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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.
Some experts believe that the majority of adults living with ADHD are undiagnosed, so the actual prevalence may be much higher. Since ADHD may be more common in adults than most people realize, and because its symptoms present differently as an individual gets older, knowing how the disorder can manifest itself in adults is often helpful. Below, we’re going to outline 12 common symptoms of ADHD in adults, discuss their implications, and review possible treatment methods.
Symptoms Of ADHD In Adults
Understanding the signs of ADHD can be vital when it comes to your treatment options and finding support. The following symptoms can give you an idea of how ADHD might show up during your adult years.
1. Trouble Cleaning/Organizing
If you’re an adult with ADHD, it can be difficult for you to organize your space and keep it clutter-free. You may find that items get lost when they aren’t put away systematically. It could also be hard 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 they need to accomplish during the day. 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. Struggles with prioritization 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 can often be 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 impact the brain’s reward center, which may affect an individual’s ability to maintain the motivation needed to complete tasks. You might start on a project, become bored or frustrated by it, then move on to something else. You may repeat this cycle over and over with different projects or tasks, whether personal or professional. This can create tension in relationships, hinder productivity at work, and lead to high levels of anxiety. Further, you may find yourself with lots of unfinished work and very few fully completed assignments, which may cause you to lose confidence in your ability to get things done.
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, which can cause you to move your feet or tap a pencil to expend the excess energy you feel. The result is often increased stress levels and difficulty focusing. Restlessness can impact your physical and mental health and impact you at work, school, and home.
9. Impulsive Behavior
Acting without fully thinking something through often leads to less-than-ideal decisions and 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 go through rapid shifts in their 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 those with ADHD often experience emotions intensely. It’s normal not to recognize how your mood swings are affecting you or others around you until they’re identified and managed.
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 levels of stress. Symptoms of ADHD may create stress related to work, relationships, physical health concerns (e.g., sleep disruptions), 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. You might experience emotional dysregulation more often, which can lead to frustration and irritability. Anger may be provoked suddenly and can often last longer than it might in someone without ADHD.
Implications Of ADHD In Adults
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 disorders. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Managing ADHD Symptoms With BetterHelp
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.
Can people with ADHD lead a normal life?
Studies show “substantial evidence documenting adverse outcomes for those affected by ADHD compared to those without the disorder.” Attention deficit disorder can be diagnosed with another mental health condition, like oppositional defiant disorder, learning disabilities, or a mood disorder, and lead to lower academic achievement, higher unemployment, and lower income, which can drastically impact a child's life and low self esteem.
People with this condition also have a higher risk of other mental health conditions, like a developmental disorder, substance use disorders, antisocial personality disorder, and traffic accidents. Other potential negative outcomes may include obesity, dysfunctional familial relationships, and emotional dysregulation. While this may sound disheartening, with treatment, people with ADHD can learn coping skills to manage their symptoms, which may help them avoid these adverse outcomes.
What are healthy coping strategies for ADHD?
Coping strategies that help you stay on top of things and reduce stress can help you manage adult symptoms of ADHD. Write down a daily to-do list, prioritizing them based on urgency. Focus on the one or two most important tasks, and add new tasks to your list as they come up. Using a smartphone calendar is a great way to keep your schedule straight, and setting reminders ahead of time to help you leave your house can help you arrive on time. You can also set recurring reminders for important errands or paying bills. If you prefer things to be a little more low-tech, you can always write down your to-do list in a notebook and carry it with you or use sticky notes to remind you of important appointments.
What are coping mechanisms for ADHD adults?
Adults with ADHD may have a difficult time keeping appointments, meeting deadlines, and just generally staying organized, but there are many coping mechanisms to try. Lists, calendars, and schedules can all be extremely helpful, whether you put them together on a smartphone or use a pen and paper. Set aside time every day to update your lists and schedules, but try not to make this a chore; instead, think of it as a routine part of your day, like brushing your teeth or having a cup of coffee.
To help yourself stay focused at work, you can do a few things to improve environmental factors. If you are easily distracted, declutter your workspace, but keep everything you need readily available. Try turning your desk away from the window or turning off your smartphone notifications so you can concentrate on tasks for a set period. Deal with phone calls and emails as soon as possible so you have fewer things hanging over your head.
Take one thing at a time. Many people might feel like they should constantly multitask, but focusing on completing one task at a time may be more effective for people with ADHD and help them avoid careless mistakes. Assess your deadlines and be honest about how long it will take you to complete your work. Don’t take on more work or commitments if you know you won’t have time to complete them.
Does ADHD affect every aspect of life?
ADHD symptoms can affect nearly every aspect of life. Because people with ADHD have difficulty organizing their spaces and keeping them free of clutter, they may find it challenging to keep their homes clean. Difficulties in prioritizing can lead to situations where people feel overwhelmed by tasks and unable to determine which is most important, leading to procrastinating and not completing important tasks on time.
Adults with ADHD can experience time blindness, where they lose track of time and misjudge how long tasks will take to complete, whether it’s a work project, grocery shopping, or preparing dinner.
ADHD can affect focus in multiple ways. Adults with this condition may experience a lack of focus that can lead to a lack of being able to focus on tasks, but it can also cause hyperfocus that can last for hours at a time, leaving other important tasks unfinished.
Impulsive behavior is another symptom of ADHD, and it can lead people to make decisions that can impact various areas of their lives. They may spend too much money, drive too fast, or engage in other risk-taking behaviors. Mood swings and increased anger can also occur in many adults with ADHD, which can affect their relationships with others.
Can you develop ADHD later in life, or are you born with it?
ADHD begins in childhood, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s diagnosed in childhood. According to the DSM-5, for an ADHD diagnosis, symptoms must be present before age 12, which means that ADHD cannot be diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. Sometimes, the diagnosis may have been confused with other disorders. When an adult is diagnosed with ADHD, it is likely that they have had the condition since childhood and that it went undiagnosed.
How do you maintain motivation with ADHD?
Maintaining motivation as an adult with ADHD can be challenging, but there are many things you can try to keep yourself on track. Breaking down large tasks into smaller ones can make big jobs more manageable. Write down each little step, and check each one off as you complete it. When you set-up your to-do list, be specific about your goals, and make each task small so that it takes 30 minutes or less to accomplish.
Keeping things fun can also help make things more interesting. For example, make cleaning up into a game, setting a timer and racing against the clock, or turn it into a competition to see who can get done faster. Try doing a boring task, like folding clothes or ironing, while you’re watching TV.
Celebrate milestones and reward yourself as you make progress. Rewards can be as simple as taking a walk after checking five things off your list or taking yourself out for ice cream if you get through all of your tasks for the day.
You can also try to change things up to stay interested if you have difficulty concentrating. For example, you can move your office furniture around or listen to your favorite podcast while you do laundry.
Try to determine when you are most productive and figure out what you can do in that period to maximize it. For example, if you’re more productive in the evening, plan to do your household chores at the end of the day. If you get more done in the morning, try waking up a little early to make the most of your productivity.
How do you avoid stressful situations with ADHD?
Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to avoid stress, but getting ahead of it and planning can help. Keep a daily to-do list to help yourself stay on task, and set alarms in your phone to remind you about important tasks, like taking medication or paying bills. For big projects, breaking them down into smaller tasks and carefully planning your time can help you make deadines without the stress.
How can ADHD patients manage addiction?
Research determined that therapeutic interventions for substance misuse and ADHD should include interventions for addiction modalities, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, behavioral and cognitive therapies, and medication. If you need help managing your ADHD symptoms or managing addiction, talking to an online therapist can help.
How do you explain ADHD to someone who doesn't have it?
To explain ADHD traits to someone who doesn’t have it, try not to get too technical. Instead, talk to them about how you feel and how you manage daily functioning. Help them understand that when you don’t return their text or forget what time you were supposed to meet, it isn’t personal. You just have a hard time remembering things. Talk about how hard it is to stay on task, and tell them some of the coping skills you have developed to keep yourself organized.
Can ADHD be triggered?
Yes, and different people with ADHD may experience different triggers. Some people can experience emotional triggers and experience disappointment, anger, or frustration when facing failure, criticism, or conflict. Others may be triggered by things in their environment, like distracting noises, clutter, or harsh lighting. Other things that can trigger or exacerbate ADHD symptoms are lack of sleep, deadlines, stress, or an unhealthy lifestyle.
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