Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. While ADHD typically develops during childhood, it often carries over into adulthood. In fact, of US adults have been diagnosed with ADHD. And some experts believe that the majority of all adults living with the disorder are undiagnosed, so the actual prevalence may be much higher. Because of these numbers—and the fact that symptoms of ADHD present differently as an individual gets older—knowing how the disorder often manifests itself in adults can be helpful. Below, we’re going to outline 12 common symptoms of ADHD in adults, discuss their implications, and review possible treatment methods.
Understanding the signs of ADHD can be vital when it comes to treatment and support. The following symptoms can give you an idea of how ADHD might show up during adulthood.
1. Trouble Cleaning/Organizing
It can be hard for adults with ADHD to organize their space. You may find that items get lost when they aren’t put away systematically. It could also be difficult for you to organize your workspace in a way that optimizes efficiency. Disorganization can affect your ability to get things done throughout the day, create conflict in relationships, and exacerbate other symptoms of ADHD.
2. Problems Prioritizing
Adults with ADHD often struggle to place the proper amount of importance on tasks. This can become a particularly serious concern when you have several things to do at once. Consider a situation in which you need to complete a time-sensitive project for work, take the trash out, and send your mom a birthday card. While the first task is likely the most crucial, ADHD might cause you to view them all on equal terms. Prioritization struggles can lead you to become overwhelmed by tasks that all seem to have high importance and prevent you from completing important projects on time.
3. Time Blindness
Time management is often a challenge for adults with ADHD. Time blindness is a common ADHD phenomenon that can cause you to lose track of time and misjudge how long events and tasks will take to complete. While struggles with time management may be particularly noticeable at work or in social situations, they can have an impact on every aspect of your life.
4. Lack Of Focus
Distractibility is an ADHD symptom that can appear in childhood and persist into adulthood. Adults with ADHD often have a hard time concentrating on tasks for an extended period of time. This is often a result of the brain cycling through thoughts or focusing on unrelated external stimuli. A lack of focus can result in communication issues, uncompleted tasks, and a tendency to become overwhelmed.
While lack of focus can be a concern, ADHD can also cause adults to become intensely focused on certain tasks, hobbies, or other interests at times. These periods of hyperfocus can last for hours at a time and—especially when combined with prioritization issues—may result in other important tasks going unfinished.
6. Difficulty Maintaining A Schedule
Creating a plan for work tasks, social events, and other regular activities can be hard for adults with ADHD. This can stem from the above-mentioned time blindness, prioritization, and organization difficulties. You may frequently forget to put items on your calendar or place too many things on your schedule, leading to missed appointments and deadlines.
7. Starting Projects Without Completing Them
ADHD can create deficits that can impact the brain’s reward center, which may affect an individual’s ability to maintain motivation to complete tasks. You might start on a project, become bored or frustrated by it, then move on to something else. This can create tension in relationships, hinder productivity at work, and lead to high anxiety levels.
8. Restlessness Or Excessive Activity
One sign of ADHD that’s often consistent between children and adults is the frequent urge to move around. You may have a hard time sitting still for an extended period of time, which can cause you to move your feet or tap a pencil to expend the excess energy you feel. This can produce feelings of stress and may exacerbate your inability to focus.
9. Impulsive Behavior
Acting without fully thinking through a decision often leads to difficult situations in adults with ADHD. Impulsivity can include driving too fast, spending money in excess, or engaging in other risk-taking behaviors. It can also show up in social situations, leading you to interrupt others while they’re talking or struggle to wait your turn in line.
10. Mood Swings
Adults with ADHD may experience rapid shifts in emotions. This can cause your mood to shift quickly (e.g., from sad and tired to excited and energetic). These fluctuations can be even more pronounced because people with ADHD often experience emotions intensely.
11. Trouble Coping With Stress
Feeling overwhelmed by external stimuli, having trouble prioritizing tasks, and experiencing other common concerns related to adult ADHD can lead to high stress levels. Symptoms of ADHD may create stress related to work, physical health concerns (e.g., sleep disruptions), relationships, and a variety of other areas of your life.
12. Increased Anger
Research shows that anger is often expressed more intensely and in more potentially unhealthy ways in those who live with ADHD. Emotional dysregulation can lead to frustration and irritability in adults with ADHD. Anger may be provoked suddenly and can often last longer than it might in someone without ADHD.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults can lead to various mental, physical, and emotional health challenges. Struggling with everyday tasks can impact an individual’s self-esteem, elevate stress levels, and lead to comorbid mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, personality disorders, and substance use disorder. ADHD can also create conflict in romantic relationships, particularly when one partner lives with ADHD and the other does not.
Additionally, maintaining a career can be difficult for adults who live with ADHD. In a 2011 study, researchers found that ADHD was associated with adverse educational and employment outcomes. Although there are serious concerns that can arise out of adult ADHD, as you’ll see below, the disorder is treatable.
The first-line treatment for ADHD is often medication, which in many cases is accompanied by therapy and lifestyle changes meant to manage common symptoms of ADHD in adulthood. Treatment can address chemical deficiencies in the brain, provide resources for organization and productivity, and help the individual work through emotions that may arise out of ADHD.
Medications: Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate or amphetamines, are often the first recommended treatment for ADHD. Alternatively, a doctor might suggest a non-stimulant medication like atomoxetine.
Skill-Building: Working with a coach or counselor can help you build practical skills, including planning, goal setting, time management, and organizing. Because they’re experienced in helping people with ADHD, coaches are often familiar with proven techniques that are specifically designed to help adults be more productive and organized.
Psychotherapy: Studies show that therapy can reduce symptoms of ADHD, particularly when used in conjunction with medication. With common modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, adults with ADHD can learn to change their thoughts and behaviors in ways that alleviate feelings of stress and similar mental health concerns. Additionally, a mental health professional can help adults with ADHD meet the challenges of work, relationships, and social situations.
Research points to online therapy as a useful method of treatment for adults experiencing symptoms of ADHD. In a study on the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD in adults, researchers found that treatment significantly reduced symptoms, and that these results were maintained after six months. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely utilized modality that helps individuals reframe negative thought patterns, like those that can lead to maladaptive emotions and behaviors related to ADHD.
If you’d like support and advice as you navigate ADHD or another mental health-related concern, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy remotely, through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging. Coordinating with your therapist is easy through BetterHelp, especially for those who may have difficulty setting up appointments in advance. Whether through the app or online, you can easily find available time slots and schedule sessions that work with your schedule. A licensed therapist can give you useful tips and valuable support as you work through symptoms of ADHD.
The symptoms of ADHD can have a significant impact on an individual’s life as they navigate adulthood. If you’re looking for mental health care while living with ADHD, consider online therapy. A licensed therapist can provide you with guidance and connect you with valuable resources as you address your symptoms. With the right support, you can manage your ADHD and live a happy, healthy, and productive life.