15 Signs You May Have Adult ADHD

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.

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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 has 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 diagnosis, sometimes for their whole life.

The American Psychiatric Association reports and estimated 2.5% of adults have ADHD, while The National Institute of Health 4.4% of adults between the age of 18 and 44 have ADHD. A 2020 review of population-based studies from January 2000 onward estimated that globally, 2.58% of adults have "persistent adult ADHD" -- meaning you have (or self-report) a childhood ADHD diagnosis, too -- and 6.76% of adults have "symptomatic adult ADHD" -- meaning you did not have a childhood ADHD diagnosis but show symptoms as an adult.

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, says Martin W. Wetzel, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha.

Getting the correct diagnosis could help you better understand yourself and how your brain works. This may relieve feelings of failure and anger or low self-esteem. You may also be able to better navigate your job, 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 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) notes 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, says Colette de Marneffe, PhD, 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," he says.

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, some adults, who may have had the same symptoms when they were children, realize that they may have always had the condition without realizing it.

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 because people with ADHD may disrupt others often, talk excessively, and speak bluntly.

On the flipside, 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 really have a hard time with that transition," notes de Marneffe. "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 adds.

03 of 15

You shop a lot

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

This could be in an attempt to improving your mood, combating depression, relieving stress, or matching an image of yourself you may have created to boost self-esteem. Compulsive buying is also related to impulsiveness, another adult ADHD symptom.

04 of 15

You smoke or drink too much

Increasing literature 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 2016 study 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," says Dr. Wetzel. That's because they often start to have more problems with focus and concentration, he explains.

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

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

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, for example, can confirm the diagnosis.

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

These challenges can continue into adulthood. In a study published in 2019, undergraduate students reported having acamedic challenges, which they largely attributed to lack of motivation, known as amotivation.

06 of 15

You're a champion procrastinator

Do you live deadline to deadline? By definition, procrastination is the delaying of activities. A 2014 study notes that researchers categorize 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 deadline. This may also mean taking awhile 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 like they can," says Dr. Wetzel.

It makes sense, he adds, because when people with ADHD are anxious, that's when they can focus. Constant anxiety, however, can obviously 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 2013 study summized 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," says 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 off: 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 describes ADHD as an "underpowered state of consciousness." If you set down your keys and you're not really paying attention, your brain doesn't lay down a memory of the event.

"It's kind of like it never happened," he says.

If you have ADHD, getting and staying organized is perhaps a challenge for you. CHADD recommends several ways 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 he doesn't particularly enjoy, but most people are able to find a way to complete the boring aspects of their job, says de Marneffe. People with ADHD, however, have a hard time doing that.

Jobs with a lot of repetition tend to be a poor fit, she observes. 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 are completely over it in the next, 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, says 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 2016 data correlates 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. Dr. Wetzel, author of the e-book The Adult ADHD Handbook For Patients, Family & Friends ($3; amazon.com), finds the most successful ADHD patients tend to be entrepreneurs who recognize this shortcoming and surround themselves with people who will focus on the details, finish the paperwork, and handle the mundane portions of a task.

12 of 15

You're impulsive

If you blurt out whatever's on your mind without weighing the consequences, it might be a symptom of 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 says. "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 feature of the disorder. 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 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. ofyour 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 it but struggling to be on time or judging how long it will take you to do something may be related to adult ADHD.

A 2013 study summized that "timing deficits," or timing problems, were associated with inattention and and impulsiveness.

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