12 Symptoms Of ADHD In Adults

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms that can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. While ADHD typically develops during childhood, symptoms often carry over into adulthood.

Want to learn more about the common signs of adult ADHD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, an estimated 2.5% of adults have ADHD

Some health care experts believe that most adults living with ADHD are undiagnosed, so the actual prevalence may be much higher. Part of the diagnostic criteria of ADHD is there must be a persistent pattern of symptoms present in two or more settings (for example, at school and at home), which may make it easier to diagnose ADHD in children than adults. A child with ADHD may behave differently than other children in their classrooms and have poor school performance due to trouble focusing or issues with authority figures. Several symptoms may be easier to identify in many children as it is not always easy to compare someone older to other adults, and it can be simpler to notice and categorize a child’s behavior in relation to ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD can be challenging; it can be misdiagnosed as a learning disability, mood disorders, or somewhat similar conditions (like oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD) due to having similar symptoms, or symptoms may go unrecognized. 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 based on the symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual diagnosis criteria, discuss their implications, and review possible treatment methods. 

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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and traits in adults

How is ADHD diagnosed? There is no single test that can diagnose ADHD, as there is no known exact cause but rather many potential causes and expressions of the disorder, including combined presentation with other disorders such as depression or ODD. Generally, a comprehensive evaluation is needed to rule out other causes, determine if there are co-existing conditions potential risk factors like a parent with ADHD, and establish a diagnosis of ADHD.

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, though like all mental disorders, everyone’s experience may be different. To learn more, check out the National Resource Center from Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

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 attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder often have trouble organizing 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 and trouble paying attention are ADHD symptoms that can appear in childhood and persist into adulthood. Adults with ADHD often have a hard time concentrating on tasks for an extended period. 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. 

5. Hyperfocus 

While lack of focus can be a concern, ADHD can also cause adults to become intensely focused with close attention to details 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. 

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Want to learn more about the common signs of adult ADHD?

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, easily distracted, 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 or an anxiety disorder. 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 young 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. You may similarly experience trouble engaging in leisure activities quietly, even in public settings. Extreme restlessness (such as hyperactivity, impulsivity) 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, careless mistakes, and difficult situations in adults with ADHD. Hyperactive 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 having trouble waiting your turn.

10. Mood swings related to ADHD

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 intense emotions. 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 disorders or problems sleeping), 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 attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults

ADHD symptoms 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 misuse disorders. ADHD can also create conflict in romantic relationships, particularly when one partner lives with ADHD and the other does not. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

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. 

Getty/PeopleImages

ADHD Treatment

Diagnosis and treatment of ADHD can differ. 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. Treatment can depend on the expression of ADHD; the treatment for someone with predominantly inattentive presentation will likely be different than that for someone who displays more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity. Treatment will also depend on one’s developmental level (child, adolescent, adult, etc.). 

Medications

Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate or amphetamines, are often the first recommended approach to treat ADHD. Alternatively, a healthcare provider 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. If desired, support groups consisting of others with ADHD can be helpful for some.

Managing adult ADHD symptoms and other mental disorders 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 this mental health disorder. It may also be helpful in cognitive disease control and prevention.

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.

Takeaway

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.
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