Many people think of rowdy kids who can’t sit still when they think of ADHD. But many adults continue to struggle with symptoms of ADHD. Lots of adults with ADHD 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 think genes may play an important part. Environmental issues, such as exposure to cigarettes, alcohol, or other toxins while in the womb, may also play a role.
Unlike other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, ADHD doesn't begin in adulthood. Symptoms must have been present since childhood for a diagnosis of adult ADHD to be made.
10 Problems That Could Mean Adult ADHD
The conventional symptoms doctors look for to diagnose ADHD are 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 ADHD symptoms show themselves differently and more subtly. This can make it hard to recognize and diagnose adult ADHD. Because some possible symptoms -- like poor concentration or motivation, or interpersonal problems -- also could be signs of other psychiatric conditions (like depression or substance abuse), it's important that you get examined by a trained and experienced mental health professional.
Here are 10 potential warning signs of adult ADHD:
No. 1: Trouble Getting Organized
For people with ADHD, the responsibilities of adulthood -- bills, jobs, and children, to name a few -- can make problems with organization more obvious and more problematic than in childhood.
No. 2: Reckless Driving and Traffic Accidents
ADHD makes it hard to keep your attention on a task, so spending time behind the wheel of a car can be hard. ADHD symptoms can make some people more likely to speed, have traffic accidents, and lose their driver’s licenses.
No. 3: Marital Trouble
Many people without ADHD have marital problems, so a troubled marriage shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a red flag for adult ADHD. But there are some marriage problems that are 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 with ADHD, you may not understand why your partner is upset, and you may feel you’re being nagged or blamed for something that’s not your fault.
No. 4: Extremely Distractible
ADHD is a problem with attention, so adult ADHD can make it hard to succeed in today’s fast-paced, hustle-bustle world. Many people find that distractibility can lead to a history of career under-performance, especially in noisy or busy offices. If you have adult ADHD, you might find that phone calls or email derails your attention, making it hard for you to finish tasks.
No. 5: Poor Listening Skills
Do you zone out during long business meetings? Did your husband forget to pick up your child 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.
No. 6: Restlessness, Trouble 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 be restless or find they can’t relax. If you have adult ADHD, others might describe you as edgy or tense.
No. 7: Trouble 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.
No. 8: Lateness
There are many reasons for this. First, adults with ADHD are 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.
No. 9: Angry Outbursts
ADHD often leads to problems with controlling emotions. Many people with adult ADHD are quick to explode over minor issues. Often, they feel as if they have 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.
No. 10: Prioritizing Issues
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?
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with adult ADHD, you’ll need to work together with your doctor to come up with the best treatment plan. Often, adult ADHD is treated with a combination of ADHD medications -- such as Adderall, Concerta, Intuniv, Ritalin, Strattera, or Vyvanse -- and certain talk therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.