Are you frequently forgetful, hopelessly disorganized, easily distracted, make impulsive decisions, and experience frequent mood swings? Have you ever wondered whether ADHD is to blame for all your persistent problems? Before you jump to any conclusions, keep in mind that diagnosing ADHD in adults isn’t quite that simple.
Most people feel unfocused, scattered, or restless at times. That’s quite normal. And such symptoms of ADHD as concentration problems and restlessness can be confused with other disorders like depression or anxiety or may be caused by medical problems. Just because your symptoms look like ADHD doesn’t mean you have it, so the only way to know for sure is to see a doctor or a mental health professional.
Not sure whether you should schedule an appointment to get checked by a health professional? Let’s take a closer look at the signs and symptoms of ADHD in children and adults.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a relatively common neurodevelopmental condition affecting people’s behavior. The disorder impacts the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for executive functions, emotional regulation, and impulse control, among other things. The causes of ADHD are unclear, but the condition often runs in families. It develops in childhood and can happen to anyone.
Some kids seem to outgrow the condition, but the majority of those who had ADHD in childhood will continue to have it as adults. According to some estimates, 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. But many adults go undiagnosed, so the numbers may be higher.
Symptoms of ADHD, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior, tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when children start school when ADHD leads to poor school performance or disruption in the classroom. The symptoms continue into adulthood and usually improve with age, but many adults continue to struggle with impulsiveness, restlessness, and difficulty paying attention.
Common symptoms in children and teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children are usually noticeable before the age of six. Children with ADHD show a persistent pattern of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with their functioning or development. They may also have symptoms of just one of these types of behavior. Before ADHD can be diagnosed, the symptoms must have been present in multiple settings for at least six months and have a negative impact on a child’s life.
The main signs of inattention are:
- Difficulty sustaining attention while completing long tasks
- Failing to pay close attention to details
- Appearing forgetful in daily activities or losing things
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Being easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
- Appearing to be unable to listen to when spoken to directly
- Not following through with instructions and failing to finish schoolwork or workplace duties
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness include:
- Constantly fidgeting with or tapping hands and feet
- Difficulty sitting still for extended periods, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
- Talking excessively
- Interrupting or intruding on others
- Having difficulty waiting one’s turn
- Answering questions before they are asked completely
- Acting without thinking
- Little or no sense of danger
Most people with ADHD get a diagnosis during childhood, but sometimes, the signs and symptoms of this condition are misinterpreted or overlooked. Many adults with ADHD don’t even realize they have the disorder. They just know that completing day-to-day tasks can be a challenge, but they attribute their difficulties to their shortcomings.
If untreated, ADHD can interfere with many aspects of a person’s daily life. It makes it difficult to manage tasks that require planning, organization, and focus. ADHD has been linked to poor work performance, substance misuse issues, relationship challenges, poor self-image, issues with self-esteem, frequent accidents or injuries, etc. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of adult ADHD so you can get proper treatment.
Symptoms of adult ADHD
For decades, ADHD was considered a disorder of childhood that ends after adolescence. But a number of studies showed that ADHD can continue into adulthood. Now experts say that from 60% to 86% of children with ADHD will have symptoms as adults.
The signs of ADHD in adults are more difficult to spot. Adult symptoms also tend to be more subtle than childhood symptoms, but some adults continue to have major symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and can cause problems at work, school, in romantic relationships, and friendships.
Adults might be less hyperactive than a child with the diagnosis, but they are struggling with paying attention, staying on task, regulating emotions, and warding off impulsive behaviors. The symptoms associated with ADHD in adults may include:
- Inability to focus and prioritize
- Poor time management skills
- Poor planning
- Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
- Forgetfulness on daily activities
- Getting easily distracted
- Continually losing or misplacing things
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn
- Low frustration tolerance
- Mood swings, irritability, and a quick temper
- Extreme impatience
- Trouble coping with stress
- Over- or under-responsiveness to light, sound, touch
Keep in mind that ADHD exists on a spectrum of severity levels, and its symptoms can be more or less pronounced in different environments. You can be diagnosed with ADHD for the first time as an adult but only if you have experienced significant symptoms of the disorder before the age of twelve.
Signs of ADHD in women and girls
There is a stereotype that ADHD mostly shows up in boys, and the evidence seems to back it up. According to research, males are generally more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females. But these stats are misleading, and they don’t necessarily mean that more boys have this condition.
In fact, ADHD frequently goes undiagnosed in women and girls because their symptoms often differ from those of men and boys and can be hard to spot. Girls have a tendency to exhibit inattentive ADHD, which doesn’t have the visible behavior problems so it doesn’t always catch the attention of parents and teachers.
This presentation of ADHD makes it hard to stay organized, focus, pay attention to details, finish assigned activities, listen, and remember things. But often, ADHD symptoms in girls, such as being shy, inattentive, or impulsive, are viewed as character traits rather than symptoms of a condition.
According to a research, women with ADHD may be more likely to develop better coping mechanisms than men to hide their symptoms, which may lead to misdiagnosis or a lack of treatment.
Girls and women may suffer more negative effects from their ADHD than boys and men. They are more likely to blame themselves when they have problems getting things done. As a result, they tend to have more mood disorders, anxiety, and self-esteem problems. Girls with ADHD are also more likely to develop bulimia or anorexia than girls without the condition.
How is ADHD treated?
Adults with ADHD may learn to manage it successfully. There are effective treatments that can help relieve the symptoms and make the condition much less of a problem in everyday life. Standard treatment options for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, psychoeducation, skills training, and therapy. Although there is no cure for this condition, a combination of these treatments can effectively reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.
There are two main types of medication for ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulants (methylphenidate or amphetamine) appear to boost and balance levels of neurotransmitters. Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications because they can work more quickly, but they also can be habit-forming. Other medications include the non-stimulant atomoxetine and such antidepressants as bupropion.
Psychotherapy can help people with ADHD better cope with daily challenges and control compulsive and risky behavior. You’ll learn new skills that can help you be successful and improve relationships with your family, friends, and co-workers.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you reduce negative thinking, improve self-esteem, and adjust behavioral patterns that cause problems at work, school, or home. Family therapy can help you and your loved one work together to manage the stress of ADHD, practice problem-solving, improve communication, and develop conflict– resolution skills.
People with ADHD also use coaching, mindfulness-based training, exercise, yoga, and nutritional interventions to manage their symptoms. Some people also find it is helpful to join a support group and meet with others and share experiences and “what works”.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in children and teens, but it can be diagnosed in adults too. ADHD can affect how people think, process emotions, and respond to their environment, and the major symptoms include inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity. ADHD can cause you to be disorganized in your everyday life and prevent you from performing your best at work or school.
If you recognize the signs of ADHD in yourself and have significant problems with your job or career, day-to-day tasks, relationships, or emotions, consider scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional with experience in treating ADHD to get an assessment. With the right treatment and support, you’ll be able to manage your symptoms and live a happy and productive life.
Iryna is a passionate content writer and life-long learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences and Special Education and is studying for a Master's degree in Psychology. Iryna uses her knowledge and writing skills to create well-researched articles that educate readers and empower them to take charge of their mental health and practice self-care.Read more