ADHD in Adults

ADHD in Adults

Learn about the core symptoms of ADHD in adults


ADHD symptoms in adults

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity (ADHD) is a condition with symptoms that include excessive restlessness, poor attention, and impulsive acts. There are three major presentations of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, in which children and adults have problems concentrating and focusing; predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, in which children and adults experience impulsivity and excess activity; and combined type, in which children and adults experience symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

The reality: More than 60 percent of children with ADHD continued to experience symptoms into adulthood. Untreated ADHD in adults can have a significant negative impact on many aspects of life. Symptoms such as difficulty managing time, forgetfulness, and impatience can cause problems at work, home, and in all types of relationships.

Symptoms of inattention

  • Often makes careless mistakes and lacks attention to details
    Example: messy, disorganized work
  • Often has difficulty paying attention to tasks
    Example: difficulty staying focused during meetings, lengthy readings, or conversations
  • Often seems to not listen when spoken to directly
    Example: mind seems somewhere else, even in the absence of obvious distraction
  • Often fails to follow through on instructions, chores, or appointments
    Example: starts tasks, but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked
  • Often easily distracted
    Example: often thinking of unrelated thoughts
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities Example: difficulty prioritizing; fails to meet deadlines; poor time management
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to participate in tasks requiring sustained mental effort Example: avoids work, school, or home tasks (procrastinates) in favor of activities with immediate rewards. Often loses things Example: loses or misplaces things like keys, glasses, wallets, and cell phones
  • Often forgetful in daily activities Example: forgets regular activities like paying bills on-time, returning phone calls, keeping appointments, and running errands

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity

  • Often fidgets with or taps hands and feet or squirms in seat
    Example: may also need to hold or fiddle with an object
  • Often leaves seat when remaining seated is expected
    Example: frequently leaves their workspace to complete “other” tasks
  • Often unable to participate in leisurely activities quietly
    Example: family tension due to constant activity
  • Often acts as if “on the go” or “driven by a motor”
    Example: uncomfortable being still for extended time at restaurants or meetings
  • Often talks excessively Example: wants to “say it” or risk forgetting a thought
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been fully asked Example: completes people’s sentences; cannot wait for turn in conversation
  • Often has difficulty waiting his or her turn Example: trouble waiting in lines or waiting rooms
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others Examples: intrudes on conversations, games, or activities; may start using other people’s things without asking or getting permission

How ADHD may appear in different settings

may appear in

Symptoms must be present in two or more settings for a diagnosis of ADHD to be made.

Symptoms must be present in two or more settings for a diagnosis of ADHD to be made.


  • Forgets regular activities like paying bills on-time, returning phone calls, keeping appointments, and running errands
  • Loses or misplaces things like keys, glasses, wallets, and cell phones
  • Avoids tasks (procrastinates) in favor of activities with immediate rewards such as watching TV or surfing the internet

Work or school

  • Trouble getting organized, i.e. trouble prioritizing or getting started; often missing deadlines; poor time management skills; often late to appointments
  • Trouble sitting still with frequent need to leave meetings or classes
  • Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes


  • Often failing to follow through with commitments
  • Difficulty staying on topic during discussions
  • Avoiding social activities in favor of staying home
  • Changing personal relationships frequently
  • Frequently interrupting conversations or speaking without thinking of the consequences

ADHD symptoms may appear differently in adulthood

ADHD can be a lifelong condition yet symptoms in adults may be less noticeable than those in children (ages 6-17), though they are just as important to identify. For example, symptoms of hyperactivity in children, such as climbing or running excessively, may appear in adults as a feeling of restlessness.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can ADHD in adults be diagnosed?

ADHD in adults can be diagnosed at any age. Most individuals seek help when their daily functioning declines enough to cause problems at work, school, social situations, or relationships. The presenting symptoms may be caused by ADHD, another condition, or a co-occurring disorder. A thorough evaluation by a specialist considers all potential co-existing disorders to achieve an accurate diagnosis or diagnoses. This is essential to choosing the right treatments, including the choice of medication that will benefit you the most.

If you have a significant other or spouse, it is helpful to have them at the initial psychiatric evaluation to provide feedback. You may not be fully aware of your symptoms or forgotten relative information from the past that could shed light on your history to help your provider in the assessment.

What are common emotions and behaviors of adults with ADHD?

.Adults suffering from ADHD experience a range of emotions and behaviors such as procrastination, low frustration tolerance, boredom, poor concentration, and forgetfulness. These symptoms may be the result of the difficulties adults face when dealing with ADHD. The severity of these symptoms often varies with the situation. Other potential symptoms of ADHD in adults include chronic lateness, poor organization skills, avoiding tasks or projects requiring sustained focus, mood swings, difficulty managing anger, relationship problems, and low self-esteem from dealing with a lifetime of disappointment and failures.

After a comprehensive evaluation, your provider may determine your symptoms are rooted in a disorder other than ADHD. The good news is that whatever your symptoms, your provider will help you gain relief from your symptoms and help you return to a productive and fulfilling life.

What causes ADHD in adults?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but researchers believe it may be linked to an imbalance in neurotransmitters that affect the brain.

What treatment options are available for adults with ADHD?

Adult ADHD treatment may include medication, interpersonal therapy, behavioral therapy, and coaching. Stimulant medication is first line treatment for ADHD. Since ADHD in adults is most often co-occurring with one or more other disorders, like mood, anxiety, depression, or insomnia, your provider may recommend additional medication or a medical referral to rule out a medical cause of your symptoms. The decision to start any medication or treatment plan will be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by you and your provider. 

Medications are not a cure for ADHD, but they may be able to help control ADHD symptoms. Medication may not be right for everyone with ADHD, but it can play a vital role in the total treatment plan along with coaching and other therapies.

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NEXT: Psychiatric Evaluation & Diagnosis

Most people can be inattentive, impulsive, or hyperactive at times. When is it ADHD and how is it treated?