition. Although ADHD is most commonly diagnosed during childhood, some cases of ADHD can be missed due to lack of parental understanding or educational support which can impact individuals as they move through development and into adulthood. Adults with ADHD usually have chaotic lifestyles, difficulties with managing their responsibilities and other mental health or emotional problems but all of these things can be improved with the right help. ADHD tests for adults are available from mental health practitioners and should be carried out if you suspect that you or a loved one has ADHD. 

We know it takes courage, but by flagging your symptoms or concerns to a health practitioner it will enable you to access the help and support you need, which will improve your overall quality of life.


Amber BC

Freelance copywriter and content producer helping Speechify work towards a world where reading is never a barrier to learning. Say hi on LinkedIn

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