Many adults find they have adult ADHD. What are the symptoms and how to know if you have it

Q: How common is ADHD in adults? What are the symptoms, and is it possible that a person who was not diagnosed with it as a child could be diagnosed as an adult?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder often characterized by inattention, disorganization, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

It is one of the most common mental health disorders. According to the World ADHD Federation, it is thought to occur in almost 6% of children and 2.5% of adults.

In the United States, an estimated 5.4 million children, or about 8% of all American children aged 3 to 17, had ADHD in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

For decades, experts believed ADHD only occurs in children and ends after adolescence. But a number of studies in the 1990s showed that ADHD can continue into adulthood. Experts now say that at least 60% of children with ADHD will also show symptoms in adulthood.

It’s no surprise that so many people are now wondering if they might have the disorder, especially if their symptoms have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association, an organization founded in 1990 for adults with ADHD, has seen its membership nearly double between 2019 and 2021. who call their ADHD helpline are adults seeking advice and of resources for themselves.


The disorder tends to be inherited, which means that if one of your parents had ADHD, it’s much more likely that you have it as well.

What is ADHD in adults?
ADHD in children is often associated with restlessness and difficulty sitting. In adults, “generally hyperactivity is less pronounced,” said Dr. Lidia Zylowska, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and author of “The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD.”

Adults with the disorder often suffer from a lack of focus and disorganization, “the so-called executive function skills – planning, organizing, time management – in essence, the skills needed to ‘become an adult’,” Zylowska added.

When adults ignore tasks that require these skills, it can create chaos. The bills are piling up; being late for work can lead to dismissal; medical appointments are delayed or neglected; accidents happen.

In educational and professional settings, adults with untreated ADHD often feel unmotivated and tend to have poor planning and problem-solving skills when an obstacle arises, said Russell Barkley, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and author of “Managing Adult ADHD.

“I call them time blind,” added Barkley. “They just can’t manage themselves against time limits.”

Kylie Barron, an ADDA spokesperson who suffers from ADHD, called it a “performance disorder.” To her, that means “always messing up unintentionally, putting your foot in your mouth and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time”.

These concerns are common among people with ADHD, said Barkley.

“They set goals and they want to achieve them,” he added.

And while they’re really sincere, they usually don’t follow through, especially when it comes to long-term aspirations, he said.

Many adults with ADHD also have difficulty regulating their emotions and may display anger, impatience, inability to get along at work, self-doubt, and difficulty dealing with stress.

However, with the right treatment and support, people with ADHD can be successful.

Can you be diagnosed with ADHD for the first time in adulthood?
Yes, but adults who are diagnosed with ADHD must also have had significant symptoms of the disorder by age 12, even if they were not formally diagnosed in childhood, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. mental disorders, or DSM.

“There are all kinds of reasons why people can come of age without being diagnosed or detected,” Barkely said.

Girls, for example, are less likely to be diagnosed than boys, which is part of why the prevalence of ADHD in women has generally been underestimated, he added.

Additionally, the DSM’s criteria for the disorder are subjective, said Martin Teicher, professor of psychiatry and editor of the Harvard Medical School guide to ADHD in adults. You have to make arbitrary distinctions as to the behaviors that occur “often”, he added.

Some extremely bright children may “sneak under the wire” without their ADHD being detected because they are doing well academically, but they will usually have other issues like being very restless, Teicher said.

How do you know for sure if you have it and what the treatment looks like?
ADHD has a spectrum of severity levels and symptoms can become more (or less) pronounced in different environments.

If you think you have adult ADHD, you may want to consider using a screening tool. It is not intended to provide a diagnosis; However, it can help you recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults.

Afterwards, it is essential to get a complete evaluation from a clinician specializing in ADHD. This will help determine if you have the disorder and a second (or third) one. Up to 50% of adults with ADHD, for example, suffer from an anxiety disorder.

If there is more than one problem going, “it can be difficult to determine what’s causing what,” Zylowska said. “It’s important to take a developmental story and create a timeline for the onset of ADHD behaviors.”

The disorder tends to be inherited, which means that if one of your parents had ADHD, it’s much more likely that you have it as well. One small study, for example, found that among parents of 79 children with ADHD, 41% of mothers and 51% of fathers suffered from the disorder. Typically, ADHD is treated with stimulant drugs like Adderall; However, there are also non-stimulant drugs like Strattera. People with ADHD also use therapy, coaching, mindfulness-based training, nutritional interventions, and exercise to manage their symptoms.

What are some online resources for people with adult ADHD?
Education and self-compassion are two important parts of ADHD treatment. If you’re looking for a general overview of the disorder, the CDC and the National Institute for Mental Health are good places to start.

For a deeper dive, ADDitude Magazine has a plethora of articles on the disorder. And CHADD, the ADHD advocacy organization, has many offerings beyond its helpline, including support groups and online courses; free webinars; and a resource page for adults with ADHD.

ADDA also offers online support groups, including one for partners of people with ADHD; and a “productivity hour,” where participants help each other achieve a specific goal. In addition, ADDA has volunteer ambassadors who will call you to answer all your questions and offer you their support.

If you are looking for a supplier, CHADD and ADDA have directories where you can search for a healthcare professional.

Finally, people with ADHD often have conflicts in their romantic relationships and friendships. For relationship advice, check out the ADHD & Marriage and ADHD Roller Coaster websites.

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