Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. While it’s called adult ADHD, symptoms typically start in childhood and continue into adulthood. Some cases of ADHD may not be recognized or diagnosed until adulthood. Adult ADHD symptoms may not be as apparent as those in children, with hyperactivity often decreasing while struggles with impulsiveness and attention difficulties persist.
Adult ADHD symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
ADHD symptoms should be severe enough to cause ongoing problems in multiple areas of life, and they should be traced back to early childhood for a diagnosis to be made.
Diagnosing adult ADHD can be challenging, as certain symptoms can overlap with other conditions like anxiety or mood disorders. If ADHD symptoms significantly disrupt your life, talk to a healthcare provider experienced in caring for adults with ADHD.
The exact cause of ADHD is not clear, but research suggests genetics, certain environmental factors, and problems during development may be involved. Risk factors for ADHD include a family history of ADHD or other mental health disorders, exposure to environmental toxins during childhood, and premature birth.
ADHD can lead to various complications, such as poor school or work performance, unemployment, financial problems, legal issues, substance misuse, and unstable relationships. Other disorders often coexist with ADHD, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, other psychiatric disorders, and learning disabilities.
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Signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults can be hard to spot. However, core symptoms start early in life — before age 12 — and continue into adulthood, creating major problems.
No single test can confirm the diagnosis. Making the diagnosis will likely include:
Some medical conditions or treatments may cause signs and symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Examples include:
Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, skills training, and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can help manage many symptoms of ADHD, but they don’t cure it. It may take some time to determine what works best for you.
Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of any medications.
The right medication and the right dose vary among individuals, so it may take time to find out what’s right for you. Tell your doctor about any side effects.
Counseling for adult ADHD generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy), education about the disorder, and learning skills to help you be successful.
Psychotherapy may help you:
Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:
If you’re like many adults with ADHD, you may be unpredictable and forget appointments, miss deadlines, and make impulsive or irrational decisions. These behaviors can strain the patience of the most forgiving co-worker, friend, or partner.
Therapy that focuses on these issues and ways to better monitor your behavior can be very helpful. So can classes to improve communication and develop conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Couples therapy and classes in which family members learn more about ADHD may significantly improve your relationships.