Health and Wellness

How Do You Know If You Have ADHD as an Adult? Symptoms & Types



ADHD is a neurodevelopmental problem that affects your ability to plan, organize, and focus

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty paying attention and exhibit impulsive behavior, which can lead to the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Disorganization
  • Lack of follow through on projects
  • Unstable relationships
  • Constantly being late
  • Mood swings

Although ADHD symptoms typically appear in childhood, about 50% of children with ADHD continue to struggle with the disorder into adulthood.

What are different types of adult ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental problem that affects your ability to plan, organize, and focus. There are three major types of adult ADHD:

1. Inattentive

Adults with inattentive ADHD may become easily distracted, jump from one task to another, or quickly become bored. This type of ADHD is commonly overlooked because symptoms are less visible than hyperactivity and impulsivity; however, it can be just as troublesome. Symptoms include:

  • Poor attention to details
  • Easily distracted or bored
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and learning new information
  • Disorganized and forgetful
  • Trouble following directions

Hyperactivity

Adults with hyperactive ADHD may appear extremely active and constantly on the move as if propelled by a motor. However, hyperactivity symptoms often become milder and more internal with age. Symptoms may include:

  • Restless and impatient
  • Constantly talks or fidgets
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Difficulty engaging in quiet activities
  • Tendency to play with objects
  • Tendency to blurt out answers or act out of turn

Impulsivity

Adults with impulsive ADHD may have difficulty controlling their words and actions. They may act before thinking or respond without thinking about the consequences. Symptoms may include:

  • Interrupting or talking over others
  • Poor self-control
  • Rash behavior with little consideration for the repercussions
  • Difficulty behaving in socially acceptable ways
  • Tendency to take risks 
  • Tendency towards addictive behaviors

What causes adult ADHD?

Although the exact cause of unknown ADHD is not known, several factors may contribute to the development of the disorder:

  • Genetic factors: Approximately one-third to half of adults with ADHD will have a child with the disorder. Recent genetic research has identified many genetic markers that appear to be linked to the development of ADHD.
  • Environmental factors: Studies have indicated that extreme stress, childhood trauma, or exposure to certain chemicals, such as lead or bisphenol, can increase the risk or severity of ADHD symptoms.
  • Disrupted brain development: Brain injury, preterm birth, or alcohol use during pregnancy may play a role in the development of ADHD.

While there is no evidence to support claims that poor diet and excessive screen time can cause ADHD, these factors may exacerbate symptoms in some people.

How is adult ADHD diagnosed?

Adult ADHD is difficult to diagnose due to the debate regarding whether the symptoms used to identify the disorder in children and teens can apply to adults.

An adult may be diagnosed with ADHD if they have five or more symptoms of inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsiveness specified in the diagnostic criteria for children with ADHD. 

For an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD, their symptoms must have a moderate impact on several aspects of their life, such as:

  • Poor performance at work
  • Impaired driving ability
  • Trouble making or keeping friends
  • Relationship problems

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used to make a diagnostic evaluation. As part of your evaluation, your doctor may ask you about your symptoms. However, a diagnosis of ADHD may not be confirmed unless the symptoms have been present from childhood. 




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What are treatment options for adult ADHD?

Treatment for adult ADHD aims to keep symptoms in check and improve quality of life. Treatment options may include the following:

Medications

Adults can be treated with the same drugs prescribed to children with ADHD. However, the dosage and frequency should be adjusted. The most common medications used to treat adult ADHD include:

  • Stimulants: Adults with ADHD are commonly prescribed stimulants. According to studies, about 66% of individuals with ADHD who take these drugs have significant improvement in their symptoms. These drugs include:
  • Non-stimulants: If you do not respond to stimulants or have a bad reaction to them, your doctor may prescribe non-stimulants. Non-stimulants include:

Stimulants are addictive and short-acting, so non-stimulants are typically recommended. In some cases, you may be prescribed both stimulants and non-stimulants or non-stimulants alone.

Behavioral therapy

Most adults benefit from ADHD medications in terms of symptom reduction, but many continue to struggle with their jobs, daily duties, or poor self-esteem. Adults with ADHD can be helped with more specific problems through psychotherapy or expert coaching. Examples include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients shift from harmful thought patterns to more positive ones, which in turn can help influence behavior. CBT can help you develop skills that help you manage stressors and challenges. 
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT can help patients learn self-soothing techniques and healthy responses. DBT is largely based on CBT, but the difference is that it emphasizes validating or acknowledging painful feelings before attempting to change them. In DBT, the therapist tries to help you strike a balance between acceptance and transformation.
  • ADHD coaching: People with ADHD may struggle with simple day-to-day tasks such as completing deadlines or following directions. An ADHD coach is a qualified practitioner who works directly with teenagers and adults with ADHD to help resolve these issues. A coach may help you develop and refine skills in the following areas:
    • Organization
      • Time management
      • Task and project management
      • Workflow
      • Prioritizing
      • Maintaining records
      • Multitasking
      • Arranging your house or workplace
    • Emotional control
      • Self-esteem enhancement
      • Stress and anxiety reduction
      • Personal empowerment
    • Learning new skills
      • Problem-solving
      • Interpersonal conflict resolution
      • Timeliness
      • Public speaking
      • Boundaries
      • Communication and social skills
    • Reaching goals
      • Healthy lifestyle habits
      • Professional achievement
      • Household management
      • Accountability
      • Inspiration

Though coaching is a relatively new type of ADHD treatment and the research is currently limited, the results appear positive.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/26/2022

References

Image Source: iStock Image

WebMD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults. https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/adhd-adults

American Academy of Family Physicians. Adult ADHD. https://familydoctor.org/condition/adult-adhd/

ADAA. Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd



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