Many people think of rowdy kids who can’t sit still when they think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But the fact is, symptoms of ADHD can linger into adulthood. In fact, many adults with ADHD aren’t aware they have it and don’t realize that many of the problems they face, including staying organized or being on time, are symptoms of adult ADHD.
What Causes Adult ADHD?
While experts don’t know for sure what causes ADHD, they believe genes may play an important part in who develops attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Environmental issues, such as exposure to cigarettes or alcohol while in the womb, may also play a role.
Unlike other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, ADHD can’t develop in the adult years. So symptoms must have been present since childhood for a diagnosis of adult ADHD to be made.
10 Adult ADHD Symptoms
The conventionally used diagnostic criteria for ADHD, including the most common symptoms, were developed based on how the condition shows itself in children.
These symptoms include forgetfulness and excessive daydreaming, as well as an inability to sit still, or constant fidgeting with objects.
Yet many experts think adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms manifest themselves differently and more subtly. This can make it difficult to recognize and diagnose adult ADHD.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 1: Problems Getting Organized
For people with ADHD, the increased responsibilities of adulthood — bills, jobs, and children, to name a few — can make problems with organization more obvious and more harmful than in childhood. While some ADHD symptoms are more annoying to other people than to the person with the condition, disorganization is often identified by adults struggling with ADHD as a major detractor from quality of life.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 2: Reckless Driving and Traffic Accidents
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder makes it hard to keep your attention on a task, so spending time behind the wheel of a car can be difficult. Because of this, ADHD can make some people more likely to speed, have traffic accidents, and lose their driver’s licenses.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 3: Marital Problems
Many people without ADHD have marital problems, of course, so a troubled marriage shouldn’t be seen as a red flag for adult ADHD. But there are some marriage problems that are particularly likely to affect the relationships of those with ADHD. Often, the partners of people with undiagnosed ADHD take poor listening skills and an inability to honor commitments as a sign that their partner doesn’t care. If you’re the person suffering from ADHD, you may not understand why you’re partner is upset, and you may feel you’re being nagged or blamed for something that’s not your fault.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 4: Extreme Distractibility
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a problem with attention regulation, so adult ADHD can make it difficult to succeed in today’s fast-paced, hustle-bustle world. Many people find that distractibility can lead to a history of career underperformance, especially in noisy or busy offices. If you have adult ADHD, you might find that phone calls or email derail your attention, making it hard for you to finish tasks.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 5: Poor Listening Skills
Do you zone out during long business meetings? Did your husband forget to pick up little Jimmy at baseball practice, even though you called to remind him on his way home? Problems with attention result in poor listening skills in many adults with ADHD, leading to a lot of missed appointments and misunderstandings.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 6: Restlessness, Problems Relaxing
While many children with ADHD are “hyperactive,” this ADHD symptom often appears differently in adults. Rather than bouncing off the walls, adults with ADHD are more likely to exhibit restlessness or find they can’t relax. If you have adult ADHD, others might describe you as edgy or tense.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 7: Problems Starting a Task
Just as children with ADHD often put off doing homework, people with adult ADHD often drag their feet when starting tasks that require a lot of attention. This procrastination often adds to existing problems, including marital disagreements, workplace issues, and problems with friends.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 8: Chronic Lateness
There are many reasons adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are usually late. First, they’re often distracted on the way to an event, maybe realizing the car needs to be washed, and then noticing they’re low on gas, and before they know it an hour has gone by. People with adult ADHD also tend to underestimate how much time it takes to finish a task, whether it’s a major assignment at work or a simple home repair.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 9: Angry Outbursts
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often leads to problems controlling emotions. Many people with adult ADHD are quick to explode over minor issues. Often, the person with ADHD feels as if they have absolutely no control over their emotions. Many times, their anger fades as quickly as it flared, long before the people who dealt with the outburst have gotten over the incident.
Adult ADHD Symptom No. 10: Prioritizing Issues
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can wreak havoc on planning, too. Often, people with adult ADHD mis-prioritize, failing to meet big obligations, like a deadline at work, while spending countless hours on something insignificant, such as getting a higher score on a video game.
Do You Have Adult ADHD?
Only a qualified health professional can make an accurate adult ADHD diagnosis, but there are some self-screening tests that may help you decide whether to consult a medical professional about your adult ADHD symptoms.
Since many different conditions can cause adult ADHD-like symptoms, these tests alone can’t diagnose adult ADHD.
If, after talking with a qualified health professional, you or your loved one is diagnosed with adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you’ll need to work together with your doctor to design the best treatment plan. Often, adult ADHD is treated with a combination of ADHD medications, such as Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, or Strattera, and therapy.