Adult ADHD is also one of the most common conditions associated with increased neurodiversity awareness. Many children with ADHD tend to see a reduction in symptoms as they grow up. Yet, it’s also common for the symptoms of ADHD to continue into adulthood.
If you or a loved one are displaying adult ADHD symptoms, only a healthcare professional can provide proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Still, this article aims to describe both the symptoms of ADHD as they commonly appear in adults and to discuss how these symptoms can impact an adult’s daily life.
What Is ADHD?ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neuro-developmental condition that is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. This condition can present in multiple different ways depending on the person. Some people present with primarily inattentive symptoms (previously regarded as a separate condition, ADD or attention deficit disorder).
Others present with primarily hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. And still, others have a blended presentation, with symptoms that fall into both the hyperactive and inattentive categories.
Many adults living with ADHD symptoms never suspect that they might have a neurological condition that is treatable. If not diagnosed in childhood, ADHD can become more difficult to spot as an individual grows older, develops better coping mechanisms, and learns how to disguise their symptoms in order to better fit in with others.
The difference between child and adult presentations of ADHD can also complicate matters. For example, while children tend to have more pronounced symptoms of hyperactivity, adults are typically better at controlling external behaviors even when they are feeling restless.
Gender may also play a role in determining how adult ADHD symptoms present. Men receive diagnoses for ADHD more frequently than women, in part because women with ADHD often don’t display the same symptoms as their male counterparts. For example, women are less likely than men to display external symptoms such as hyperactivity. They are more likely to experience internal symptoms of inattentiveness, difficulty sustaining focus, and impatience.
The symptoms of ADHD in adults tend to fall into the two categories of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Below are some of the most common symptoms in each category.
Inattentive ADHD Symptoms
- Difficulty sustaining focus for long periods of time
- Frequent distraction
- Disorganization and ineffective time-management
- Difficulty following instructions
- Frequently misplacing important items (keys, phone, wallet)
- Difficulty listening when directly addressed
- Inattention to detail
Hyperactive / Impulsive ADHD Symptoms
- Fidgeting and restlessness
- Difficulty engaging in quiet, stationary activities
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Low tolerance for stress
- Butting into the conversations or interactions of others
For an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD they must display multiple symptoms in multiple settings and circumstances to such a degree that the symptoms interfere with or reduce the quality of their life.
How Does ADHD Impact Adult Life?
Adult ADHD symptoms can range from mild to severe and interfere with life in a variety of ways. Some people may be able to function similarly to peers without ADHD. Meanwhile, others may find basic tasks, such as cleaning the house, getting to work on time, prioritizing projects, or remembering appointments, extremely difficult.
More severe ADHD symptoms can even make it hard for adults to maintain steady employment as these symptoms may interfere with one’s academic and professional success.
Untreated ADHD has been linked to significant negative outcomes such as:
- underemployment or unemployment
- difficulties with personal finances
- increased rates of substance misuse
- frequent high-risk accidents
- relational difficulties
- low self-esteem
- greater risk of developing other mental health conditions.
This makes evaluation, diagnosis, and timely treatment the highest priority for adults experiencing ADHD symptoms.However, it is also important to note that adult ADHD doesn’t have exclusively negative impacts. The ADHD brain processes stimuli differently than most brains, which, while making certain aspects of life more difficult, has its own set of benefits.
Adults with ADHD may experience periods of intense focus and fixation on previously unexplored hobbies, activities, or information. This proneness to hyper-fixations often leads ADHD adults to become masters of many varied skillsets.
Additionally, individuals with ADHD may tend to “chase the dopamine” by engaging in whatever activities currently produce the highest mental reward. This can translate into more thoughtful and successful creative endeavors, a greater willingness to engage in adventurous or thrill-seeking pastimes, or a tendency towards spontaneity. Overall, this can cause adults with ADHD to hold a more optimistic view of life, as these individuals anticipate their next great thrill.
Help for Adult ADHD
On the whole, the most successful ADHD adults are those who are able to find effective treatments and coping strategies for their symptoms, making daily life more manageable. If you or a loved one are showing multiple symptoms of ADHD in multiple settings and these symptoms started before the age of twelve, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.
Be honest with your doctor about the frequency and severity of your symptoms. If your symptoms are not better explained by another medical condition, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for evaluation and treatment. After diagnosis, the treatment for adult ADHD typically involves a combination of medication, therapy or behavioral support, and some simple lifestyle changes.
Medication for Adult ADHD
ADHD in both adults and children is most commonly treated with stimulant medications such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine. Instead of getting dopamine through hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, the ADHD brain gets the required dopamine as a result of the stimulant medication, allowing the individual to focus more effectively.
Alternatively, there are non-stimulant medications that are approved for the treatment of ADHD. Some doctors may also prescribe anti-depressants in ADHD cases; however, these are not currently approved for the treatment of ADHD symptoms.
Therapy and Support for Adult ADHD
Though it isn’t entirely clear whether traditional psychotherapy has any real effect on the underlying causes of ADHD, counseling and behavioral therapy may still help with the management of ADHD symptoms. Counseling can be especially helpful to adults with ADHD who also experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. Additionally, some people may find behavioral therapy helpful in developing coping strategies for unwanted ADHD behaviors.
Other supports that may help adults with ADHD develop better strategies for managing personal, professional, and academic responsibilities include life coaches, ADHD coaches, educational specialists and advocates, family and relationship therapists, and professional organizers.
In addition to medication and therapeutic support, it is believed that certain lifestyle habits may make it easier to manage adult ADHD symptoms. While not proven effective on their own, the following healthy habits may help to lower stress, channel hyperactivity, and naturally increase the brain’s dopamine levels, which is thought to increase concentration in ADHD individuals.
- Engage in regular exercise – This is especially important when you are feeling particularly restless, distracted, or hyperactive.
- Establish a healthy sleep schedule – Be sure you are getting at least the minimum required hours of sleep each night and try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day.
- Set limits on your screen time – It is easy to become overstimulated when you spend all day looking between your computer, cell phone, and television screen, so be sure to set aside some time each day to unplug and reset.
- Find systems and strategies that work for you – Not every coping strategy will work for everyone, so find what works for you. Using sticky-note reminders, setting timers on your phone, leaving ongoing projects in plain sight, or keeping your workspace clutter-free may or may not help you stay more focused, on-task, and productive. So, keep trying new strategies.
- Get connected with other ADHD adults – It always helps to know that you aren’t alone, so find a community of your peers, whether it be online, in-person, or a combination of both. Not only will you find your struggles are real and valid, but you may pick up some tips and tricks to help improve your own quality of life.
It is never too late to get help for ADHD. So, if you are an adult struggling with symptoms similar to those discussed in this article, schedule an appointment with a doctor, therapist, or counselor today.
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