What does adult ADHD look like?

Many people think Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that happens primarily in childhood. This is not true. About a third of people with childhood ADHD continue to experience symptoms into adulthood.

Dr. Roey Pasternak, a psychiatrist in New York and New Jersey who treats ADHD, says: "For years it was thought that ADHD is primarily a childhood disorder and that children grow out of it over time. The hyperactivity seen in ADHD children tends to decrease over time. However, for many, the inattentive and impulsive symptoms of ADHD remain and may persist through adulthood."

Adult ADHD is not benign as it can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and various other difficulties.

What does ADHD look like in adults?

Even though ADHD can persist into adulthood, symptoms do not look the same as they do in childhood. Generally, hyperactivity decreases but impulsiveness, difficulty paying attention, restlessness, and other symptoms can continue.

We are all unique and no two adults with ADHD will experience the disorder in the same way. Some adults retain fewer symptoms that are more "toned down" as they get older while others continue to experience major symptoms and difficulties in their lives.

Adults with ADHD often complain of having difficulty performing at work. Their family and romantic relationships suffer as those close to them often complain that they are not fully present.

Adults with ADHD may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Problems prioritizing and carrying out tasks at work and school
  • Poor time management
  • Disorganization
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Low tolerance of frustration
  • Reckless driving; danger of traffic accidents
  • Distractable, poor listening skills
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Difficulty coping with stress

The effect of ADHD symptoms can be difficult. Difficulties with work and relationships and an inability to control symptoms can lead to the development of anxiety and depression. ADHD can often co-occur with mood disorders and/or substance abuse.

First diagnosis in adulthood

Even though ADHD begins in childhood, sometimes symptoms are not recognized until adulthood. Unfortunately, adults with undiagnosed ADHD can suffer unnecessarily as they do not know why they are struggling with daily tasks or failing in their relationships. If they attribute their symptoms to personal failures, their self-esteem can suffer.

Treatment may or may not include medication. Every adult with ADHD is unique and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be enormously effective, whether or not medication is desired or appropriate. If you are struggling with symptoms of ADHD or other mental health issues, it is important to seek diagnosis and treatment. ADHD can be managed well with treatment. There is no reason to allow your symptoms to disrupt your life and endanger your relationships and professional life. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can bring your life into balance and move forward in a healthy and positive way.

Click here for a list of therapists in your area who treat ADHD.