ADHD doesn’t usually intensify as you get older, but symptoms may change or you may find they impact you in a different way.
Not everyone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experiences the same symptoms and with the same intensity. What may be typical for you may not be for another person also living with this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Symptoms may also change with age and environment. These changes could lead you to perceive your symptoms as different or “worse.”
About 11% of children ages 4 to 17 in the United States have at some point received an ADHD diagnosis. The lifetime prevalence for adults ages 18 to 44 is 8.1%.
It’s possible for many people to have ADHD since childhood without having received the diagnosis at that time. When and if they finally do, they may feel ADHD is worse for adults.
But ADHD symptoms can be managed with the support of a specialized health professional. This may result in an improvement in how you experience your ADHD.
On the other hand, if ADHD is not diagnosed or treated, this could mean that, for some people, symptoms become more severe or may interfere more often in daily tasks and relationships.
Age may be an important factor in many aspects of your life. Even if some symptoms remain the same, your experiences, coping skills, and even support networks may make a difference in how you experience them.
The way ADHD symptoms present in everyday life may differ for children and adults. Whether they’re better or worse is often a personal perception and depends on many factors.
For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) says hyperactivity symptoms typically refer to excessive motor activity, particularly when it may not be appropriate for the situation.
In a child, this may manifest as constantly running or jumping in the classroom. For an adult, it could look more like fidgeting during a work meeting or feeling extremely restless to the point of having difficulty completing a report.
Both expressions of hyperactivity may interfere with everyday tasks like homework or office work.
In this case, hyperactivity may still be a symptom you carry from childhood to adulthood, but specific hyperactive behaviors may change.
For females, symptoms may change in intensity after they have their first period and
In general, ADHD doesn’t get worse with age. Some adults may also outgrow their symptoms.
But this is not the case for everyone.
There are some circumstances that may lead to symptoms becoming more severe or intense, or some people may perceive symptoms are getting worse depending on how they impact their everyday tasks.
When ADHD is not diagnosed or treated during childhood, some people may reach adulthood not knowing how to manage symptoms. This could, in turn, make them feel ADHD is worse during adulthood.
Adulthood may also bring new stressors and challenges that could make ADHD symptoms more evident or distressing.
The pressures that come with a regular job, for example, may bring forward more ADHD-related challenges, like difficulty focusing in daily meetings, or not being able to complete reports on time.
These or other challenges may lead you to develop symptoms of conditions like anxiety, which in turn, may intensify certain ADHD symptoms.
Other overlapping conditions may also interfere with or intensity your symptoms.
A 2012 study found that
- eating disorders
- bipolar disorder
Other possible overlapping conditions that may impact ADHD symptoms include:
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- complicated grief
- substance use disorder
ADHD is also a situational condition. This means that some settings and events may impact the way you experience it.
For example, the career you choose may make a difference in how you function when you have ADHD.
You may also find you have “better” and “worse” days. Events such as high stress, grief and loss, and interpersonal conflicts may also lead you to feel you’re having a “bad ADHD day.”
Occupations that may require more physical activity may be less challenging for someone who has hyperactivity symptoms. On the other hand, working as an accountant may lead you to the opposite experience.
This is not related to cognition or intelligence. Instead, executive functions like organizing, memory, and focusing may be challenged for some people with ADHD. If you work in a job that constantly requires these functions, you may feel frustrated more often, and feel your ADHD is more severe than it used to be.
A lower support structure may also have an impact on your symptoms, and these may become more intense with time.
You may also wonder if ADHD can get worse if left untreated. Earlier diagnosis and intervention with evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may result in less intense adult ADHD symptoms for some people. Again, this depends on the combination of many factors.
You can learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of ADHD here.
It’s not uncommon for ADHD symptoms to change over time. Many factors may be involved in these changes and in your perception of how severe your symptoms are.
Life experiences, specialized treatment, support structure, gender-related physiological changes, and coping skills may all affect the severity of ADHD. In some cases, this may mean your ADHD symptoms get worse.
ADHD can be managed at any age, though. If you feel your symptoms are getting more intense, or you want to explore which paths to take to manage them, consider:
- speaking with a licensed mental health professional
- using any related medications as recommended by such health professional
- developing specific skills that may help you cope on a daily basis
- finding emotional support
- working on adapting your environment to limit distractions
- learning to control your impulses
To take the first step toward finding a mental health professional, these resources may help:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists