You lost your keys again! Weren’t they right here a minute ago? You’ll look for them after sending this email. Wait! Didn’t you have to see your doctor today? You’ll check after paying this bill.
And so goes your day, from one uncompleted task to the next. In the meantime, your restlessness seems to have no end. You wonder why you’re always so distracted.
There are many possible answers. Still, if this is something you’ve experienced for a long time, we might be talking about symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“But I’m not a child anymore!” you say. In fact, adults can also live with this condition.
Approximately 4.4% of adults in the United States currently have an ADHD diagnosis. Approximately 5.4% of them are males and 3.2% are females.
Although many people receive an ADHD diagnosis during childhood, symptoms of the condition sometimes go undetected until adulthood.
In fact, some
Symptoms of adult ADHD are similar to those seen in childhood but may manifest differently and, in some instances, be less severe.
For example, hyperactivity in adults with ADHD might feel like constant restlessness or a sense of always being on the go.
Inattention in adults could also translate into poor time management, losing or misplacing objects, clutter everywhere, or irritability.
If left untreated, adult ADHD can affect your job, relationships, and home life.
If you’ve already received a diagnosis from a healthcare professional, you may still be wondering: Did I always have it? Can ADHD develop in adulthood?
Most research suggests that even if the condition is diagnosed in adulthood, you’ve had it since childhood. Perhaps you are just learning about it for a couple reasons:
- Symptoms may have gone unnoticed in childhood.
- Symptoms may have been masked by another disorder and diagnosis, such as an anxiety disorder, autism, or a sensory processing disorder.
Three preliminary studies — conducted in the
Still, most research supports the idea that people with adult ADHD have probably had it since childhood.
While some children grow out of it, about 1 in 3 children with ADHD will continue presenting symptoms as adults.
Symptoms of ADHD may vary according to subtype.
Child and adult ADHD can be categorized into three types:
Predominantly inattentive presentation
This type is characterized primarily by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.
Adults with inattentive presentations may be easily distracted and tend to experience difficulty completing tasks.
They may also find managing money challenging as well as remembering to pay bills or return messages.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
This ADHD type is characterized by low impulse control and hyperactivity.
An adult with this type may be an impulsive shopper, regularly feel restless, or have low tolerance to stress.
This is the most common type of ADHD. It presents with symptoms of the other two ADHD types.
To reach an ADHD diagnosis in an adult, a mental health professional will look for:
- five or more symptoms of inattention and/or five or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for more than 6 months
- symptoms (inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive) present before age 12
- symptoms (inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive) present in more than two settings (e.g., home, work, or school)
- symptoms that interfere with or reduce the quality of social, academic, or work functioning
- symptoms that cannot be explained by other mental health conditions or substance use
A diagnosis of adult ADHD involves a comprehensive evaluation, including a medical exam and review of current and past symptoms.
Mental health professionals diagnose adult ADHD using the same diagnostic criteria as childhood ADHD. However, the same symptoms may look quite different in an adult.
Symptoms will also vary depending on dominant ADHD type.
Inattentive presentation symptoms
- poor attention to detail or tendency to make mistakes due to lack of attention
- difficulty paying attention to another person or activity
- trouble following a movie or concentrating on a book
- lack of response when others talk with you
- difficulty staying on task and following instructions
- poor organizational skills
- difficulty undertaking tasks that require prolonged mental effort
- inclination to procrastinate or lack of persistence
- tendency to frequently lose keys, wallet, or other important objects
- wandering thoughts and difficulty concentrating
- trouble staying focused at work
- forgetfulness in everyday activities, including paying bills, remembering where the car was parked, or putting the milk back in the refrigerator
- an abundance of energy even while seated that may translate into constant fidgeting, bouncing legs, or tapping hands or feet
- difficulty staying seated for long periods of time
- constant feelings of restlessness
- difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities
- rushing through tasks, especially those you consider boring
- feeling always “on the go” or acting as if “driven by a motor”
- needing a lot of mental and physical excitement, like driving fast, participating in extreme sports, or lots of social activity
- constant talking and difficulty waiting for your turn to talk
- blurting out comments without being able to take a pause and think it through
- difficulty standing in line or waiting your turn
- interrupting conversations or intruding on others
In adults, hyperactivity may manifest in emotional ways too.
- getting frustrated or angry in traffic or waiting in line
- experiencing frequent changes in mood
- having difficulty coping with stressful times
Adults with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may also overdo things and take risks, like compulsive shopping, overeating, or binge drinking.
Around half of adults with ADHD may also live with an anxiety disorder.
This can sometimes make it difficult for a mental health professional to reach an ADHD diagnosis.
For example, is your anxiety about forgetting to complete tasks at work due to ADHD, or is it a completely separate diagnosis?
Is your constant fidgeting a result of your anxiety disorder, or is it part of ADHD restlessness?
Most clinicians see anxiety and ADHD as two separate conditions with different treatment plans.
Deciding which condition to treat first is typically based on which one you see as your main cause of distress.
Some overlapping symptoms of ADHD and anxiety include:
- concentration difficulties
- trouble falling asleep
- feeling distracted
- lack of persistence (e.g., having unfinished projects)
A possible indicator for symptoms of ADHD is that they’re usually the result of a lack of focus or concentration, and hyperactivity or impulsivity.
In an anxiety disorder, the underlying reason is typically constant nervousness and fear.
ADHD and bipolar disorder are commonly seen together.
Estimates vary, but research suggests 9.5% to 21.2% of people with bipolar disorder also live with symptoms of ADHD. Between 5.1% and 47.1% of people with ADHD live with bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder and ADHD tend to have an earlier onset age for bipolar disorder symptoms than people without ADHD.
Symptoms of some types of bipolar disorder that may overlap with symptoms of adult ADHD include:
- talking too much
- impulsive behaviors
- changes in mood or emotional dysregulation
- attention difficulties
- racing mind
The distinct features of some types of bipolar disorder, such as the depressive phase and the episodic course of symptoms, can help differentiate between the two disorders.
Symptoms of adult ADHD may present in different ways compared to those in children.
If you’re living with constant restlessness, difficulty completing tasks, misplacing objects, and low impulse control, you might have adult ADHD.
Getting your condition diagnosed by a mental health professional could help you develop coping skills that can lead to improving your relationships and day-to-day functioning.
These resources might help you take the first step: