ADHD, Adult

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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:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Poor time management skills
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Poor planning
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Problems following through and completing tasks
  • Hot temper
  • Trouble coping with stress

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.

Diagnosis and When to See a Doctor

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.

Causes and Risk Factors

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.

Complications and Coexisting Conditions

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:

  • Physical exam, to help rule out other possible causes for your symptoms
  • Information gathering, such as asking you questions about any current medical issues, personal and family medical history, and the history of your symptoms
  • ADHD rating scales or psychological tests to help collect and evaluate information about your symptoms

Other Conditions that Resemble ADHD

Some medical conditions or treatments may cause signs and symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Examples include:

  • Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorders, learning and language deficits, or other psychiatric disorders
  • Medical problems that can affect thinking or behavior, such as a developmental disorder, seizure disorder, thyroid problems, sleep disorders, brain injury or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Drugs and medications, such as alcohol or other substance misuse and certain medications


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.

  • Stimulants, such as products that include methylphenidate or amphetamine, are typically the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other medications may be prescribed. Stimulants appear to boost and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
  • Other medications used to treat ADHD include the nonstimulant atomoxetine and certain antidepressants such as bupropion. Atomoxetine and antidepressants work slower than stimulants do, but these may be good options if you can’t take stimulants because of health problems or if stimulants cause severe side effects.

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.

Psychological Counseling

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:

  • Improve your time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce your impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic, work, or social failures
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with your family, co-workers, and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling your temper

Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This structured type of counseling teaches specific skills to manage your behavior and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones. It can help you deal with life challenges, such as school, work, or relationship problems, and help address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance misuse.
  • Marital counseling and family therapy. This type of therapy can help loved ones cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD and learn what they can do to help. Such counseling can improve communication and problem-solving skills.

Working on Relationships

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.

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