How To Tell If You Have Adult ADHD (Because It’s Not Just For Kids)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just for kids. In fact, adult ADHD is more common than you think. And it can manifest itself in relationships, marriage, jobs and everyday activities, even though many adults don’t even realize they have this disorder. Oh, I’m just unorganized, I’m just easily distracted, or I’m so absent-minded are often excuses for what really could be adult ADHD. How can you tell if you have this? We talked with Susan Krauss Whitborne, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts and author of Abnormal Psychology, Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders who has studied and written about adult ADHD. Take a look at these symptoms and see if you can relate.

First off, what exactly is ADHD?

ADHD is a behavior disorder involving problems with inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. To receive the diagnosis of ADHD, an individual must show six or more symptoms that include a combination of inattentiveness and hyperactivity. These behaviors must be present for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with the person’s developmental level. In addition, some symptoms must be present before the age of seven years, the symptoms must cause impairment in two or more settings (such as school and family), there must be clear evidence of significant impairment in daily functioning, and the symptoms must not be better explained by another disorder.

We hear a lot about kids who supposedly have ADHD, but what about adults? How common is this?

Researchers estimate the mean prevalence of ADHD in childrem around the world at 5.29%, but the ranges of ADHD’s prevalence rates vary widely by country and region of the world. These wide prevalence variations show us that researchers and clinicians have not yet arrived at a consistent view of the core symptoms of ADHD. Perhaps as many as 4% of American adults meet the diagnostic criteria for this disorder, with nearly equal numbers of men and women having this condition.

Don’t a lot of kids outgrow it by the time they become an adult?

Children who experience this disorder can face many challenges including lower grades, repeated discipline problems, and placement in special education classes. As they reach early adulthood, they are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders. People with ADHD continue to experience symptoms during adolescence and adulthood but their symptoms change in that the hyperactivity that is so evident during preschool and early childhood years declines by adolescence. Even so, the attentional problems remain, and as adults, they have difficulty in organizing and planning their thoughts and actions.

What are some of the most common warning signs/symptoms for adult ADHD? 

Adults with ADHD are less likely to demonstrate hyperactivity and impulsivity, and are more likely to continue to have symptoms of inattentiveness. Their symptoms fit a picture consistent with deficits in executive functioning, meaning that they are more likely to have difficulty organizing tasks, make careless mistakes, lose things, and perform tasks that involve prioritizing activities on the basis of importance. Whereas children may show greater evidence of restlessness and impulsivity, adult ADHD involves difficulties in maintaining attentional focus. In their daily lives then, adults with ADHD have trouble devising routines, are haphazard in their management of time and money, and find it difficult to complete academic work or follow through on job tasks.

How can ADHD affect someone’s career, marriage and/or parenting?

Adults with ADHD typically have serious problems in relationships, whether the relationship is with an intimate partner, a co-worker, an acquaintance, or even a stranger. Because they are always seeking stimulation, they may do so by provoking conflict in their interactions with others by starting arguments, refusing to end arguments, or insisting that they have the last word. They tend to be very high-strung, which is evident in their hypersensitive and overreactive tendencies, expressed at times in outbursts and intense moodiness. Their intimate partners become exasperated by their impulsivity, propensity for overcommitment, poor decision making, and inept management of money. Conflicts and arguments arise due to the affected individual’s symptoms of disorganization, forgetfulness, chronic lateness, repeated misplacement of keys and other important items, and overall undependability. Adults with ADHD are also at greater risk of engaging in deviant or antisocial behavior if they show deficiencies in the types of tasks involved in carrying out the activities of everyday life such as time management, money management, self-discipline, self-motivation and distractibility.

What are the most effective natural treatments for adults who suffer from this?

Rather than “natural treatments,” psychologists recommend psychoeducation, psychotherapy, behavioral and self-management training, counseling (marital and career), coaching, personal digital assistants, accommodations in the school and workplace, and advocacy in which the individual lets others know about his or her condition. This multipronged approach is most appropriate for teens and adults who can take more managerial responsibility for their lives.

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    • LMD2

      Every time I see an article about ADHD I brace myself for criticism or
      misinformation. Thank you for writing an informative,
      sensible article.

      My diagnosis of inattentive-type ADHD as an
      adult was extremely helpful to me. After my diagnosis, I learned of a
      number of techniques and skills that I could use to improve how I
      function in daily activities – especially with time management and
      organizational skills – and how to build new habits. After many years
      of attempting to improve things by simply “trying harder” at them and
      failing, learning how to do things in a way that works for me has been

      I manage my ADHD in a number of ways, including exercise, good
      nutrition, quality sleep and making sure I have regular downtime. Most
      of the time I am able to avoid medication (thank goodness for a laid
      back job with lots of variety, along with friends who don’t mind when I say “Sorry, I drifted off. Can you please repeat that?”) but it is extremely useful for situations
      where good attention is critical, such as when I drive.

      Once I learned about my ADHD it allowed me to effectively make the
      changes in my life that I wanted to, manage my life and responsibilities
      better, reduce my overall stress levels, and feel like a real adult.

      • ClintLady

        I agree, this article was a breath of fresh air. Thank you for your input too.

    • Coach Linda Richmand, CPC, PCC

      As an Adult ADD/ADHD Coach I have coached hundreds of clients. Coaching works!! While coaching doesn’t make ADD go away, implementation of the tools and new thought patterns can make it seem so to the outsider. For example, most adults with ADD/ADHD will readily admit they interrupt because they are fearful they will forget what they want to say. This impulsive behavior is often really an anxiety response to what ADDers are telling themselves about the outcome if they wait to speak. ADD/ADHD Coaching helps clients examine the core issues, the “truths” they are telling themselves — from this place behavior change is possible because when we change how we look at a problem (what we say to ourselves) the outcome changes as well. FInd out more at