ADHD In Adults: Symptoms, Challenges, And Treatments

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by trouble focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. While ADHD typically develops in childhood, it can persist into adulthood and continue to have a significant impact on daily functioning and quality of life. Below, we’re going to discuss symptoms of ADHD in adults, how they might affect you, and common methods for addressing them.  

You can manage ADHD and live a healthy, productive life

What is adult ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that affects brain development, causes brain differences, and can lead to an individual having difficulty focusing, displaying overly active behavior, and struggling to control impulses.

Many physicians diagnose ADHD in childhood, but it frequently persists into an individual’s adult years. In fact, approximately one-third of children with ADHD experience symptoms during adulthood.

Additionally, some people are not diagnosed until they’re adults due to missed diagnoses or, in some cases, late onset of symptoms. 

There are three subtypes of ADHD: inattentive type, impulsive/hyperactive type, and combined ADHD (inattentive and impulsive/hyperactive). The core symptoms an adult with ADHD experiences will typically depend on which type they live with. People with ADHD often exhibit different symptoms between childhood and adulthood. Some people find that their symptoms lessen as they age as they don’t have to face the school performance challenges and may learn to accommodate their symptoms, and children may not have to face certain challenges that adults with ADHD experience.

Adult ADHD symptoms

Learning how to recognize common adult ADHD symptoms and their resultant challenges can help you identify and manage them if they occur in your life.

Trouble with organization

There are two extremes that adults with ADHD often deal with when it comes to organization. Some struggle to organize their space, time, and other aspects of their life. On this extreme, it is often a challenge for adults with ADHD to keep up with things (e.g., the location of important items, when something needs to be done).

On the other side of the spectrum, some adults with ADHD are rigorously organized. This can happen as a result of overcompensating for disorganization; or it can be caused by hyper-focus, which is a common symptom of ADHD in which an individual puts all their attention on one activity, neglecting other tasks that may need to be done. 

Challenges driving

As an adult with ADHD, you may experience impulsivity and difficulty focusing while driving, which can lead to speeding, recklessness, and losing your way. ADHD can also cause increased anger and potential conflict with other drivers. 

Relationship trouble

Relationship problems can be particularly likely to occur when one adult has ADHD and the other does not. Disagreements regarding organization and cleanliness may be frequent if the partner who does not live with ADHD likes things a certain way and does not understand that manifestations of ADHD are more than just the other person’s opinions or preferences.


Many adults with ADHD also struggle with listening skills. They tend to be easily distracted, which can make it a challenge to stay focused on a conversation. This may come across as uncaring or flippant to a partner, even though it is unintentional. Conflict may also arise if the partner with ADHD is frequently late to engagements or forgets about the commitment they made to their significant other.

Additionally, because adults with ADHD sometimes have trouble managing their emotions, they may express anger and other emotions in unproductive ways, which can lead to high levels of stress within a relationship. 


Adults with ADHD may put off tasks for a variety of reasons. They might know a certain project is going to require extended focus and avoid starting it, or they could hyper-focus on another task that diverts their attention. If you’re living with ADHD, you may find yourself putting off things that you know need to be done, particularly if you’re unsure of how to approach them.

Trouble with punctuality

Living with ADHD, you may have an altered perception of time that can make scheduling and punctuality difficult. You might misjudge how long it will take to get somewhere or start on an unrelated project that causes you to lose track of time. Disorganization can exacerbate struggles with punctuality. If you’re already running late and then can’t find everything you need before you leave, you may fall even more behind.

Substance use

There is a proven link between ADHD and substance use. People with ADHD often use substances as a way of coping with symptoms of the disorder. They may drink alcohol in excess, misuse a prescription meant to treat ADHD symptoms, or take illegal drugs.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there is no definitive evidence that links ADHD and substance use, but it may have to do with people using substances to cope with the challenges of ADHD, or there may be a genetic component. Substance use disorders can also lead to other physical health problems.

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.

Treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

The first-line treatment for ADHD is typically a combination of medication and therapy. If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, a medical or mental health professional can develop a treatment plan based on your physical exam, specific symptoms, and medical history. 


ADHD medications are usually separated into two categories: stimulant and non-stimulant. Clinical trials show that both types of medication can increase levels of brain chemicals like dopamine, which are often lower in people with ADHD. 

Always consult with a medical or mental health professional before starting or stopping medication. 


There are many ways that therapy can be helpful for you as an adult with ADHD. A therapist can help you learn effective strategies for dealing with challenges regarding accomplishing tasks, managing time, and developing behavioral skills. They can also help you process the often difficult feelings you may experience as a result of ADHD. You may also want to consider support groups to talk to people who may be experiencing some of the same challenges you are for another line of support.

Tips for productivity

When implemented alongside a thorough treatment plan, other behavioral treatments may help you with some of the challenges that symptoms of ADHD can produce in adulthood.

Avoid multitasking

Although you may be tempted to do several things at once if you have ADHD, this can put you further behind and lead to careless mistakes. Multitasking can use up more of your energy and decrease the quality of your work compared to focusing on one thing at a time. To help you work on one thing at a time, consider utilizing time blocking. Time blocking is a method that splits your day into segments of time, each of which can be committed to a specific task. 

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique involves spending a set amount of time focusing on one task and then allowing yourself a short break before starting the timer again. The most popular variation of this method involves twenty-five-minute stretches of work, with five-minute breaks in between and a longer break after two hours. This can be an effective strategy given that taking breaks has been shown to increase focus. 

Use a planner

If you struggle with time management and working memory, consider keeping a planner and using it daily. This could be a paper organizer or an app. Find a planner that works for you and make sure that everything you need to remember goes in it.

Limit distractions

If you find that you’re easily distracted while working, consider putting your phone in do-not-disturb mode, using website-blocking software, or employing other safeguards to avoid diversions that may cause you to lose focus. If you work in a busy office, shut the door (if you have one) so you won’t hear other conversations, or use noise-canceling headphones to block out disruptive sounds.

Be realistic with expectations considering ADHD

People with ADHD often have interests that are diverse and plentiful. While this can help add to life’s enjoyment, it can also cause you to overcommit or spread yourself too thin. To help maintain a realistic schedule, consider giving yourself plenty of cushion between tasks and appointments. It can also help to learn to say no when you know your schedule is already full. 

Automate your life

Having systems in place to help you prioritize time sensitive tasks can help you save energy and get things done easier. Consider implementing systems for activities like paying bills, planning meals, and shopping for groceries. For example, you can often set up automatic payments for your phone, gas, and utility bills. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
You can manage ADHD and live a healthy, productive life

Navigating adult ADHD with online therapy

A growing body of evidence points to online therapy as an effective method of managing symptoms of ADHD as well as other mental disorders. In a broad-based meta-analysis of studies, researchers found that online therapy could decrease ADHD symptoms in both adults and children. 

Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp is a convenient and available way of working through symptoms of ADHD as an adult or learning to cope with other mental health conditions. With BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy remotely through video calls, voice calls, or in-app messaging. When you sign up, you’ll complete a questionnaire and get matched with a mental health professional who fits your preferences and can help you address your specific concerns related to ADHD or any other mental health challenges. 


The complexity of ADHD is evident in the different ways its symptoms manifest between childhood and adulthood. If you’ve taken psychological tests and been given an ADHD diagnosis or are living with symptoms of ADHD, know that help is available. With the support and guidance of an online mental health professional, you can address the unique challenges that come with adult ADHD and flourish.

Gain a better understanding of ADHD
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