Introduction to Adult ADHDHave you ever had trouble concentrating, found it hard to sit still, interrupted others during a conversation or acted impulsively without thinking things through? Can you recall times when you daydreamed or had difficulty focusing on the task at hand?

Most of us can picture acting this way from time to time. But for some people, these and other exasperating behaviors are uncontrollable, persistently plaguing their day-to-day existence and interfering with their ability to form lasting friendships or succeed in school, at home, and with a career.

Unlike a broken bone or cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, also known as just plain attention deficit disorder or ADD) does not show physical signs that can be detected by a blood or other lab test. Typical ADHD symptoms can often overlap — or even mimic — those of other physical and psychological disorders.

The causes remain unknown, but ADHD can be diagnosed and effectively treated. Many resources are available to support families in managing ADHD behaviors when they occur.


ADHD, known in Europe and some parts of the world as hyperkinetic disorder, has been around a lot longer than most people realize. In fact, a condition that appears to be similar to ADHD was described by Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 370 BC. The name ‘attention deficit disorder’ was first introduced in 1980 in DSM-III, the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used in psychiatry. In 1994 the definition was altered to include three groups within ADHD: the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type; the predominantly inattentive type; and the combined type (in the DSM-5, these are now referred to as “presentations”).

ADHD usually appears first in childhood, but can also now be diagnosed in adults (as long as some symptoms were present in the individual’s childhood, but simply never diagnosed).

Recent steps forward in our understanding of ADHD include:

  • ADHD is among the most common mental disorders among children — it is estimated to occur in 1 in 7 children in the U.S. It is one of the top reasons for referral to a pediatrician, family physician, pediatric neurologist, child psychiatrist or psychologist. ADHD is best diagnosed by a child psychologist or other child specialist in ADHD.
  • ADHD is about three times more common among boys than girls.
  • The symptoms of ADHD do not always go away — up to 60 percent of child patients retain their symptoms into adulthood. Many adults with ADHD have never been diagnosed, so they may not be aware they have the disorder. They may have been wrongly diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or a learning disability.
  • ADHD has been identified in every nation and culture that has been studied.

ADHD is difficult to deal with for everyone involved. There is not only the difficulty of coping with symptoms, but also facing the challenges within society. Some experts have linked ADHD with an increased risk of accidents, drug abuse, failure at school, antisocial behavior, and criminal activity. But others view ADHD in a positive light, arguing that it is simply a different method of learning involving greater risk-taking and creativity.

ADHD may be accompanied by:

  • Anxiety
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech or hearing problems
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Tics
  • Behavioral problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder (CD) in children and teens

Exactly what causes ADHD has not been pinpointed, though many professionals believe neurobiological and genetic elements play a role. In addition, numerous social factors such as family conflict and poor child-rearing practices, while not causing the condition, may complicate the course of ADHD and its treatment.