15 Adult ADHD Signs and Symptoms

Between 2.5 and 4.4% of adults have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and many others have never been diagnosed or do not realize they experience ADHD-related symptoms. Here are 15 signs of adult ADHD.

You may read different data points for the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), especially in adults. This could be for a few reasons: First, over the years, diagnostic criteria for ADHD have evolved. Also, old stereotypes tell us that only children have ADHD (not the case) and that ADHD looks the same across ages and gender (also not true). Because the signs and symptoms of adult ADHD are not widely known, many adults frustratingly go without a diagnosis, sometimes for their whole life.

The American Psychiatric Association reports an estimated 2.5% of adults have ADHD, while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that 4.4% of adults between the ages of 18 and 44 have ADHD. A review of population-based studies from January 2000 onward, published in February 2021 in the Journal of Global Health, estimated that globally, 2.58% of adults have "persistent adult ADHD"—meaning you had (or self-reported having) a childhood ADHD diagnosis. Meanwhile, an estimated 6.76% of adults have "symptomatic adult ADHD"—meaning you did not have a childhood ADHD diagnosis but show symptoms as an adult.

Furthermore, a 2014 review of literature published in The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders noted that adult ADHD remains underdiagnosed and is often misdiagnosed.

But a diagnosis can be life-changing. Adults with ADHD tend to have lower incomes, as well as higher rates of accidents, unplanned pregnancies, and substance misuse than those without it, according to Martin W. Wetzel, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha, Nebraska.

Getting the correct diagnosis could help you better understand yourself and how your brain works. This may relieve feelings of failure, anger, or low self-esteem. You may also be able to navigate your job better, your day-to-day activities, and your relationships with friends, family, and yourself.

Here are 15 signs or symptoms of adult ADHD. If you recognize any number of these in yourself or a loved one, know there are several lifestyle changes, therapies, and medications that can help you manage.

01 of 15

You're Restless

Children with ADHD can be overly energetic, but adults may just feel edgy or restless. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) note how adults with ADHD sometimes report feeling like their insides are driven by a motor.

Adults don't show the more obvious signs such as running and jumping, said Colette de Marneffe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland. Hyperactivity presents more subtly in the form of restlessness. This may make you fidget your hands and feet or have trouble sitting still in a seat.

Now that you are considering if you have ADHD, you may recall a rambunctious childhood. Dr. Wetzel had a patient who recalled spending a lot of time in the school hallways because he couldn't sit still. "It's a classic story," Dr. Wetzel said.

Additionally, when a child is diagnosed with ADHD, some adults, who may have had the same symptoms when they were children, realize they may have always had the condition too.

02 of 15

You Have Relationship Trouble

Adults with ADHD report having difficulty maintaining professional, personal, and romantic relationships. Colleagues, friends, and partners may become frustrated when adults with ADHD exhibit symptoms like restlessness, lateness, disorganization, procrastination, poor listening, and memory. CHADD notes that people with ADHD may disrupt others often, talk excessively, or speak bluntly contributing to difficult relationships.

On the flip side, while adults with ADHD want and pursue relationships when the initial excitement of a new friendship or partnership wears off, a person with ADHD may become bored, restless, or anxious in the relationship.

"Oftentimes adults with ADHD have a hard time with that transition," de Marneffe noted. "When the relationship becomes more stable and predictable, conflicts tend to emerge."

Being easily distracted or inattentive—symptoms of ADHD—can also sabotage existing relationships with family, friends, and significant others who view their loved one's behavior as self-centered, Dr. Wetzel added.

03 of 15

You Shop A Lot

A study published in August 2015 in Psychiatry Research observed that adults with ADHD were associated with compulsive buying.

This could be in an attempt to improve your mood, combat depression, relieve stress, or match an image of yourself you may have created to boost self-esteem, as found in a study also published in Psychiatry Research in December 2014. Compulsive buying is also related to impulsiveness, another adult ADHD symptom.

04 of 15

You Smoke or Drink Too Much

A review published in March 2014 in Current Psychiatry Reports suggests teenagers and adults with ADHD have a higher risk of substance misuse, including alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes; but we certainly need more data to understand the complex relationship.

A study published in August 2016 in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors did find adults with ADHD were more likely to become daily smokers.

"Nicotine is very effective for a lot of ADHD symptoms and it's not uncommon for me to see someone for the first time after they quit smoking," said Dr. Wetzel. That's because they often start to have more problems with focus and concentration, Dr. Wetzel explained.

While not every person with ADHD has overt difficulty paying attention, a study published in December 2013 in The Journal of Pediatrics observed that people who had childhood attention problems had a higher risk of misusing tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and/or cocaine later in life.

People may turn to these substances to deal with low self-esteem and feelings of failure that also can coincide with ADHD, as well as overlapping conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

05 of 15

You Had (or Have) Academic Problems lems

If you suspect you have ADHD as an adult, an early history of ADHD symptoms like difficulty sitting still, paying attention to the teacher, and focusing on your work, can confirm the diagnosis.

"What adult patients will tell you repeatedly is that they had to work twice as hard as their peers to get half as much done in school," Dr. Wetzel said.

These challenges can continue into adulthood. In a study published in October 2019 in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology, undergraduate students reported having academic challenges, which they largely attributed to a lack of motivation or known motivation.

06 of 15

You're a Champion Procrastinator

Do you live from deadline to deadline? By definition, procrastination is the delaying of activities. A study published in July 2014 in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research categorizes procrastination in three ways: Academic procrastination may look like putting off studying or starting a paper until the last minute. Everyday procrastination may mean you delay organizing daily activities and complete them shortly before the deadline. This may also mean taking a while to answer texts or calls or being late to pay bills. Finally, decisional procrastination is when you pause or have difficulty making decisions on time.

"I can't tell you how many times a patient has told me, 'I'm the king of procrastination,' or 'I'm the queen of procrastination,' because they feel like no one else can put things off as they can," said Dr. Wetzel.

It makes sense, Dr. Wetzel added, because when people with ADHD are anxious, that's when they can focus. Constant anxiety, however, can be stressful.

07 of 15

You're a Thrill Seeker

People with ADHD are often drawn to activities that are stimulating. They may engage in risky behaviors, like fast driving, gambling, and even extramarital affairs.

A study published in September 2013 in PLoS One found that children and adolescents with ADHD showed a stronger risk for increased risky behaviors like gambling than adults with ADHD; however, this could, researchers theorized, lead to developmental changes "in reward and/or penalty sensitivity" that could manifest in adulthood.

"The key is to channel that desire for excitement and novelty into activities that don't jeopardize your work and family life," said de Marneffe. Parasailing or other high-adventure activities may be good alternative outlets.

08 of 15

You Lose Things or Feel Disorganized

Here's the tip Your desk is a mountain of paper and you just wasted a half hour searching for an important legal document. Or maybe you failed to make appointments for your children to see the pediatrician, and the school wants their immunization reports—pronto.

Dr. Wetzel described ADHD as an "underpowered state of consciousness." If you set down your keys and you're not paying attention, your brain doesn't lay down a memory of the event.

"It's kind of like it never happened," Dr. Wetzel said.

If you have ADHD, getting and staying organized is perhaps a challenge for you. CHADD recommends several ways to improve organization and productivity, including breaking down your tasks into small steps, tackling organizing rooms in sections, and creating filing systems that compliment how you live.

09 of 15

You Have Trouble on the Job

Everyone encounters some task they don't particularly enjoy, but most people can find a way to complete the boring aspects of their job, said de Marneffe. People with ADHD, however, have a hard time doing that.

Jobs with a lot of repetition tend to be a poor fit, de Marneffe observed. Choose work that engages you and fulfills your need for novelty and variability.

10 of 15

You Have a Quick Temper

If you fly off the handle in a fit of anger or frustration one moment but quickly move on, it might be a sign of ADHD.

Because this type of irritability can also be a symptom of bipolar disorder, some people with ADHD can be misdiagnosed, said Dr. Wetzel. (However, you can also have both.) It's important to get a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.

Children with ADHD often get mislabeled as "bad," "naughty," "disruptive," or "aggressive," but a study published in August 2016 in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica correlated these types of behavior to childhood ADHD.

11 of 15

You Have Problems Completing Tasks

Is your house cluttered with piles of laundry? Is your expense account still a work in progress? Even if you don't find yourself procrastinating, you may be having trouble finishing what you started.

Failing to finish tasks can be a symptom of ADHD in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Dr. Wetzel, author of the e-book The Adult ADHD Handbook For Patients, Family & Friends ($3; amazon.com), found the most successful ADHD patients tended to be entrepreneurs who recognized this shortcoming and surrounded themselves with people who focused on the details, finished the paperwork, and handled the mundane portions of a task.

12 of 15

You're Impulsive

If you feel like you blurt out whatever's on your mind without weighing the consequences, it might be a symptom of ADHD. A study published in June 2012 in Nature Neuroscience found ADHD can manifest as impulsivity in adolescents. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) also includes talking excessively, blurting out answers before questions are finished, and interrupting others' conversations as symptoms of adult ADHD.

And acting on an impulse, rather than thinking things through, can cause trouble with family and colleagues. Examples would include abruptly quitting a job, having unprotected sex, or impulse buying with little thought about the repercussions.

13 of 15

You Can't Relax

Your spouse wants to catch a movie, but unless it's the thriller you've been dying to see, you may get up several times or have random thoughts that distract you from the plot.

Being calm requires a quiet mind, and that's tough for people with ADHD because "so many other things can take over their consciousness," Dr. Wetzel said. "People with ADHD will tell you it's almost impossible for them to meditate."

14 of 15

You're Easily Distracted

You're on a conference call, but your mind keeps wandering. Next thing you know, you've lost chunks of conversation.

With ADHD, sustaining focus is a real problem and a core symptom, according to the DSM-5. Unimportant things—from external noises and movement to daydreams—grab your attention. This isn't your fault, and it's not a reflection of how much you care about something or someone. A study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in August 2014 observed the relationship between adult ADHD and mind-wandering.

CHADD recommends trying strategies like requesting or moving to a quiet workspace, using noise-canceling or white-noise headphones, and keeping a list of your ideas while you listen so you can refer to them later.

15 of 15

You're Late or Have Trouble Managing Time

Time management is difficult for many, but struggling to be on time or judging how long it will take you to do something may be related to adult ADHD.

A study published in January 2013 in Neuropsychological noted that "timing deficits," or timing problems, were associated with inattention and impulsiveness.

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